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Title: Mental defectives, childhood psychotics and the origins of autism research at the Maudsley Hospital, 1913-1983
Author: Evans, Bonnie Louise
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis uses previously unexamined case material from the Maudsley hospital to put forward three central propositions. Firstly, I argue that the implementation and repeal of mental deficiency law in Britain had a direct influence on the establishment of ‘autism’ as a category within child psychiatry. Secondly, I propose that all research in childhood autism has its direct antecedents in research into adult schizophrenia and that the category can never be independent of this history. Finally, I describe how the meaning of autism shifted from a representation of excessive phantasy life and hallucination to a representation of a lack of phantasy life. I argue that this shift was contemporaneous with a growth in epidemiological and statistical studies in child psychiatry from the mid-1960s onwards. The first chapter describes how the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 led to a major increase in the numbers of children institutionalised on account of their mental state. Chapter two describes childhood psychosis treatment and research at the Maudsley. The 1959 Mental Health Act saw the de-institutionalisation of over 141,000 adults and children in deficiency institutions, most of whom had been certified as ‘defective’ in childhood. This prompted a rapid increase in epidemiological and statistical studies at the Maudsley. These studies were attempts to quantify the social problems which resulted from this major demographic shift. Victor Lotter’s 1964 study of autism established a solid foundation to the category of autism underpinned with epidemiological and sociological data. Chapter three examines the significance of this transition. The final chapter explores the growth in diagnoses of autism, ‘autistic features’ and related conditions in children from the mid-1960s onwards.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available