Marga VicedoJun 17, 2022
The Story of Clara Park, Her Autistic Daughter, and the Myth of the Refrigerator Mother
Beacon Press 2021
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: The Story of Clara Park, Her Autistic Daughter, and the Myth of the Refrigerator Mother (Beacon Press, 2021) 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.
Galina Limorenko is a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience with a focus on biochemistry and molecular biology of neurodegenerative diseases at EPFL in Switzerland.