On May 7, 1965, an extraordinary photo essay titled “Screams, Slaps, and Love” appeared in the pages of Life magazine. It portrayed the lives of 4 “utterly withdrawn children whose minds are sealed against all human contact and whose uncontrolled madness had turned their homes into hells.” Their diagnosis was “childhood schizophrenia,” the term applied at the time to the condition we know as autism. Two were nonverbal, 2 others had no language other than endlessly repeating television commercial jingles, and all 4 exhibited very disruptive behaviors such as head-banging to the point of bruising.

The article’s focus was on a novel treatment that had recently been developed for autism at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). In an age when psychoanalytic ideas dominated therapy for autism in the United States, this new intervention was grounded in behaviorism. The therapists in the photo essay were depicted...

You do not currently have access to this content.