The History of Autism (A Summary)

Autism was official discovered 60 years ago. Although still puzzling to many, professionals are learning more about autism everyday.

Some facts:

  • Early accounts of individuals with autism are unclear
  • The concept and definition of autism has greatly changed over the years
  • Socio-political views as well as treatment available has evolved and continues to grow
  • Symptoms may have been confused with schizophrenia in the past

Timeline:

  • 1960s-Michael Rutter’s comparative study comparing the features of autism
  • 1960s-1970s: Kolvin distinguished autism from schizophrenia
  • 1970-Hermelin and O’Connor explored the “savant”
  • 1971- first association of autism as a specific medical condition (Stella Chess was the first to discover that autism can be associated with a neurological disease)
  • 1975- US Developmental Disability Act included individuals with autism
  • 1981- Lorna Wing’s seminal paper discusses Asperger’s Syndrome
  • 2000-Gillberg added to the knowledge of epidemiology, genetics, and clinical management

Early Accounts/History Records:

  • Book: Autism in History by Rob Houston (discusses the legal case of Uta Frith’s analysis of Hugh Blair in 1747)
  • The story of Victor “the wild boy of Aveyron”  in 1798 with Jean Itard
  • Paper: Observations on Madness and Melancholy chapter entitled “Cases on insane children” by John Haslam (discusses a boy with characteristics of autism published in 1809)
  • Book: The Pathology of the Mind chapter entitled “The insanity of early life” by Henry Maudsley (discusses a 13 year boy who shares similar characteristics of an individuals with Aspergers in 1879)
  • Ssucharewa’s account of six children in Germany during 1926
  • Hans Aspergers’s account of four children in 1949
  • Lorna Wing’s seminal paper in 1981

Outdated Ideas/Theories

  • Autism is caused by bad parenting
  • Autism is among the group of schizophrenia (we now know that autism is a developmental disorder rather than a psychosis)
  • Autism is secondary to language disorders

Interesting Facts:

  • Over 50% of children with autism are taking drugs/vitamins in the US (not the case in the UK)

Journals:

  • The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (started in 1971 by Kanner and Chess)
  • Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities (started in 1985)
  • The International Autism Research Review (started in 1987)
  • International Journal of Research and Practice (started in 1997)
  • Good Autism Practice (started in 2001)

Current Books to Read:

  • “Pretending to be Normal” by Liane Willey
  • “Growing up Severely Autistic” by Kate Rankins
  • “An Inside View Of Autism” by Temple Grandin
  • “Freaks, Geeks, and Aspergers Syndrome” by Luke Jackson

Reference: 

Wolff, S. (2004). The history of autism. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 13(4), 201-8. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.bsu.edu/10.1007/s00787-004-0363-5

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