The metamorphosis of autism

A history of child development in Britain

Bonnie Evans
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This book explains the current fascination with autism by linking it to a longer history of childhood development. Drawing from a staggering array of primary sources, it traces autism back to its origins in the early twentieth century and explains why the idea of autism has always been controversial and why it experienced a 'metamorphosis' in the 1960s and 1970s. The book locates changes in psychological theory in Britain in relation to larger shifts in the political and social organisation of schools, hospitals, families and childcare. It explores how government entities have dealt with the psychological category of autism. The book looks in detail at a unique children's 'psychotic clinic' set up in London at the Maudsley Hospital in the 1950s. It investigates the crisis of government that developed regarding the number of 'psychotic' children who were entering the public domain when large long-stay institutions closed. The book focuses on how changes in the organisation of education and social services for all children in 1970 gave further support to the concept of autism that was being developed in London's Social Psychiatry Research Unit. It also explores how new techniques were developed to measure 'social impairment' in children in light of the Seebohm reforms of 1968 and other legal changes of the early 1970s. Finally, the book argues that epidemiological research on autism in the 1960s and 1970s pioneered at London's Institute of Psychiatry has come to define global attempts to analyse and understand what, exactly, autism is.


‘It offers a complex but commendable and important account of historical development, which can also be used as a comprehensive reference work with a detailed keyword index.'
Raphael Zahnd
H-Net Reviews
January 2018

‘This is a worthwhile resource for anyone looking at the evolution of the syndrome of autism spectrum disorder from the original use of the term autism within psychiatry.'
Peter Carpenter
British Society for the History of Medicine
May 2017

‘Undoubtedly, this book will serve as a central text for those interested in the history of children, medicine, and psychology in twentieth century Britain. To all its readers, The Metamorphosis of Autism offers a masterclass in the creation of a cogent and stimulating historical analysis.'
David Kilgannon is a Wellcome Trust PhD researcher
MedHum Daily Dose
July 2017

‘Bonnie Evans's great history of autism in UK sets the bar high!'
Professor Jonathyne Briggs, History Department, Indiana University Northwest

‘Great to see launch of Bonnie Evans's fabulous new book.'
Professor Stuart Murray, Director of the Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities, Leeds University

‘Read Bonnie Evans's excellent recent book.'
Dr Carsten Timmerman, Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Manchester University, and Chair of the Executive Committee of the Society for the Social History of Medicine

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