Montessori education for autism

Maria Montessori – A Visionary Practitioner

Maria Montessori – A Visionary Practitioner


The first woman to complete medical training in Italy, Maria Montessori was clearly ahead of her time.  As an assistant doctor at the University of Rome Psychiatric Clinic, she became interested in the plight of the “deficient” children who in those days were placed with adults in insane asylums. She studied the educational methods of Edouard Seguin (1812-1880) and his teacher Jean Itard (1775-1838), who are today considered two of the foremost pioneers in special education.  Both Itard and Seguin were French physicians/educators who worked with handicapped children.

Maria Montessori saw mental disability as an educational rather than a medical problem.  Her extensive experience with disadvantaged children taught her that intelligence can be hidden and present itself in many forms other than those recognized by traditional schools.  Importantly, her approach to education was that of a well-trained scientist, rather than a mainly philosophical exploration as followed by many of educational innovators before and after her.

Not surprisingly, there are no direct references to autism per se in Dr. Montessori’s writings, since the condition had not yet been described at the time she conducted her work with “feeble minded” children in the early 1900’s.  (“Infantile autism” was first described by Dr. Leo Kanner in 1943).  It is surprising, however, that her writings do not include references to the deficits or signs that we now associate with autism, as if ASD were a rare occurrence in that time and place.  Maria Montessori’s  “feeble minded” and deficient” students were disadvantaged, physically disabled, or mentally challenged, but I get no indication that they lacked pivotal skills as do many children with autism. Paradoxically, the wonderful innate qualities of children that she highlighted in her writings can be painfully altered or absent in children with ASD.  Having achieved remarkable results working with disadvantaged and disabled children, Dr. Montessori then successfully applied her methodology to typical children.

Read more about Dr. Montessori’s background in special education and “remedial pedagogy”:

Maria Monetssori-Biography