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Mon, Aug 24

Before Autism had a name.

“A six-year-old boy,” reported the Times of India, “has been returned to his parents after being in the company of wolves for four and a half years.” In the fall of 1957, shortly after this story appeared, a curious sociologist traced the story’s origins. There was a boy who had been found alone, who spoke few words and seemed “interested in people only as objects.” But there were no wolves. Scholars have argued that this boy, named Parasram, and many children before him belong to the pre-history of autism. And really, consider it: An unspeaking child is found untended in the wild, and we conclude that she or he was stolen by wolves or nursed by pumas. We interpret scars as evidence of a life among beasts. There is a deficit of humanity in these stories, but it doesn’t belong to the abandoned children or to the nurturing packs and prides. The deficit lies in our inability to recognize ourselves among the less-familiar forms of human experience.

Read the full Atlantic story here.