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A Space Arts

University of Brighton

Amy with ADHD boys

The 'Against 'Refrigerator Mothers' Project' stands as a beacon of positivity, offering a counter-narrative that aims to illuminate the profound love and extraordinary emotional bond that often develops between a mother, who may herself be on the autistic spectrum, and her autistic child. Leo Kanner, a pioneering figure in the 1940s, explored theories suggesting that children with autism might have faced unique developmental journeys, shaped by diverse parental approaches.

Kanner keenly observed that some children encountered challenges when exposed to parenting styles characterised by varying degrees of warmth, obsessiveness, and a focus primarily on material needs. He noted, "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." In a 1960 interview, Kanner candidly referred to parents of autistic children as individuals who "just happened to defrost enough to produce a child."


Contrary to Kanner's perspective, psychologist John Watson, in the late 1920s, advocated for a less affectionate approach, suggesting that parents should avoid hugging and rarely kiss their children. His beliefs included the notion that "Mother's love is a dangerous instrument, which may inflict a never-healing wound…" Unfortunately, his own son experienced a tragic outcome with suicide.


While these historical perspectives caused distress for many families, they paved the way for growth and understanding. Modern research now generally acknowledges that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has an epigenetic aetiology. The 'Against 'Refrigerator Mothers' Project' seeks to highlight the resilience, strength, and unwavering love within the relationships of mothers and their autistic children, challenging outdated narratives and promoting a more compassionate understanding of neurodiversity.

Film Against 'Refrigerator Mothers' 2023

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