Bruno Bettelheim (August 28, 1903 – March 13, 1990) was an early writer on autism who was also a refugee from Nazi Europe who used fraudulent credentials to obtain an academic position. After his death, he was exposed for plagiarism, false credentials, and abusive treatment of students.
Bettelheim was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, and following the Nazi Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in March 1938, he was arrested in May because he was a Jew and an advocate of Austrian independence. Bettelheim was then imprisoned for ten and a half months in the concentration camps Dachau and Buchenwald until he was released in April 1939. While in the camps he used mnemonic techniques to remember details of the responses of guards and inmates, which he later published in an academic journal article. He then emigrated to the United States and participated in a wartime project sponsored by Rockefeller Foundation to help refugee scholars find new jobs. He first worked as a research assistant at the University of Chicago, became a professor at Rockford College, and then returned to the University of Chicago to accept positions as both professor and director of the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School for Disturbed Children.
Bettelheim remained director of the school from 1944 to 1973 and during the 1960s and 1970s had an international reputation in such fields as autism, child psychiatry, and Freudian analysis. After his death in 1990, it was discovered that he had substantially misrepresented his background and credentials. For example, he had never been a candidate at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and had only taken three introductory courses in psychology. His one Ph.D was in either art history or philosophy (aesthetics). Bettelheim’s theories on autism, for which he blamed parents and primarily mothers in The Empty Fortress (1967), raised controversy in his lifetime and are now considered to be discredited.
After his death, it was further revealed that Bettelheim often used violence against students who lived at the school even though he wrote against corporal punishment. Counselors at the school tended to merely perceive corporal punishment, whereas some but not all students perceived rage and out-of-control violence.
Chicago-area psychiatrists were later criticized for knowing at least some of what was occurring and not taking effective action. The University of Chicago was also criticized for not providing their normal oversight during Bettelheim’s tenure.
Source: Bruno Bettelheim – Wikipedia
August 28, 1903
March 13, 1990 (aged 86)
Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
|Known for||freelance ideas on child psychology;|
The Uses of Enchantment
|Spouse(s)||Gina Alstadt (1930–?; divorced)|
Gertrude Weinfeld (1941–1984; her death; 3 children)
|Fields||Director of Orthogenic School (1944–1973)|