Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

History and Sociology of Science

First Advisor

Beth Linker

Abstract

In her 2006 memoir Strange Son, Cure Autism Now co-founder Portia Iversen described the “intact mind” she believed was buried within even the most cognitively impaired autistic individuals, like her son Dov. But the sentiment itself was not new. Emerging largely out of psychoanalytic theory dating back to the end of the 19th century, the intact mind was amplified in parent memoirs even as biomedical discourse consolidated in the 1970s around a very different depiction of autism: as a biologically based, intractable neurodevelopmental disorder. With as many as 1 out of every 44 American children now affected, according to the CDC, discourse originally unique to autism has come to inform current debates at the heart of intellectual and developmental disability practice and policy in the United States – including battles over sheltered workshops, guardianship, and facilitated communication. This myopic focus, however, inadvertently reproduces historic patterns of discrimination that yoked human worth to intelligence. It is only by making space for the impaired mind, I argue, that we will be able to resolve these ongoing clashes – as well as even larger questions of personhood, dependency, and care.

Embargoed

Available to all on Monday, September 15, 2025

Included in

History Commons

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