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Publisher's Summary

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 three-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.

©2021 Marga Vicedo (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“[A] thoroughly researched and reported history of autism.... Expect to boo for the mother-blamers and to cheer for the entire Park family.” (Booklist)

“A philosopher nestles a compassionately crafted, extraordinary family drama within a broader discussion of the contentious, and often shocking, history of autism in the US.” (Shelf Awareness)

“This excellent book describes the experience of disability for the child and the parent, with both encountering discrimination and hostility.” (British Society for the History of Medicine)

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