Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 141–153 | Cite as

Trapped Children: Popular Images of Children with Autism in the 1960s and 2000s

  • Jennifer C. SarrettEmail author


The lay public inherits much of its information about disability and mental illness through the media, which often relies on information from popular scientific works. Autism, as it was defined during the dominance of psychogenic paradigms of mental illness, generated certain tropes surrounding it, many of which have been popularized through media representations. Often inaccurate, these tropes have persisted into contemporary times despite a paradigmatic shift from psychogenic to biological explanations and treatments for mental illness. The current article examines images and articles of children with autism from the 1960s and the early 2000s in major news media and scientific literature to highlight the persistence of themes of fragmentation and the imprisonment of children with autism. While these themes have persisted in psychological and media literature, narratives of people with autism and their families often present a different perspective. This results in two divergent ‘realities’ of autism being disseminated into the general public.


Autism Media Disability Mental illness Neurodiversity 



I would like to thank Dr. Sander Gilman for his support and guidance through this project. In addition, I would like to thank the other authors of this special issue who also supported the creation of this current article. Finally, I would like to acknowledge Emory University’s Institute of Liberal Arts for the opportunity to work with this group of scholars.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate Institute of Liberal ArtsEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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