Marga Vicedo, "Experience as expertise: Clara Park’s call for valuing a mother’s knowledge in understanding autism"

HOS Colloquium
Event date: 
October 6, 2021 - 4:30pm
Marga Vicedo
Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto
Seminar Series: 
History of Science Colloquium
By Invitation Only


Experience as expertise:Clara Park’s call for valuing a mother’s knowledge in understanding autism

First-hand experience has been considered crucial for obtaining knowledge in many realms. Yet, personal experience has also been suspect since the knower’s subjectivity could bias what many sciences see as necessary for objective knowledge: detachment from one’s object or subject of study. Clara Park (1923-2010) questioned that stance in her writings about her autistic daughter Jessica.

The first mother to challenge in print the view that maternal rejection caused autism, Park wrote about her struggle to find support for her daughter in her 1967 book The Siege. She also called upon scientists to recognize that parents could provide a “deep knowledge of the child in context.” She argued that lived experience was one type of expertise that could complement clinical and research work. By doing so, Park fought to have a mother’s voice recognized as a legitimate source of expertise.

Arguing that intelligence and love are not natural enemies, Park challenged a widely accepted dichotomy between emotion and cognition that constrained views about motherhood and scientific epistemology at the time. In this talk, I show how her intelligent love helped Park reach valuable insights about autism.