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


  • 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Outdated Ideas/Theories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)


  • 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


Wolff, S. (2004). The history of autism. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 13(4), 201-8. doi:

Favorite Blog Posts for the Week

As I have been searching the internet reading about one of my favorite topic—education—I have come across some fantastic blog posts. I have listed my top 5 favorites of the week below: (Note: These blogs below contain different writing styles, education levels, and topics).

1. 10 Ideas to Move Innovation Forward

2. Who am I? Words I’d use to describe myself with before my diagnosis. (written from a 12 year old who blogs almost daily)

3. The Incredible Power of a Single Pair of Glasses

4. How Public Health can Deliver Breakthroughs for the Autism Community:

5. Autistic and Proud…in School Magazine (our 12 year old boy with autism makes the list a second time!!)

If you have come across any great blog post, please comment and let me know below!


‘All those child psychologists who said “John prefers to play by himself” were dead wrong’.

 “I did not want to play alone, I played alone because I was a failure at playing with others.” -John Elder Robison

Another touching, yet scary realization John Elder Robison shares in his book, Look Me in the Eye.

“As a functional Aspergian adult, one thing troubles me deeply about those kids who end up behind the second door. Many descriptions of autism and Asperger’s describe people like me as “not wanting contact with others” or “preferring to play alone.” I can not speak for other kids, but I’d like to be very clear about my own feelings: I did not ever want to be alone. And all those child psychologists who said “John prefers to play by himself” were dead wrong. I played by myself because I was a failure at playing with others. I was alone as a result of my own limitations, and being alone was one of the bitterest disappointments of my young life. The sting of those early failures followed me long into adulthood, even after I learned about Asperger’s.”

Passage taken from: Robison, John Elder. Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. New York: Crown, 2007. Pg 211.

I do not know about you but this passage hit me hard. As a teacher, I wonder how I am supposed to encourage the play of all students when some students on the outside seem unwilling to play with others. Students tend to avoid activities that are hard so it should not come to a shock when a student with Asperger’s removes themselves from a group of people to feel “safe” or more “secure”.

Throughout my years of interacting with students, I have learned that every child wants to be accepted and loved for who they are as individuals. While some people are definitely more extraverted than others, no one wants to live life fully alone. We must be sure to include students the best we can and create opportunities of play for students who struggle. Without the child knowing, teachers can be consciousness of who they pair a student with Asperger’s with and create environments that encourage structured playing time. Structured playing time may help the child with Asperger’s to play with more ease and not feel the bitter disappointment of playing alone.

Students with Asperger’s can also be taught and instructed in what is considered appropriate behavior. Students without Asperger’s must also be taught how one should treat and include all human beings. With this said, teachers can have classroom discussions that include all students about appropriate behavior during play, recess, or lunch to help create an inclusive and safe environment for all students to interact and feel included.

I believe the teacher or the parent plays a huge role in setting the standard of how students in her classroom or home treat one another. Students can be taught basic principles of respect, understanding, and manners. This simple classroom discussion can lead to happy people and happy students, and prevent more passages as the one read above about John Elder Robison.

 As stated in a previous post, I highly recommend the book: “Look Me in the Eye” by John Elder Robinson to gain a better understanding on people with Aspergers.

Another inspiring passage from “Look me in the Eye”

A quick word from John Elder Robinson:

“…. our brains continue to develop throughout our lives. This is completely counter to what I’ve often heard but never accepted: “If you’re autistic, you never change.” If I am any example, it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks. In fact, my entire life exemplified continuing change”.

“As a kid, I was voted “most likely to fail,” and indeed, I flunked out of high school. Yet only a few years later I became an engineer on one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll tours in the world. Then I helped design some of the first electronic games. When I was in my thirties, I made a complete change of direction, raising akid and starting an automobile business. And at fifty, I changed course once again, becoming a successful author.”

Passage taken from: Robison, John Elder. Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. New York: Crown, 2007. Pg 284.

As stated in previous posts, I highly recommend the book: “Look Me in the Eye” by John Elder Robinson to gain a better understanding on people with Asperger’s.

“Treat me with the same respect”

Author of the book Look Me in the Eye, John Elder Robison share’s his experiences growing up as a boy with Asperger’s. So far, the story throughout has powerful messages and themes. Below, I highlighted a section I found particularly eye-opening as Robison shares the difficulties ‘Aspergians’ have with communication everyday. Aspergians don’t necessarily have an external sign of a disability, which can lead outside people to false conclusions or thoughts when interacting with a person with Asperger’s due to misunderstandings and a lack of knowledge about the disability. Robison aims to break this barrier by sharing an analogy about how society treats someone in a wheelchair compared to how someone would treat him with his own difficulties. He asks society to treat him with the same respect and wishes for compassion and grace for all.

“My conversational difficulties highlight a problem Aspergians face every day. A person with an obvious disability-for example, someone in a wheelchair-is treated compassionately because his handicap is obvious. No one turns to a guy in a wheelchair and says, “Quick! Let’s run across the street!” And when he can’t run across the street, no one says, “What’s his problem?” They offer to help him across the street. With me, though, there is no external sign that I am conversationally handicapped. So folks hear some conversational misstep and say, “What an arrogant jerk!” I look forward to the day when my handicap will afford me the same respect accorded to a guy in a wheelchair. And if the respect comes with a preferred parking space, I won’t turn it down.”

Passage taken from: Robison, John Elder. Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. New York: Crown, 2007. Pg 194.

I encourage society to treat all human beings with the same respect, dignity, and grace we all deserve. We must be careful not to jump to conclusions and understand the social difficulties people with Asperger’s face. I believe this will happen when people better understand what Asperger’s is and how social interaction is a struggle. We all struggle with communication and must extend grace to all.

 As stated in a previous post, I highly recommend the book: “Look Me in the Eye” by John Elder Robinson to gain a better understanding on people with Aspergers.

A must read: “Look me in the eye”

“As sweet and funny and sad and true and heartfelt a memoir as one could find.”—from the foreword by Augusten Burroughs

Look me in the eye” by John Elder Robison is a must read for anyone wishing to have a better understanding of people with Aspergers.

John Elder, a natural storyteller, remarkably shares a personal and detailed narrative of his life and his battles of feeling accepted by family, friends, and teachers who did not understand how his brain worked. He was not diagnosed until the age of 40 and was simply labeled as a “social deviant” growing up.

From overcoming his painful childhood, he persisted to become a successful business man repairing high-end cars. In his humorous, yet at times sad acount, John Elder creativly takes readers into the mind of an Asperger’s boy. This book will open up the minds and eyes of readers who may lack understanding or grace for people with Aspergers. This is a great summer read and is highly recommended.

 A note from the author: “When I wrote “Look Me in the Eye”, I wanted to show readers what it was like to grow up feeling like a freak or a misfit. I thought my book would show how people with Asperger’s are different from everyone else. To my great surprise, my book actually shows the opposite: Deep down, people are very much the same”.

 I agree with the author and would encourage all to buy and read this book! 🙂