In 1908, Eugen Bleuler coined the word "autism" in schizophrenic patients who screened
themselves off and were self-absorbed.
In 1943, the American child
psychiatrist Leo Kanner described 11 children with the following common traits:
impairments in social interaction, anguish for changes, good memory, belated
echolalia, over sensitivity to certain stimuli (especially sound), food
problems, limitations in spontaneous activity, good intellectual potential,
often coming from talented families. He called the children autistic.
In 1944, Hans Asperger, independent of
Kanner, wrote about a group of children he called autistic psychopaths.
In most aspects they resembled the children of Kanner's description. The
difference was that he did not mention echolalia as a linguistic problem but
that the children talked like little grown-ups. In addition he
mentioned their motor activity which was more clumsy and different from
Bruno Bettelheim wrote about three therapy sessions with children in The Empty Fortress. He called them autistic and claimed that their disorder was due to the coldness of their mothers. He totally disengaged the parents from the children's therapy.
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:
|serious retardation||Asperger's Syndrome|
Common to them all are the following:
|disturbed mutual contact||disturbed mutual communication|
|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|
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.
This is the reason why later in life they are not able to share attention and experiences with others. Much experience is missed that way. Early learning is usually passed from person to person by imitation. The basis of socialization is contact and imitation.
Difficulty in seeing another person's perspective, in understanding the thoughts and intentions of others. There are researchers who believe the basic cause of this is a difficulty in shifting attention. The same attention-shifting difficulty would also lead to the ritualistic behaviors and the difficulties in managing change; difficulty in interrupting one activity and changing to another.
Central coherence = does not automatically look for the meaning of what is going on.
Detailed vision. The world consists of isolated details and not a coherent inner map.
Processes information a piece at a time. Has difficulties with information consisting of several parts.
Has difficulties with void time when nothing happens as well as changing from one activity to another.
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.>>Return
Last modified: 03-04-22