FACT: “In 1975, the National Society for Autistic Children (NSAC, later the Autism Society of America,) lobbied to include autism as one of the developmental disabilities covered under the Education for All Handicapped Act. They succeeded. The bill, later revised and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, entitled children with autism and other developmental disabilities to a ‘free, appropriate, public education.’ The NSAC also demanded autism’s inclusion in the Developmental Disabilities Act, a bill authorizing services and support. . . .”

Understanding Autism: Parents, Doctors, and the History of a Disorder
by Chloe Silverman

Autism has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years, thanks to dramatically increasing rates of diagnosis, extensive organizational mobilization, journalistic coverage, biomedical research, and clinical innovation. Understanding Autism, a social history of the expanding diagnostic category of this contested illness, takes a close look at the role of emotion—specifically, of parental love—in the intense and passionate work of biomedical communities investigating autism.

Chloe Silverman tracks developments in autism theory and practice over the past half-century and shows how an understanding of autism has been constituted and stabilized through vital efforts of schools, gene banks, professional associations, government committees, parent networks, and treatment conferences. She examines the love and labor of parents, who play a role in developing—in conjunction with medical experts—new forms of treatment and therapy for their children. While biomedical knowledge is dispersed through an emotionally neutral, technical language that separates experts from laypeople, parental advocacy and activism call these distinctions into question. Silverman reveals how parental care has been a constant driver in the volatile field of autism research and treatment, and has served as an inspiration for scientific change.

Recognizing the importance of parental knowledge and observations in treating autism, this book reveals that effective responses to the disorder demonstrate the mutual interdependence of love and science.

“Autism remains a contested condition, and given the steep rise in research, diagnosis rates and media coverage, the debate is set to run and run. Science historian Chloe Silverman gives a balanced, sensitive social history of autism that unflinchingly covers many controversial byways. She explores the theory and biomedical advances, and how gene banks, schools and autism organizations have enriched understanding—augmented by parents of children with autism, whose experiences have informed and inspired much research.”—Nature

We invite you to read the Introduction here: