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PBS Premiere: July 16, 2002Check local listings »
Encore Broadcast: July 27, 2004

Synopsis

A mid-century medical nightmare is revealed in David E. Simpson, J.J. Hanley and Gordon Quinn's Refrigerator Mothers. Autism is one of today's fastest growing disorders, affecting 1 in 500 people. It is now known to be a neurological condition, but from the 1950's through the 1970's the medical establishment mistakenly believed it had found the root cause of the disorder: poor mothering. Doctors presumed that the often obsessive behaviors of autistic children — rigid rituals, speech difficulty, self-isolation — stemmed from their mothers' emotional frigidity. Refrigerator Mothers explores the traumatic legacy of blame, guilt and self-doubt suffered by a generation of women who were branded "refrigerator mothers."

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