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Reinventing Play

Autistic Children and the Normativity of Play in Postwar France

Jonathyne Briggs

In postwar France, the definition of play helped to situate the meaning of childhood in a manner that marginalized disabled children from the common understanding of childhood. Three thinkers—Françoise Dolto, Maud Mannoni, and Fernand Deligny—all advocated more nuanced and open definitions of play that allowed for the recognition of disabled children’s forms of play, which often operated outside of social norms. In their practices, each of these thinkers articulated new interpretations of play that expanded its meaning in social and therapeutic contexts. This recognition was important in questioning the isolation of disabled children, in identifying their belonging among other children, and in revealing the changing boundaries of definitions of childhood.