How one mother challenged the medical establishment and misconceptions about autistic children and their parents.
In the early 1960s, Massachusetts writer and homemaker Clara Park and her husband took their 3-year-old daughter, Jessy, to a specialist after noticing that she avoided connection with others. Following the conventional wisdom of the time, the psychiatrist diagnosed Jessy with autism and blamed Clara for Jessy’s isolation. Experts claimed Clara was the prototypical “refrigerator mother,” a cold, intellectual parent who starved her children of the natural affection they needed to develop properly.
Refusing to accept this, Clara decided to document her daughter’s behaviors and the family’s engagement with her. In 1967, she published her groundbreaking memoir challenging the refrigerator mother theory and carefully documenting Jessy’s development. Clara’s insights and advocacy encouraged other parents to seek education and support for their autistic children. Meanwhile, Jessy would work hard to expand her mother’s world, and ours.
Drawing on previously unexamined archival sources and firsthand interviews, science historian Marga Vicedo illuminates the story of how Clara Park and other parents fought against medical and popular attitudes toward autism while presenting a rich account of major scientific developments in the history of autism in the US. Intelligent Love is a fierce defense of a mother’s right to love intelligently, the value of parents’ firsthand knowledge about their children, and an individual’s right to be valued by society.
“In this beautifully wrought, meticulously researched story of one mother’s challenge to the medical establishment’s misconceptions about autistic children through much of the 20th century, Marga Vicedo tells an intimate story wrapped inside a much larger one.” (Read the full review)
—Katie Hafner, Washington Post
“What singles out this book as a literary and intellectual tour de force is its deft weave between being a broad social-intellectual history of psychiatry and the personal story of Jessy, an autistic child growing into adulthood, and her mother, Clara Park, who worked, wrote, and advocated mightily for her daughter and others like her. Anyone interested in autism will find this superb book tremendously compelling—and for those outside it, a model of how we have thought and how we ought to think about disability, medicine, psychiatry, and the family.”
—Peter Galison, author of Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps
“Intelligent Love is a vital book that illustrates the complex and unsettling history of persecution that autistic people and their families have suffered through the ages. Readers will journey from a time when an autistic diagnosis was perceived as a devastation to now, when the neurodiversity movement and the voices of autistic people themselves are finally beginning to drown out the negative medicalized model so long perceived as the norm. Read it, you won’t be disappointed.”
—Emma Dalmayne, CEO of Autistic Inclusive Meets and author of It’s an Autism Thing . . . I’ll Help You Understand It
“Through her engaging reconstruction of the fascinating relationship of Clara Park and her daughter Jessy, Marga Vicedo reveals not only how science affects life but how lives affect science. In the process, she invites us to break down the harmful dichotomies that set ability against disability, good mothers against bad mothers, and logic against love. A compelling and compassionate read.”
—Alexandra Rutherford, professor of psychology, York University, Toronto
More about Clara and Jessica Park