Autism pp 11-24 | Cite as

Autism before and after the Enlightenment

  • Mitzi Waltz


The stories of Ralph and Ida neatly bisect the social and medical history of autism. Before the ‘Age of Enlightenment,’ a period that is usually held to run from the last two decades of the seventeenth century through the eighteenth century, the symptoms that we now associate with autism were viewed largely through the lenses of folklore and religious belief. After it, there was almost always a medical aspect to how these symptoms were conceptualised and dealt with, even if this was but a thin veneer of terminology. This is not to say that there was a sea change from one paradigm to another. As will be demonstrated in later chapters, earlier beliefs about autism have survived alongside and within scientific views. Observers in the pre-Enlightenment past will also have occasionally stumbled upon less ethereal explanations.


Intellectual Disability Blind Child Spirit Possession Thin Veneer Folk Belief 
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Copyright information

© Mitzi Waltz 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mitzi Waltz
    • 1
  1. 1.Sheffield Hallam UniversityUK

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