Grunya (left) and Maria (right) Sukhareva both earned medical degrees in Kyiv, Ukraine, with Grunya, shown here at age 10, ultimately specializing in child psychiatry and her sister in infectious diseases.
After graduating from medical school, Grunya Sukhareva, shown here in 1916, joined a team of epidemiologists who traveled to areas in Ukraine affected by outbreaks of encephalitis and other infectious diseases.
Sukhareva, shown here in 1928, published a paper three years earlier that described in careful detail the autism traits of six boys in her care.
Sukhareva was ahead of her time in many ways and started to disentangle autism from childhood schizophrenia during the 1950s, nearly 30 years before they were listed as separate conditions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
By the 1960s, Sukhareva was head of child psychiatry at the Central Institute for the Improvement of Physicians, now the Russian Academy of Medical Postgraduate Education, which she founded in 1935.
Sukhareva, shown here at a hospital conference in the late 1960s, saw autism as rooted in brain development and never subscribed to the widespread belief that took hold in the 1940s that autism might be caused by ‘refrigerator mothers’ tending to their children in a cold and unemotional way.
Multiple generations of child psychiatrists grew under the leadership and teaching of Sukhareva, who never had children of her own and dedicated her life to her work.
Until two years ago, the photographs in this gallery lay buried in the archives of a Moscow clinic named after Grunya Efimovna Sukhareva, the child psychiatrist who described autism two decades before its well-known ‘founding fathers,’ Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, did. Few, if any, of the images have been published outside of Russia.
Staff at the clinic — the Scientific and Practical Center for Mental Health of Children and Adolescents named after G. Sukhareva — unearthed the images in preparation for the clinic’s 125th anniversary, says Katerina Melnikova, head of development there. The photos help to portray a more complete picture of Sukhareva as a clinician and teacher, as did a 2019 article by Anna Basova, the clinic’s deputy director of science. That article included new observations from Eleanora Solomonovna Mandrusova, a clinical psychologist who worked directly with Sukhareva in the 1960s.
“Grunya Efimovna was not only a brilliant doctor, a subtle diagnostician, but also an outstanding teacher,” Mandrusova recalled. “She, passing on her vast experience, sought to teach young doctors clinical thinking, the ability to analyze, compare and compare. Her clinical reviews were a small spectacle. They were always attended by many interns, residents, young specialists. After listening to the speaker (usually the attending physician of the patient), she asked the opinion of everyone present. And then, after examining and talking with the patient himself, in a very mild manner, praising everyone for individual observations, she described with persuasiveness and simplicity a completely different clinical picture, clearly motivating her statements. Everyone received a lesson but did not feel offended.”
Cite this article: https://doi.org/10.53053/UGLS4777