A Video History of Autism: "Scream, Slaps" and Ivar Lovaas
In 1965, the year that I was born, Life Magazine published an article called "Screams, Slaps, and Love," which focused on the work on that O. Ivar Lovaas was doing at UCLA with autistic children. As Bruno Bettelheim told the popular media that the mothers of autistic children were like Nazi prison guards, Lovaas and writer Don Moser established the perception that those children themselves were monsters:
At the beginning of the UCLA tests last June, the four autistic children were assembled in a small room bare of playthings — such children do not play. Closeted in their private bedlams, they went through their endless, senseless activities. Pamela, 9, performed her macabre pantomime. and Ricky, 8, loved to flop his arms, waggle his fingers, cover his head with a blanket. Chuck, 7, would alternate his rocking with spells of sucking his thumb and whimpering. Billy. 7, like so many of the thousands of autistic children in the U.S.. would go into gigantic tantrums and fits of self-destruction, beating his head black and blue against walls.
Billy and Chuck could not talk at all. Pamela would infuriatingly parrot back everything said to her. Ricky had a photographic memory for jingles and ads which he chanted hour after hour.
It is worth going to Neurodiversity.com to see Alan Grant's scary black and white images that accompanied the article. This is how autistic children were always shown during my childhood.
From Moser's sidebar called "The Nightmare of Life with Billy," which focuses on his mother Pat's misery:
Before long, however, Pat realized that Billy was diabolically clever and hell-bent on destroying her. Whenever her husband was home, Billy was a model youngster. He knew that his father would punish him quickly and dispassionately for misbehaving. But when his father left the house, Billy would go to the window and watch until the car pulled out. As soon as it did, he was suddenly transformed. "It was like living with the devil," Pat remembers. "He'd go into my closet and tear up my evening dresses and urinate on my clothes. He'd smash furniture and' run around biting the walls until the house was destruction from one end to the other. He knew that I liked to dress him in nice clothes, so he used to rip the buttons off his shirts and used to go in his pants." When he got violent Pat punished him. But she got terribly distraught, and for Billy the pleasure of seeing her upset made any punishment worthwhile. Sometimes he attacked her with all the fury in his small body, and going for her throat with his teeth. Anything that wasn't nailed down or locked up — soap powder, breakfast food — he strewed all over the floors. Then, laughing wildly, dragged Pat to come see it.
She had to face her problem alone. It was impossible for her to keep any household help. Once Billy tripped a maid at the head of the stairs, then lay on the floor doubled up with laughter as she tumbled down. And Billy was so cunning that his father didn't know what was going on. "Pat would tell me about the things he did while I was away, but I couldn't believe her," he says.
Lovaas did some great things-- he was the first to use Applied Behavior Analysis to treat autism, and it still works more reliably than anything else.
But he was mean. The four children chosen for his first autism experiment had to be eager eaters, who he would then starve, just as his role model B.F. Skinner did with the pigeons he trained.
One of the subjects of the work that Lovaas did with George Rekers on "effeminate boys" later killed himself. His family believes that Lovaas and Rekers were to blame.
And, although he later disavowed the use of aversives, Lovaas was enthusiastic about them for much of his career. He pioneered the use of electrical shocks to treat autism:
The most drastic innovation in Lovaas' technique is punishment — instantly, immutably dished out to break down the habits of madness. His rarely used last resort is the shock room. At one point Pamela had been making progress, learning to read a little, speak a few words sensibly. But then she came to a blank wall, drifting off during lessons into her wild expressions and gesticulations. Scoldings and stern shakings did nothing. Like many autistic children, Pamela simply did not have enough anxiety to be frightened.
To give her something to be anxious about, she was taken to the shock room, where the floor is laced with metallic strips. Two electrodes were put on her bare back, and her shoes removed.
When she resumed her habit of staring at her hand, Lovaas sent a mild jolt of current through the floor into her bare feet. It was harmless but uncomfortable. With instinctive cunning, Pamela sought to mollify Lovaas with hugs. But he insisted she go on with her reading lesson She read for a while, then lapsed into a screaming fit. Lovaas; yelling "No!", turned on the current. Pamela jumped-- learned a new respect for "No."