The metamorphosis of autism

A history of child development in Britain

By Bonnie Evans

The metamorphosis of autism

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9592-4
  • Pages: 512
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: February 2017
  • BIC Category: United Kingdom, Great Britain, History of Medicine, United Kingdom, Great Britain, Autism & Asperger's Syndrome, Medicine / History of medicine, History of medicine, Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, PSYCHOLOGY / Psychopathology / Autism Spectrum Disorders, MEDICAL / History
  • Series: Social Histories of Medicine


This book is available as an open access ebook under a CC-BY-NC-ND licence.

What is autism and where has it come from? Increased diagnostic rates, the rise of the 'neurodiversity' movement, and growing autism journalism, have recently fuelled autism's fame and controversy. The metamorphosis of autism is the first book to explain our current fascination with autism by linking it to a longer history of childhood development. Drawing from a staggering array of primary sources, Bonnie Evans traces autism back to its origins in the early twentieth century and explains why the idea of autism has always been controversial and why it experienced a 'metamorphosis' in the 1960s and 1970s.

Evans takes the reader on a journey of discovery from the ill-managed wards of 'mental deficiency' hospitals, to high-powered debates in the houses of parliament, and beyond. The book will appeal to a wide market of scholars and others interested in autism.


'This is a worthwhile resource for anyone looking at the evolution of the syndrome of autism spectrum disorder from the original use of the term autism within psychiatry.'
Peter Carpenter, May 2017, British Society for the History of Medicine


Bonnie Evans is Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellow in the History Department at Queen Mary, University of London


Introduction: Perceiving, describing and modelling child development
Part I: The first autism: The observation and description of child development before 1959
1: The first autism
2: The first autism controversies
3: Inside the Maudsley Child Psychotic Clinic in the 1950s
Part II: How autism became autism
4: The transformation of social life and the transformation of autism in the 1960s
5: How do you measure a social impairment?
6: Epidemiology, epidemics and autism as a global health crisis

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