Category Archives: Bruno Bettelheim

Bruno Bettelheim

Most of us have heard, and many may have even read, some of Bruno Bettelheim’s ideas and work.  For those of you unfamiliar – Bruno Bettelheim, born in Austria, came to some prominence when he became director of the Orthogenic School, in connection with the University of Chicago for children with a variety of emotional and neurological issues.  His book, The Empty Fortress was published in 1967; read by many and touted as the final word on autism and its cause – the aloof and emotionally withholding mother.  At the time, his views on the subject became widely known and the treatment for autism was to put the mother in psychoanalysis.  The belief that the mother, in her lack of love for her child, caused the child to withdraw from the world was adopted by many.  Bettelheim claimed a high success rate of children with autism in his school.  It was only until after his suicide that many of his former students came forward with harrowing tales of abuse.  Much of Bruno Bettelheim’s work and ideas have since fallen into question.  The concept of the “refrigerator mom,” something he was an advocate of, has proven to have no validity.

Last week I had a piece published in the Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ariane-zurcher/children-with-autism_b_1080076.html – a woman, now in her nineties wrote to me about her experience of being the mother of a child with autism, diagnosed in 1961.  Rather than examine her child when she sought help, she was put into analysis and blamed for her child’s neurological issues.  She wrote a book, A Few Impertinent Questions, http://301­45.myautho­rsite.com/, that tells of her painful journey.  It is a powerful story.

As I read her book, I reflected on what we think we know now about autism and what will come to light in the future.  Fifty years from now how will we view what we think we know?  What ideas will seem almost comical because we will have learned so much more.  What therapies will have fallen out of favor?  What new therapies will have taken their place?  What will be proven and seem obvious in fifty or sixty years from now, but are not obvious to us now?  I, most likely, will not be around in another fifty years to know the answers to these questions, but I am sure much will be revealed.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:   www.Emma’s Hope Book.com