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History of Autism Spectrum Disorders

History of Autism Spectrum Disorders

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History of Autism Spectrum Disorders

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  1. History of Autism Spectrum Disorders Module 1 Lesson 1

  2. The first use of the word autism • The word autism comes from the Greek word autos meaning self. • In 1911 a psychiatrist by the name of Eugen Bleuler coined the terms “autism” and “autistic” to describe an aspect of schizophrenia in which a person withdraws from the outside world into himself (Sicile-Kira, 2004)

  3. Leo Kanner • In 1943 Leo Kanner, psychiatrist, used the term autistic in his publication describing eleven children with characteristics similar to how we define autism today • To view Kanner’s publication in it’s entirety, click on the following link:

  4. The characteristics Kanner described in the eleven children he studied include… • An inability to relate to others in an ordinary manner • An extreme aloneness that isolates the child from the outside world • An apparent resistance to being picked up or held by the parents • Deficits in language including mutism and echolalia • In some cases, an excellent rote memory • Early specific food preferences • Extreme fear reactions to loud noises • Obsessive desire for repetition and maintenance of sameness • Few spontaneous activities such as typical play behavior • Bizarre and repetitive physical movement such as spinning or rocking • Normal physical appearance (Scheuermann & Webber, 2002)

  5. Hans Asperger • In 1944 Hans Asperger, Austrian pediatrician, used the term autistic to describe four boys with characteristics of what we refer to as Asperger Syndrome today. • Until the 1980’s, Kanner’s description of autism was the most widely recognized not Asperger’s description.

  6. Bruno Bettelhiem • In the late 1940’s Bruno Bettelheim, coined the term “refrigerator mothers” claiming that the cause of autism was unfeeling, cold parents. • While Bettelheim was said to be a Hungarian psychotherapist, it was discovered in the later 1990’s that before emigrating to the United States he had worked in the family lumber business and earned a degree in art history with no expertise in autism (Sicile-Kira, 2004) • Unfortunately, his theory of “refrigerator mothers” was widely accepted for two decades.

  7. Bernard Rimland • In 1964 a psychologist named Bernard Rimland published a book that insisted that autism was a biological disorder, not an emotional illness caused by unfeeling parents. • Rimland was also a parent of a child with autism and the founder of the Autism Society of America (ASA). • ASA was the first parent-driven organization to provide information and support to parents and professionals. To view the ASA website go to

  8. Autism added to the DSM • In 1980, autism was added to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association. • In 1994, Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) were added to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual. • The DSM currently lists the autism spectrum disorders under the broader category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders along with Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Rett syndrome.

  9. Initial Use of the Term “Asperger Syndrome” • In 1981 Lorna Wing published a paper using the term “Asperger syndrome” in which she described children much like the boys described by Hans Asperger in 1944. • This was when the term “Asperger syndrome” began to be used in the U.S.

  10. Lovaas In 1987, O. Ivar Lovaas published his landmark study showing dramatic IQ gains for a large number of young children with autism participating in an applied behavior analytic intervention program called discrete trial training.

  11. Autism and IDEA In 1990 the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) recognizes autism as one of the thirteen disabilities under which a student can be eligible for special education services.

  12. Module 1 Lesson 1 Activity • Since Bernard Rimland founded the Autism Society of America, the organization has provided many resources to families and professionals. • Explore the Autism Society of America website at • Answer the following questions: • What services and supports does the Autism Society of America provide to families? • What services and supports does the Autism Society of America provide to professionals?

  13. References American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author. Asperger, H. (1944). Die ‘AutistischenPsychopathen’ imKindesalter [“Autistic Psychopathy” in Childhood]. Archiv fur Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, 117, 76-136. Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2, 217-250. Lovaas, O. I. (1987). Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 3-9. Rimland, B. (1964). Infantile autism: The syndrome and its implications for a neural theory of behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Scheuermann, B., & Webber, J. (2002). Autism: Teaching does make a difference. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Sicile-Kira, C. (2004). Autism spectrum disorders: The complete guide to understanding autism, Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, and other ASDs. New York: Perigee.