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The History of Autism 

The work of Asperger did not become known until the end of the 1980s when his book was translated into English. Kanner's and Bettelheim's work were quite often confused  and it was  generally accepted that autistic children had frigid mothers.

In the 70s, knowledge of autism begun to spread to Sweden. The Erica Foundation started education and therapy for psychotic children in the beginning of the 80s. The first autistic classes within special education were started in the middle of the 70s.

For a very long time, autism and psychosis continued to be confused and to this day parents are accused of causing the serious disabilities their autistic children have.

For many years, researchers searched for the underlying cause of contact and language disorders, but they realized that the disability was more complex. There was no single, basic cause. 

In the 80s, autism research accelerated and more and more researchers  became convinced that the basic reasons were to be found in neurological disturbances, sometimes combined with hereditary illnesses like tuberous sclerosis, metabolic disturbances like PKU or chromosomal aberrations such as fragile X-chromosome.

In spite of the multitude of causes for autism that were found, there were similarities that made it possible to group them under the same main diagnosis. It was also observed that autistic children among themselves were very different. There was a whole spectrum from severely retarded multi-handicapped children to extremely gifted eccentrics that were fairly good at taking care of themselves.


Instead of talking of autism one started to talk of an autism spectrum:

Straight horisontal line.

serious retardation Asperger's Syndrome

Common to them all are the following:

disturbed mutual contact disturbed mutual communication
          Triangle with the apex pointing downwards
small behavioral repertoire,  limited imagination


This is called Wing's triad

Lorna Wing, along with Christopher Gillberg at BNK (Children's Neuro-Psychiatric Clinic) in Göteborg, Sweden are among Europe's leading autism researchers. Lorna established the triad in the 80s. In the 90s she added another factor and it became a square:

limited planning ability
Rectangle divided diagonally


Current theories about autism

Normally, infants early after birth orientate towards the human face and voice and respond to voices and facial expression. Autistic children cannot interpret another person's face and do not imitate as automatically.

Autism is a lifelong disability! Nothing can be done about the autism itself! Certain symptoms, however, can be relieved with medication. With knowledge of autism you can avoid aggravating the situation for persons with autism. Through education and knowledge people with autism can considerably improve their level of functioning and quality of life.


Last modified: 03-04-22