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Badass Comeback from "Refrigerator Mother Syndrome"

autism autism family autism sibling disability disability access discrimination diversity inclusion inclusive living institutionalization life quality segregation self-determination supported living Oct 05, 2023
My siblings and me sitting in living room of my grandparents' home in Sevilla Spain, with our mother seated next to her father. Joaquin is seated in a chair in the foreground of the photo.

I recently found this old photo of my mom, grandparents, and siblings sitting in my grandparents living room in Sevilla back in the 1970s. My heart celebrates the memories of all souls present here. As Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Sevilla, Spain, and my mother’s birthday, recently passed, I am reminded of the strength and passionate roots of my family. The close familial bonds of our Spanish culture. My mother helped raise her 11 younger brothers and sisters. At 9 years old, she quit school to get a job, to help put food on the table. She was revered as a maternal pillar by her siblings. As an adult, she became a loving mom to 4 children, one of whom is autistic.

Joaquin was diagnosed with autism at a time when autism was considered a “refrigerator mother syndrome,” the result of cold parenting. For many years, Leo Kanner, a psychiatrist and physician, and others who followed him, perpetuated the notion that autistic children were denied affection from their parents, thus causing them to draw further inward. My mother prayed for God to help her be a better mother. But later, after public pushback from Dr. Bernard Rimland (who subsequently was a household name for our family), things changed for us. With her head held high, my mother prayed without ceasing for her son to be ok amidst a cold, harsh world that did not embrace him.

Ana Fernandez Moreno Carson taught us what it means to be grounded in faith, unstoppable in hope, and stubborn in love. And when she died 7 years ago, she knew Joaquin would be ok, because he was finally loved and honored and treated with dignity, out of the institution we fought so hard for his release from, and now and forever in his own home, in a community of his choosing, near his family.

FAMILY. Family isn’t perfect. But the journey together has made us who we are. We are forever connected through caring for, fighting for, and standing strong with our loved ones who need it the most.


To learn about Joaquin's journey from institutionalization to community living, watch Diana's TEDx Talk here. Or listen to her podcast interview on the Think Inclusive Podcast here. Diana is an educator, speaker, author, and podcast host of Beyond Awareness: Disability Awareness That Matters.

For Diana's free resource for educators, The 5 Keys to Going Beyond Awareness, click here.


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