Michael Rutter, Pioneering Child Psychiatrist, Is Dead at 88

Upon enrolling in the University of Birmingham Medical School in 1950, he hoped to follow in the footsteps of his father, who was already a practising general practitioner. A prominent Nazi-fleeing German psychiatrist named Wilhelm Mayer-Gross inspired him to pursue neurology and neurosurgery as well as psychiatry.

After graduating from medical school in 1955, Dr. Rutter worked as a paediatrics fellow at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in the Bronx, from 1961 to 1962, where he specialised in the treatment of children. In 1962, he joined the Maudsley Hospital social psychiatry research unit in London, and in 1966, he joined the Institute of Psychiatry in London as well. In 1992, he was made a Knight of the Order of the British Empire.

The book “Fifteen Thousand Hours: Secondary Schools and Their Effects on Children” (1979), which was based on a study of the problems faced by London schoolchildren over the course of 12 years of education, was written by Dr. Rutter or co-authored by him.

Other works by him include “Maternal Deprivation Reassessed” (1972), in which he posited that children can form strong attachments to people both inside and outside of their families, all of whom can have an impact on a child’s mental well-being and growth. When John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, claimed that a child’s attachment to his or her mother’s love was crucial, it was seen as an attack on his work.

He is survived by his wife Marjorie (Heys) Rutter, a nurse and co-author of the 1993 book “Developing Minds: Challenge And Continuity Across The Lifespan,” as well as his daughters Sheila and Christine, son Stephen, sister Priscilla, and seven grandchildren. Marjorie Heys Rutter also co-authored the book with her husband.

Dr. Rutter and several colleagues began a long-term study to determine how well the children recovered from the difficult conditions they had experienced in orphanages as the number of Romanian orphans adopted by British families increased in the early 1990s.

Many of them, he found, quickly adapted to their new homes, but some who were adopted after six months had higher rates of autism spectrum disorder, overactivity, and poor personal engagement than a control group of children who had been adopted within the United Kingdom. Their early hardships may have contributed to some of the children’s emotional, behavioural, cognitive, and social-relationship issues by the time they were 15 years old.