The term autism first was used by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1908. He used it to describe a schizophrenic patient who had withdrawn into his own world. The Greek word ''autós'' meant self and the word “autism” was used by Bleuler to mean morbid self-admiration and withdrawal within self.
The pioneers in research into autism were Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner. They were working separately in the 1940’s. Asperger described very able children while Kanner described children who were severely affected. Their views remained useful for physicians for the next three decades.
Chronological history of autism
- Eugen Bleuler coined the word "autism" in 1908 among severely withdrawn schizophrenic patients.
- In 1943 American child psychiatrist Leo Kanner studied 11 children. The children had features of difficulties in social interactions, difficulty in adapting to changes in routines, good memory, sensitivity to stimuli (especially sound), resistance and allergies to food, good intellectual potential, echolalia or propensity to repeat words of the speaker and difficulties in spontaneous activity.
- In 1944 Hans Asperger, working separately, studied a group of children. His children also resembled Kanner’s descriptions. The children he studied, however, did not have echolalia as a linguistic problem but spoke like grownups. He also mentioned that many of the children were clumsy and different from normal children in terms of fine motor skills.
- Next Bruno Bettelheim studied the effect of three therapy sessions with children who he called autistic. He claimed that the problem in the children was due to coldness of their mothers. He separated the children from their parents. Kanner and Bettelheim both worked towards making hypothesis that showed autistic children had frigid mothers
- Bernard Rimland was a psychologist and parent of a child with autism. He disagreed with Bettelheim. He did not agree that the cause of his son’s autism was due to either his or his wife’s parenting skills. In 1964, Bernard Rimland published, Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior.
- Autism came to be better known in the 1970’s. The Erica Foundation started education and therapy for psychotic children in the beginning of the 80s. Many parents still confused autism with mental retardation and psychosis.
- It was in 1980’s that Asperger’s work was translated to English and published and came into knowledge.
- It was in the 1980’s that research on autism gained momentum. It was increasingly believed that parenting had no role in causation of autism and there were neurological disturbances and other genetic ailments like tuberous sclerosis, metabolic disturbances like PKU or chromosomal abnormalities like fragile X syndrome.
- Lorna Wing, along with Christopher Gillberg at BNK (Children's Neuro-Psychiatric Clinic) in Sweden in the 1980’s found the Wing’s triad of disturbed mutual contact, disturbed mutual communication and limited imagination. In the 1990’s they added another factor making it a square. The factor was limited planning ability.
- Ole Ivar Lovaas studied and furthered behavioural analysis and treatment of children with autism. Lovaas achieved limited success at first with his experimental behaviour analysis. He developed it to target younger children (less than 5 years of age) and implemented treatment at home and increased the intensity (a measurement of the amount of “therapy time”) to about 40 hours weekly. Lovaas wrote Teaching Developmentally Disabled Children: The Me Book in 1981. In 2002, Lovaas wrote, Teaching Individuals With Developmental Delays: Basic Intervention Techniques.