Hypothesis of Autism and Psychosis in the Case of Laura Makepeace Stephen
23 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2014
Date Written: March 31, 2014
Laura Makepeace Stephen, Virginia Woolf’s half-sister from her father’s first marriage, is a figure for whom research has been sparse within the field of literary criticism. The limited corpus of references on her life and mental health condition gives accounts of idiocy, lunacy, schizophrenia, Asperger’s syndrome and sexual abuse.
Born and growing up in the late 1800s, Laura Stephen was probably a victim of crude and still evolving Victorian psychiatric diagnostic systems. Her childhood was spent in a familial environment riddled with prejudice and sheer embarrassment about bringing up a child whose development was not viewed as ‘normal’. From early adulthood, Laura lived in a series of mental institutions which kept her surviving, alleviating her family’s sense of burden, without any treatment interventions in the contemporary sense of the word.
In contrast to conjectures made to date on the conditions of her mental health, in this paper we propose the hypothesis that Laura Stephen suffered from autism and, at times, a co-morbid psychosis, and consider the complexity of her case by examining biological, psychological and social dimensions of her life.
Keywords: Idiot, Lunatic, Intellectual disability, Autism, Co-morbid psychosis, Behaviour, Social interaction, Oral hygiene, Sexual abuse.
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