Autism – a metaphor discussed

This article on autism by  Uta Frith is now 20 years old, but the first paragraph interests me because it offers an excellent example of how metaphors for understanding shape our perceptions. The ‘glass shell’ metaphor Frith discusses has shaped studies in autism and also how we approach those with autism: Frith wrote:

“The image often invoked to describe autism is that of a beautiful child imprisoned in a glass shell. For decades, many parents have clung to this view, hoping that one day a means might be found to break the invisible barrier. Cures have been proclaimed, but not one of them has been backed by evidence. The shell remains intact. Perhaps the time has come for the whole image to be shattered. Then at last we might be able to catch a glimpse of what the minds of autistic individuals are truly like.” (p.108)

“The old image of the child in the glass shell is misleading in more ways than one. It is incorrect to think that inside the glass shell is a normal individual waiting to emerge, nor is it true that autism is a disorder of childhood only.” (p.114)

Ref: Frith, U. (1993). Autism. Scientific American, 268, 108-114. (,%20Autism,%20Scientific%20American%20copy.pdf accessed today) …and see below for this and more:

Frith has many of her publications on autism (and on other fields of research) available online at:

and more recent publications:


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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