Clara Park, an important voice in the history of autism awareness and understanding, has died in Massachusetts at 86. In 1968, Park’s first autism narrative, “The Siege,” challenged the conventional wisdom of the day — that autism was caused by mothers’ treatment of their children. “The Siege” told the story of raising her autistic daughter and earned Park international acclaim. Two later books continued the story. Park was also a senior lecturer at Williams College, where President Adam Falk remembered her in a post on a college blog. (Here’s a Boston Globe story on Jessica Park, Clara Park’s autistic daughter, an artist and Williams mailroom employee.)
WILLIAMSTOWN — One-hundred and thirty-four families with autistic children in the Berkshires work with Community Resources for People with Autism, and the Center for Disease Control estimates that one in 110 children have the disorder nationwide.
But before there were support centers or even readily available statistics about autism, there was Clara Park’s 1968 book “The Siege,” a canonical narrative about raising an autistic child. The work helped pave the way for the compassionate understanding of the disorder that advocates are still forging today.
Park died in Williamstown on Saturday and will be buried at the Williams College Cemetery this morning. She was 86.
In 1968, Park published “The Siege” about raising her young autistic daughter, Jessica Park. She then released a second edition in 1982 that updated the story of Jessica, who was by then a young woman who had achieved a reputation as an artist, a friend to many, and a longtime employee in the Williams College mailroom. “The Siege” was translated into numerous languages. In 2001, Clara penned “Exiting Nirvana: A Daughter’s Life with Autism,” which contained a foreword written by Oliver Sacks, the noted physician and best-selling author.