Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that brings about unique ways autistic individuals learn and communicate that differ from neurotypical developmental expectations.
For a time, autism was heartbreakingly misunderstood, and children did not receive the proper help and care they needed to thrive in society. As ASD research has developed further over the last century, both therapies and diagnosis have found a firmer foundation for understanding autism, bringing about a whole culture of love and support for our autistic loved ones.
In this blog, we’ll discuss:
- When was autism discovered?
- Who was the first person to be diagnosed with autism?
- How was autism treated in the 1800s?
- What was autism called in the 1980s?
- Why is autism so common now?
When Was Autism Discovered?
While technically “discovered” in the early 1900s, autism was not properly understood until nearly a century later. With decades of research, psychiatrists are now able to diagnose it properly.
- Around 1908, the word autism was first used not as a diagnosis but as a way to describe a set of symptoms. It was considered to be a subgroup of schizophrenia, where patients showed similar signs of “self-absorption.”
- In the 1940s, child psychiatrist Leo Kanner and Dr. Hans Aspberger described autism as poor social communication and intense interests. Their work wasn’t collaborative, yet they used the same word to describe specific symptoms. Children with autism could still not be diagnosed at this time, as there was only a concept of autism and no official standing.
- Starting in the 1960s, painful treatment was introduced to treat autism. Drugs (such as LSD), behavior therapy, and electric shock were applied. As psychiatrists were still in the process of discovering what caused this disorder, they began to place blame on non-nurturing parents. Nicknaming them “refrigerator mothers,” Dr. Bruno Bettelheim described that mothers who were cold and unaffectionate to their children caused autism.
- The 1970s began a pivotal time in autism research. A psychologist, who parented an autistic child, strongly disagreed with the previously stated theory on “loveless” parenting. Bernard Rimland then published “Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior,” which led to research suggesting that autism was caused by genetics and not environmental factors.
- The term “Infantile Autism” was then added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in the 1980s and officially separated autism from childhood schizophrenia. Childhood autism was now able to be considered eligible for special education, as it was now recognized as a developmental disorder.
- UCLA professor, Ivar Lovaas, suggested that intensive behavioral therapy was the best form of treatment, and this method is used widely today.
Who Was The First Person To Be Diagnosed With Autism?
Donald (Don) Triplett was the first person diagnosed with Autism. Visited by Leo Kannar in 1938, the psychiatrist had trouble distinguishing his symptoms from those of schizophrenia. However, it was noted that he had unique interests and a strong detachment from social interaction. He was initially admitted to a state institution as a child but was later withdrawn from it and grew to be a successful banker with a college degree.
How Was Autism Treated In The 1800s?
Before the start of extensive autism research in the 1900s, it was unknown how to support the individual properly. With uncommon behaviors and no reference point or known solutions, parents turned to state or mental institutions. Heartbreakingly, their children were placed in a facility to live separate from society.
What Was Autism Called In The 1980s?
The 1980s is when this disorder was first called infantile autism – the official separation of autism from childhood schizophrenia. A list of symptoms was published by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) for more accurate diagnosis.
Why Is Autism So Common Now?
Autism has become more common over the last decades as awareness increases. Since the year 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that autism prevalence has seen a jump from 1 in 150 children to 1 in 36.
With more research developing on the signs and symptoms of autism, caregivers are more attentive to how their child may fit this description, directly increasing the number of official diagnoses as people become more educated and aware of neurodiversity.