The character of Dr Schermerhorn is based
on Bruno Bettelheim, who ran the Orthogenic School in Chicago and wrote many
books on autism.
Bettelheim was born in Vienna in 1903. As a Jew in Austria, he was interned in Dachau and Buchenwald from 1938-9. His release was purchased (it was possible for some to purchase their release up until the outbreak of WWII) and he immediately emigrated to the United States, ending up at the University of Chicago where he headed the Orthogenic School.
His methods, roundly disproved today, were based on the belief that "the precipitating factor in infantile autism is the parent's wish that the child should not exist". In other words he believed, and convinced many others, that parents were to blame for their children's autism.
In suffered from depression towards the end of his life, and in 1990 he committed suicide, six years after the death of his wife, Trude from cancer.&...