Refrigerator Mothers

Refrigerator Mothers focuses on the mothers of children with autism in the America of the 1950s and ’60s, when the theory that autism was caused by cold, distant treatment of a child prevailed. The collateral damage of Bruno Bettelheim’s now-discredited theories not only included mothers being unfairly blamed and judged for their child’s disability, but research dollars squandered down the wrong diagnostic path, and most horrifying of all, a generation of autistic children locked away in Bettelheim’s “treatment center”. With no education, visitation, or engagement with the world; only an amorphous shape of stone meant to substitute for the mother these children had been ripped from. A history of Bettelheim’s Orthogenic School is beyond the scope of this documentation, but first-hand accounts can be found in Crazy: My Seven Years at Bruno Bettelheim’s Orthogenic School and Not the Thing I Was: Thirteen Years at Bruno Bettelheim’s Orthogenic School.

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