Support The Wall – Le Mur

A project of Autism Rights Watch against censorship in France

By David Heurtevent, MA Georgetown, Asperger,

France is a very odd country in the world of Autism. Autism is viewed by many mainstream child psychiatrists as a psychosis, not as a Pervasive Developmental Disorder. The “frigid mother” theory of Bruno Bettleheim still is mainstream. Therapeutic laissez-faire is the norm. Many children are “packed” in wet clothes as cold as 50°F (10°C) several times a day.

In France, Autism is viewed as a psychosis, not as a PDD

In France, most psychiatrists refuse international classifications such as the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM IV or the World Health Organization’s CIM10. As a result, Autism Spectrum Disorder is not perceived as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), but rather as an “infantile psychosis”. As shown in the documentary of Sophie Robert “The Wall: psychoanalysis put to the test for autism”, many French psychiatrists consider that there is a continuum between autism and schizophrenia or “disharmonic development”. There is even public research financed to evidence these links.

As a result, the mainstream theory in use in France is psychoanalytical with a strong influence of Jacques Lacan and Sigmund Freud. While this body of knowledge has been debunked almost everywhere else, French consider it as “the” explanation of autism. Even though many psychiatrist oven pledge for an integrative view of autism, reality is different. France only has 23 schools specialized in Autism !

The French view is well described by Henri Rey-Flaud, Psychoanalyst, distinguished Professor at the university of Montpellier in France in his book “The children of unspeakable fear, a new look at autism” (2010). A book reviewer wrote:

“The thesis of this book is simple: autism is a withdrawal reaction shown by children who, at birth, have been the victim of an unspeakable fear that has developed and has maintained them over the years in its grasp. This fear, Henri Rey-Flaud has identified it: for the child, it is the fear of being destroyed if a relation to the Other (originally, the mother, but later extended to all others) were to be established -through the eyes, voice or touch”.

Formulated psychoanalytic theory

The current psychoanalytic theory is well explained in the documentary and by other sources such as this nursing course states:

“There is no one cause for autism, but rather a ” telescoping”between factors from two sources.
As for the mother, we can see a non-postpartum depression-contained for not perceived by those around. This causes a non-investment psyche of the baby;
With regard to the child, we may retain organic elements, or excessive sensitivity. The child feels as soon as another detached from its mother, is confronted in this case, failing which a mother can count on him to restructure.
One function is to restructure the baby her mother. The depressed woman who finds a smiling baby on the way home (a baby responds and asks his mother), can count on the relationship induced by the child to restructure the ego fails to repair itself. Gratifies the baby, the mother meets narcissistically depressed. We can therefore speak of circumstantial events that result in autism”.

The dramatic consequences of the theory

Those with autism and their families are facing many adverse consequences of these crazy theories.

Refrigerator Mothers

In France, many mothers are blamed still for the autism of their child, despite the genetic and neurological factors discovered in autism. This theory is derived from the work of Bruno Bettelheim’s 1967 book The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self1, which promoted the “refrigerator mother” theory. Yet, the work of Bettelheim has been debunked by authors such as Richard Pollack2


The second idea advocated by many child psychiatrists and psychoanalysts is a form of « Laissez Faire ». The child is supposed to develop his/her language alone and to find his/her way out of autism with minimum intervention. This theory goes against numerous findings showing the benefits of early intensive intervention in autism.

This « Laissez Faire » has very serious implications in terms of the ability of the children to acheive autonomy and to develop substantial self-care skills. As a result, most end up institutionalized for life from birth in Hopitaux de Jour, then in Psychiatric Wards. France has already been sentenced by the Council of Europe in 2004 for its education segregation:
“The Council of Europe has just made public the decision taken by the European Committee of Social Rights of 4 November 2003 whereby France was found to have failed to fulfil its educational obligations to persons with autism under the European Social Charter.”

Yet, fundamentals have not really changed since. Today, 80% of the children with autism don’t go to school in France, despite a law voted in 2005.

Packing Torture

Packing is probably the most symbolic aspect of the consequences of the psychoanalytic theory of autism in France. The proponents of this “packing therapy” wrote in 2008:

“This method consists in wrapping the patient with his under-clothes several times a week, using towels previously wet in cold water. The patient is then wrapped with blankets to help the body warm up in a few minutes.”

Imaging being forced to be wrapped several times a day in wet clothes as cold as 50°F (10°C) and you will understand how abusive it is.

Our Mission: Force France to promote immediate autism care reforms

Our organization SUPPORT THE WALL and our sister organization SOUTENONS LE MUR are committed to force France to really change autism care and to respect the dignity of the autistic and their families.

Feel free to spread the word. We truly need your support.


1 Bettelheim, Bruno: The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self, The Free Press, New York, 1967
2 Pollak, Richard: The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1997.

admin On January - 2 - 2012

One Response so far.

  1. Holly Jones-Rougier says:

    This article is in dire need of correction regarding errors in English. This is such an important issue and both positions, whether they be psychoanalytical or CBT based, should present credible arguments. I do hope you will find someone to correct this entry because it loses a great deal of credibility because of the poor English level.

    Also, although I definitely support the position upheld in the Wall, I do not believe one should exaggerate the psychoanalytical position in France as this article does. Very few psychoanalysts working with autistic children still support Bettleheim’s approach. An unbiased presentation of the psychoanalytical approach is sufficient enough to show that it is inadequate and often off base for treating this disorder.

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