After reading the Silberman chapters that consisted of the history of Eugenics and the theories behind autism, I was fascinated specifically by the “refrigerator mother” theory. My first thought was in regards to how sexist and discriminatory toward successful women this theory actually is. Kanner states, “there are very few really warmhearted fathers and mothers” (p 183). While Kanner did not solely blame the mother for not being nurturing and warm enough, many believers of this theory did take a sexist approach. Secondly, it was extremely classist. The upper-middle and upper class mothers were being blamed for, essentially, being too busy working and not being fully dedicated to their most pertinent role of caring for her developing fetus/child. However, my view started to change after thinking about this theory. I do agree that it is abhorrent that mothers and fathers were to blame due to a lack of concern for their offspring, I think it is more concerning that only one group of people were studied and acknowledged: white children with successful parents. Whole groups of people were being erased and not even thought of. Genders, races, and classes were being overlooked, with researchers only attempting to aid those members of society who were in power: rich, white males.
I stumbled across a youtube video that talked about a black mother identifying her son with symptoms of autism. However, when she took her son to a doctor he classified her son as being “emotionally disturbed.” The mother claims that this misdiagnosis is guided in part because her son was not viewed as a savant. Her family was therefore assumed to be uneducated and unintelligent. Because of the aforementioned factors, the intersectionality of some people (socioeconomic (dis)advantages mixed with race (dis)advantages and all other classification tools) have reinforced the deep stereotypes of people with autism.
I also came across a blog on wordpress, which discusses intersectionality and the lack of coverage of those that do not fit the status quo of the disorder. I think we can clearly see the stereotypes of savant abilities, emotionally withdrawn behaviors, criminality, gender, race, and class in the examples we have looked at. Not only in older texts such as Sherlock Holmes (white male, savant-like abilities), if one does believe that Holmes is on the spectrum, or Bartleby (while he may not be upperclass or obtain savant abilities, he does obtain other characteristics of popular stereotypes), but in newer texts and shows as well. For example, the show Parenthood demonstrates a child on the spectrum, Max, whose family is upper-middle class and white.
I find it interesting that while science has progressed the understanding of the disorder, the stereotypes have largely remained stagnant, as well as societies blatant disregard of intersectionality. Today, these stereotypes are being reinforced in mainstream literature, television, and media. These popular views and divisiveness only aid in the idea of neurotypicality versus neurodivergence and that a “standard” does, in fact, exist. It creates a barrier that will never be crossed unless society does not start accounting for all people that could be coping with the disorder.
Dachel, Anne. “‘A Medical Nightmare’- Refrigerator Mothers.” Age of Austism. Web. 9 Oct. 2016. http://www.ageofautism.com/2010/09/a-medical-nightmarerefrigerator- mothers.html
“Autism and Race.” Web blog post. Aspergers and Me. WordPress.com. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.https://aspergersandmeblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/autism-and-race/