Autism: From the beginning

At the beginning of Autism Awareness Week 2019, we think it would be a good idea to look back and see how Autism was first made a diagnosable disorder and where we are now.

Leo Kanner- the first person to begin to research ‘Autim’

Autism is now thought to affect around 700,000 people in the Uk that’s more than 1 in 100 of the population. However, experts think this may be higher due to misdiagnosis and those who have the condition but do not obtain a formal diagnosis.

Over 60 year ago, Leo Kanner first described a specific pattern of abnormal behaviour as ‘early infantile autism’.

Donald T. was 5 years old when he met Kanner, in a letter written by Donald’s father he described him as ” happiest when he was alone… drawing into a shell and living within himself… oblivious to everything around him.” Donald also had a Donald had a mania for spinning toys, liked to shake his head from side to side and spin himself around in circles, and he had temper tantrums when his routine was disrupted.

Kanner borrowed the term ‘autismʼ from Eugene Bleuler, who had coined it to describe the inward, self-absorbed aspects of schizophrenia in adults. But Kanner did not consider infantile autism an early form or prodrome of schizophrenia. The clinical signs were not identical and, unlike schizophrenia, Kannerʼs patients seemed to have autism from birth.

20 years on and Victor Lotter, published the first results of his study of children with a profile of ‘Kanners Autism’ which gave a prevalence of 4.5 per 10,000 children (Lotter,1966)

Lorna Wing

1979, Lorna Wing started to investigate the prevalence of Kanner Autism in those with a learning difficulty. They soon discovered that there were many children who didn’t fit ‘Kanners Autism’ profile but still had impairments in Social Communication, Interaction and Imagination. Although they didn’t meet Kanner’s description they were still identified as Autism and this gave birth to the Autism Spectrum we know nowadays.

However back in 1944, an Austrian paediatrician Hans Aspergers conducted a study on a group of boys who were identified as having ‘Kanners Autism’ but they also had abilities including grammatical language, in the above or superior range. Asperger’s research went unnoticed til around recent studies brought it to the forefront and it was added into the DSM-IV ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

There are many arguments when whether it is just a higher functioning Autism.

Hans Aspergers- The Austrian pediatrician named Aspergers Syndrome

This brings us up to the current day. The Autism Spectrum now houses a variety of conditions from Autism, Aspergers, ADHD/ADD, PDA as well as many others.

With the introduction of the DSM-V. We will soon know all variations of Autism i.e. Kanners Autism, Aspergers Syndrome, High/Low functioning Autism, as Autism Spectrum Disorder. This has caused many questions to come from the Autism community and professionals alike.

We are nowhere closer to determining the causes of Autism. Although there have been many theories, ranging from bad parenting (a complete myth) to genetics (still researching) and the MMR vaccinations (there’s a whole lot of theories on this one).

But one thing we know for certain is that there are many Adults and Children with Autism that go undiagnosed and do not receive the support they require, and sometimes even those with a diagnosis do not receive the support, but we know that with the right support, time and understanding these individuals can go on to achieve great things.