Donald had an astonishing memory, but never cried for his mother. Virginia never played with other children and was the daughter of a woman described as “not by any means the mother type” by her husband. Herbert didn’t speak; his mother, a physician, said she couldn’t understand people and instead chose to accept them.
Each child was eventually determined to be on the autism spectrum—and each of their mothers was thought to be part of the reason they had the condition. Between the 1940s and 1960s, mothers of children with autism were dubbed “refrigerator mothers” and characterized as cold, neglectful, and even abusive.
The now discredited theory blamed mothers for “causing” their children’s autism—and stigmatized an entire generation of women struggling to understand and care for children with autism spectrum disorders.