This chapter explores how the gendered character of the refrigerator mother offered an interpretive lens through which experts viewed autism when it was first identified as a unique disorder. Character sketches of these early “autism mothers” emerged from a set of topoi—culturally available ideas and images—about mothers in the 1960s and were found lacking compared to the standard of a warm, devoted, and loving mother. The chapter shows that typified gendered characters can be interpreted as explanations for autism, thereby functioning as heuristics for scientific theorizing. It then considers how mothers began to counter this character and construct a new one that would grant them greater epistemic authority.
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