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Clara Claiborne Park

By Dennis Hevesi

Published July 12, 2010

Jessy, the 8-year-old daughter of Clara Claiborne Park, would step around a spot of light on the floor for hours, or incessantly run a chain through her fingers. She would sit and stare through people around her as though they were not there. A word she learned one day would fade from her memory the next.

That was more than 40 years ago, when autism was barely understood, much less recognized, as a standard diagnosis. It was considered schizophrenia, or, to some professionals who embraced the term “refrigerator mother,” a deep-seated decision to closet consciousness from an unbearable family situation, including an emotionally frigid mother.

Mrs. Park, a college English teacher, wanted to tell her daughter’s story, and the book she wrote, “The Siege,” published in 1967, did that and more. It was credited with assuaging the guilt that so many parents of autistic children had assumed, and came to be regarded as an important source of insight for psychiatrists, psychologists, educators and advocates.

Mrs. Park died on July 3 in Williamstown, Mass. She was 86. The cause was complications from a fall, her son, Paul, said.

Clara Claiborne Park, who wrote a deeply personal account of raising an autistic child, and her daughter Jessica in 1992.

Read More …  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/health/13park.html?_r=2&ref=obituaries



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