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Dr. Marian Demeyer – Pioneer of Autism

It was not long ago that professionals in the medical field were baffled by children who appeared to be isolated, and self-consumed. What we now know today as autism spectrum disorder was first called childhood schizophrenia by some. The gains made in the field of psychiatry and psychology in the autism sector has been extremely helpful to hundreds of families with children on the spectrum. We often hear of doctors such as Dr. Leo Kanner and Ivar Lovaas who contributed significantly to the body of research available today. Most of the people we accredit are men. So let’s shine light on some of the women that made contributions to this field.

This week for women’s history month we would like to highlight Dr. Marian Demeyer and her impact on literature and solutions targeted towards persons on the autism spectrum as well as the field of ABA.

Dr. Demeyer was born in Indiana in 1922 and worked with several prominent professionals in her day to investigate the traits of autism, and how it can be ethically and effectively treated. She contributed several journal articles on various topics such as how to correctly diagnose autism and guidance for parents with children on the spectrum. Dr Demeyer, like other pioneers of her time, championed methods of ABA interventions such as rewards and reinforcement, measurement and empirical replication of data as well as evidence-informed decision making. Dr Demeyer was not interested in the causes of problem behavior as much as she was interested in the solutions – which she believed lied in the scientific manipulation of behavior and environmental factors.

While many modern day professionals may critique several components of Dr. Demeyer’s work with her associates, the work that she has contributed to the field in collaboration with others has provided a foundation for the breakthroughs and successes we are now enjoying in our era.

Others who can be considered successors of Dr. Demeyer in the field have now refined the field of ABA to be built upon seven key dimensions of being: applied, behavioral, analytical, conceptual, generality, technological, and effective. These are the core principles guiding a professional ABA intervention today. It was Dr. Demeyer along with B.F Skinner, Ivar Lovaas and Charles Fester who paved the way for such an incredible and ingenuous procedure to be developed!

We often hear of women taking centre stage today in many arenas of achievement. However, this was not always the case. Especially in the years that Dr. Demeyer lived. In that period, women were expected to stay home and be essentially only a wife and mother. It was a deeply traditional and archaic custom. For this reason, Dr. Demeyer deserves so much more praise for resisting the norm and becoming a pioneer in her day and a legend in the field.

We hope this brings inspiration and courage to all women this history month, whether you are a teacher, psychiatrist or stay-at-home mom that your voice, your dreams and your mind not just matters but has the potential to change the world and contribute something of value to the upcoming generation.

Happy Women’s History Month!

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