Those of you who have been following the debate about the way autism is being treated in France will have noticed that the current French notion that autism is caused by “refrigerator” mothers dates to Bruno Bettleheim.
Bettleheim became an authority on autism in the 1960s through a clinic he ran in Chicago and through a book called The Empty Fortress. In later years Bettleheim was exposed as a fraud with merely a Ph. D. in art history. He committed suicide in 1990.
Naturally, French psychoanalysts who are mired in the fever swamps of the psychoanalytic past are drawn to his theories. Once a reactionary, always a reactionaray.
Now, a young filmmaker named Leo Fleming has crafted a film about a man who was, as a boy, treated by Bettleheim and his proxies. The film shows Fleming’s uncle Thomas today and is intercut with pictures from his childhood. Throughout the movie we hear the ghostly voice of Bettleheim himself fabulating a theory of autism.
Fleming introduces his movie, entitled, A Self Chosen State on Vimeo:
Bruno Bettelheim states in his 1967 book 'The Empty Fortress' that "...the precipitating factor in infantile autism is the parent's wish that his child should not exist." Bettelheim subscribed to the 'Refrigerator Mother' theory; a theory that proposed autism as a 'self-chosen state' prompted by a 'cold' mother, in which children are compelled to shut themselves off from an uncaring, unloving world.
Martha and Jim Fleming were among countless others who were told that their child's autism was due to their unloving nature. They were also among the many whose children were taken away under the care of Bruno Bettelheim to his facilities in Chicago, to be 'cured' of this malady. A Self Chosen State is a short film detailing a personal history of a widespread injustice, of the trauma it inflicted and of the selfless love it inspired into action.
My thanks to commenter KCFleming for bringing this to our attention. He informs us that the movie was chosen for the “AS Film Festival where it will play next month in the Maxxi National Museum of Art in Rome, Italy.”