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J Med Humanit. 2011 Jun;32(2):141-53. doi: 10.1007/s10912-010-9135-z.

Trapped children: popular images of children with autism in the 1960s and 2000s.

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  • 1Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts, Emory University, Callaway Center, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


The lay public inherits much of its information about disability and mental illness through the media, which often relies on information from popular scientific works. Autism, as it was defined during the dominance of psychogenic paradigms of mental illness, generated certain tropes surrounding it, many of which have been popularized through media representations. Often inaccurate, these tropes have persisted into contemporary times despite a paradigmatic shift from psychogenic to biological explanations and treatments for mental illness. The current article examines images and articles of children with autism from the 1960s and the early 2000s in major news media and scientific literature to highlight the persistence of themes of fragmentation and the imprisonment of children with autism. While these themes have persisted in psychological and media literature, narratives of people with autism and their families often present a different perspective. This results in two divergent 'realities' of autism being disseminated into the general public.

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