Autism Treatment In France: Retro, Controversial And Featured In Film, ‘Le Mur’

By Karen Weintraub
CommonHealth Contributor

Watching a documentary last night about autism care in France, I thought I was back in my college Psych 101 class – the part where we learned about the soiled history of the profession.

Autism, a handful of French psychoanalysts say on camera, is caused by a mother who becomes too sexually attached to her child, and a father who fails to assert his masculinity enough to separate them. Or else by cold mothers – the vastly discredited “refrigerator mother” theory suggested by Bruno Bettelheim 60-plus years ago.

Several of the doctors now say that they were misled as to the intent of the film, called The Wall, and several of them are trying to get it banned; there’s a French court hearing on the 26th. (Here’s yesterday’s New York Times article on the subject.) Watching the 50-minute documentary on YouTube (French with English subtitles that are sometimes hard to read because they’re in yellow), it’s hard to see how so many comments could have been taken out of context and how filmmaker Sophie Robert wouldn’t have been outraged by what she heard.

In addition to seeming perverted and ragingly sexist to contemporary ears, the psychoanalysts “explanation” of autism denies decades of biomedical research. Science has established that people with autism have some genetic vulnerability, coupled with environmental factors that are still unclear, but range from toxins to immune challenges to low birthweight.

And yet, these psychoanalytic viewpoints still drive much of autism care in France. Continue reading