University of Illinois at Chicago
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Remodeling the Universe to Their Dominant Desire: Gender Role Critiques Embedded in Autism Literature

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posted on 2013-06-28, 00:00 authored by Carli Friedman
This thesis is an historical analysis of psychology literature of autism during two subperiods—1943 to 1955 and 1956 to 1980. This periodization begins with autism’s conception within literature—Leo Kanner’s 1943 article, Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact—and continues through the late 1970s. During this time period autism was thought to develop in response to cold and detached mothers. As the blame was placed upon them, mothers were pathologized by psychologists. This mother-blaming was unique in that it somewhat paralleled the time frame of the height of the second-wave feminist movement when many gender and parenting roles were changing. For both of these reasons, it is important to focus on the roles women played within this literature. In this thesis I argue the definition of autism’s cause has been malleable. Researchers defined and discussed autism in such a way that they could insert the mother in any way that they saw fit. I argue the aforementioned by first introducing early theories about autism to provide a foundation for the inclusion of the mother. I then continue exploring how autism literature critiqued the changing gender and parenting roles occurring during these subperiods of autism to ultimately blame the mother. I then focus on Bruno Bettelheim, an infamous researcher who helped bring this mother-blaming autism literature into the mainstream. Finally, I conclude with a brief discussion of how reaction to this mother-blaming helped create mother-warrior mentality.



Sufian, Sandra


Disability and Human Development

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Masters

Committee Member

Sandahl, Carrie Brier, Jennifer

Submitted date



  • en

Issue date


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