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The metamorphosis of autism

A history of child development in Britain

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Bonnie Evans

This book explains the current fascination with autism by linking it to a longer history of childhood development. Drawing from a staggering array of primary sources, it traces autism back to its origins in the early twentieth century and explains why the idea of autism has always been controversial and why it experienced a 'metamorphosis' in the 1960s and 1970s. The book locates changes in psychological theory in Britain in relation to larger shifts in the political and social organisation of schools, hospitals, families and childcare. It explores how government entities have dealt with the psychological category of autism. The book looks in detail at a unique children's 'psychotic clinic' set up in London at the Maudsley Hospital in the 1950s. It investigates the crisis of government that developed regarding the number of 'psychotic' children who were entering the public domain when large long-stay institutions closed. The book focuses on how changes in the organisation of education and social services for all children in 1970 gave further support to the concept of autism that was being developed in London's Social Psychiatry Research Unit. It also explores how new techniques were developed to measure 'social impairment' in children in light of the Seebohm reforms of 1968 and other legal changes of the early 1970s. Finally, the book argues that epidemiological research on autism in the 1960s and 1970s pioneered at London's Institute of Psychiatry has come to define global attempts to analyse and understand what, exactly, autism is.

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Introduction

Perceiving, describing and modelling child development

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Bonnie Evans

clarification. The Metamorphosis of Autism seeks to explain why this is the case. If diagnostic changes have occurred over time, the historical reasons for these changes and their relation to wider theories of child development are still little understood. Sociologists, journalists, philosophers, literary critics and others have offered different explanations as to why more people are now diagnosed with

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Bonnie Evans

with a statement or an Education, Health and Care Plan. In 2016, there were 57,211. 1 As this book has argued, the metamorphosis of the autism concept occurred following radical changes in the construction of child rights in the late 1950s. The integration and education of large groups of children who had previously been excluded from the education system, and from society at large, led to the creation

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Bonnie Evans

stability. However, this had only occurred in the context of major interventions in child rights that had taken place in the name of psychology. The political landscape for the study of ‘social development’ The first autism, prior to its metamorphosis in the 1960s, was an important organising concept within early theories of child development. The

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Bonnie Evans

impairments of social interaction affect social interaction – but it was a tautology that enabled a new science of psychology to develop. The metamorphosis of autism meant that tests for sensory impairment, perceptual problems and language disorder were reframed as problems of social interaction. A number of different kinds of impairment hence became ‘social impairments’. The allure of

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Bonnie Evans

process of diagnosis. These new concepts and tools were enabling a widespread statistically validated crushing criticism of the first autism and the creation of a new set of quantitative tools that promised to give meaning to the second autism in its new metamorphosis. As we saw in Chapter 5 , these tools had been developed by a group of researchers in Britain who sought to challenge ‘the Tavistock programme

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Bonnie Evans

Most people are aware of many controversies surrounding autism today, as well as those that abounded in the 1960s asserting the fault of mothers in causing the condition. At the British Psychoanalytic Society, other controversial discussions ensued over how to describe the development of subjectivity in infants and children. Although the precise concept of 'autism' was rarely mentioned, the descriptive concepts of 'autoerotism' and 'primary narcissism', a term that had been developed by Sigmund Freud as a response to Bleuler's concept of autism, were discussed frequently. When considering the impact of child psychologists on British childcare policy, it is hard to underestimate the significance of John Bowlby. His work was so influential that historians have since referred to the phenomenon of 'Bowlbyism' as a wide-ranging social tendency to support the place of mothers in the home environment.

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Bonnie Evans

The 1950s were turbulent, dramatic and provocative times for people interested in social change and its impact on child psychology. The 1950s was an important decade for psychological research that took 'society' and social causes within its remit. By the early 1950s, children classed with 'psychosis', 'schizophrenia' and 'autism' stood at the heart of controversies over the social and emotional development of children. The Maudsley psychotic clinic was founded partly to get 'childhood psychosis' recognised as a legal category and also to reinforce the role of medically trained child psychiatrists in determining the treatment that 'psychotic' children received. All of the children in the psychotic clinic were given a battery of tests on arrival in order to determine their physiological functions and their levels of intellectual and social development. Tests could help to build a picture of the child's internal conceptual framework and his sensory-motor functions.

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Bonnie Evans

This chapter examines the radical transformation of autism. It examines why the shift in meaning occurred by placing it into the context of legal and political changes in Britain concerning the rights of children, and the impact of these changes on the construction of scientific studies of children. In order to effect a major shift in the meaning of autism, there also had to be a major shift in the organisation of social life. In the 1960s, a new psychology of autism was used to challenge the social ideology of intervening in, and supposedly rectifying, child 'maladjustment'. The 1960s witnessed a revived interest in questions highlighted by earlier developmental psychologists concerning the primacy of sense perceptions in the development of early thought. In an international study group on infantile autism in 1970, a number of researchers put forward proposals for the central 'cognitive disorder' from which infantile autism developed.

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Rachel E. Hile

allegorical interpretations than one might otherwise make. That a Catholic would use a poem by the staunch Prot- MUP_Hile_SpenserSatire_Printer.indd 105 14/10/2016 15:35 106 Spenserian satire estant Spenser to sharpen and focus his satire may seem surprising, but it suggests how influential Spenser was as an allegorical satirist in the 1590s.14 Dymoke creates numerous parallels between his poem and Spenser’s Muiopotmos to highlight the importance of the earlier poem as an intertext. Both are Ovidian poems of metamorphosis, in which “two mightie ones” (Spenser