Important Facts Involving the History of Autism

Although the history of autism likely began well over a century ago, autism wasn’t previously recognized as its own condition, it was originally confused with another mental disorder, schizophrenia.

For many years, it was also believed that autism was the result of one, basic cause. Today, it is known that autism does not only have one cause, and nothing about the disorder is basic.

For instance, although all autistics have issues with social development, some may be highly gifted and learn to live independently, while others are mentally unable to grasp concepts and are completely dependent.

However, you may be wondering, how did the history of autism develop and where did it all begin?

The following are the main facts that outline the major breakthroughs in autism history.

o 1912 – Eugene Bleuler – a Swiss psychiatrist was the first to recognize a pattern in schizophrenic individuals who seemed to be self-absorbed. Bleuler referred to this self-absorption as “autism”; he was the first to create and use this term. However, he was not the first in the history of autism to recognize autism as being a separate mental disorder from schizophrenia.

o 1943 – Leo Kanner – an Austrian-American child psychologist was the first to recognize autism as an independent mental disorder. Kanner described a group of 11 children having the following common characteristics:

o Displaying anguish with changes

o Problems with social interaction

o Delayed echolalia (vocally repeating the sounds or words of another)

o Good memory

o Overly sensitive to specific stimulants, particularly sound

o Problems with food

o Difficulty being spontaneous

o Notable intellectual potential

Kanner labeled the behaviors of these 11 children as having early infantile autism.

o 1944 – Hans Asperger – an Austrian scientist and pediatrician, wrote about his experiences with a group of children he came to call autistic psychopaths. Asperger noted many of the same traits in the children that Kanner studied. However, the one trait he did not mention was the delayed echolalia. Instead, he noted that his group of children spoke like “little grown-ups”. Asperger also mentioned their clumsy motor skills that were different from the average child. If the name Asperger looks familiar, this is because he plays a major role in the history of autism in regards to Asperger Syndrome, now recognized as a specific type of high functioning autism.

o 1967 – Bruno Bettelheim – An Austrian-American child psychologist and writer wrote The Empty Fortress: Infantile autism and the birth of the self. Within his work, Bettelheim discussed three therapy session he had with children whom he called autistic. Bettelheim claimed that the autistic disorder was the result of their mother’s coldness. It was his belief that parents should not be involved in the children’s therapy. This lack of understanding of the condition left many parents wrongly feeling they were somehow to blame.

o 1970’s – Autism knowledge and research spread to Sweden. The Erica Foundation in Sweden began education and therapy for autistic children. During their research, it was discovered that autism was more complex than initially realized. This led researchers down a new path, making them realize, for one of the first time in the history of autism that there was more than one, general cause of autism.

o 1980’s – Autism research really took off and more researchers were becoming convinced that the typical reasons were related to neurological disturbances, which may be on occasion combined with other genetic factors such as chromosomal aberrations, metabolic disturbances, or illness.

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The history of autism still continues to this day, as researchers are still on a quest to determine the cause and the most effective treatment.