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The History of Autism

Updated: Feb 20

Eugen Bleuler

The word "autism" originates from the Greek word "autos," which means "self," describing conditions in which an individual is removed from social interaction or becomes an “isolated self.”

In 1911, a Swiss psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler, was the first person to use the term autism, however, it was used to refer to a group of symptoms related to schizophrenia. His student, Eugène Minkowski, carried on the study and defined autism as the "trouble generator" of schizophrenia.

Hans Asperger

It was not until 1943 that the idea of autism changed. Leo Kanner in the US and Hans Asperger in Germany conducted research on individuals with social and emotional limitations that also demonstrated withdrawn behaviour. Kanner named the condition Kanner’s syndrome (later Early Infantile Syndrome), while Asperger named it Asperger’s syndrome. The symptoms diagnosed were similar, with some differences; Asperger’s syndrome showed stronger language skills and an above average understanding of highly technical knowledge.

The Refrigerator Mother Theory

Leo Kanner

In 1949 Leo Kanner observed a small group of children from well-educated families and determined that children with Autism were more likely to be born into highly intelligent families. During the research he started calling the mothering style as cold, which led to the term “refrigerator mother.” As instrumental as Kanner was in forming the “Refrigerator Mother” hypothesis, it was Bruno Bettleheim who gave it widespread popularity. His articles, primarily in the 1950s and 1960s, popularized the idea that autism was caused by maternal coldness toward their children—ignoring, as Kanner did, that these same mothers had other children who were not autistic. This was, without a doubt, the low ebb of professional opinion about the parents (especially the mothers) of autistic children.

It was not until 1964 that Bernard Rimland, the father of a son with Autism, presented the first solid argument that autism is not related to the parent child bond, but is a biological condition. He published a book called Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior and founded the Autism Society of America for parents to have a voice against the Refrigerator Mother Theory.

In the 1980s the research on autism gained momentum and the belief that parenting caused autism was diminishing. Autism was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- Third Edition (DSM-III) as "infantile autism". This addition made it possible for doctors to accurately diagnose Autism and gave the ability to easily differentiate Autism from schizophrenia. In 1987 "Autistic Disorder" replaced "Infantile Autism" in the manual and gave a more expansive explanation of the diagnosis.

“They claim that autism naturally occurs at about 18 months, when the MMR is routinely given, so the association is merely coincidental and not causal. But the onset of autism at 18 months is a recent development. Autism starting at 18 months rose very sharply in the mid-1980s, when the MMR vaccine came into wide use. A coincidence? Hardly!” Bernard Rimland


#Autism #history #refrigerationmother #schizophrenia


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