Refrigerator Mother Syndrome

The America psychiatrist Dr. Leo Kanner (1894-1981) was the very first who described autism as a disorder. That’s why, in the early days, the problems were also called Kanner’s Syndrome. In his paper he suggested that autism may be related to a "genuine lack of maternal warmth", noted that fathers rarely stepped down to indulge in children's play, and observed that children were exposed from "the beginning to parental coldness, obsessiveness, and a mechanical type of attention to material needs only.... They were left neatly in refrigerators which did not defrost. Their withdrawal seems to be an act of turning away from such a situation to seek comfort in solitude."[1]
In a 1960 interview in Time Magazine, Kanner bluntly described parents of autistic children as "just happening to defrost enough to produce a child."[2]

Though Kanner did not coin the actual term ‘Refrigerator Mother Syndrome’, he certainly laid the fundations for this deluded ‘diagnosis’. That feat can be attributed to Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990), a professor and child development ‘specialist’. Because autism cannot be clinically proven, he (and others) were keen to publicize the notion that autism was the product of mothers who were cold, distant and rejecting, thus depriving their children of the chance to "bond properly".

These days, the Refrigerator Mother Syndrome is kept where it should be in the first place: in the dustbins of history.

[1] Kanner: Problems of nosology and psychodynamics in early childhood autism in American Journal of Orthopsychiatry - 1949
[2] “The Child is Father” in Time - 1960

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