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History Of Autism Timeline

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The History Of Autism

The Forgotten History of Autism Timeline

It has been more than 50 years since Leo Kanner first described his classic autistic syndrome. Since then, the results of research and clinical work have helped us learn more about autism. More and more people are being diagnosed as autistic, although we still have a long way to go in creating a world that works for autistic people.

Read our charity’s timeline below to explore the history of autism, meet some of our ‘autism pioneers’ and find out more about the incredible work they’ve done.

Some Key Events In The Autism History By The Autism Timeline

1887: Dr. John Langdon Down first researched the mental retardation and Downs syndrome. In mental retardation, he describes people who are suffering from autism.

1908: Autism was described as the people who are self-isolated and withdrawn from self-called schizophrenic patients.

1911: Eugen Bleuler describes the symptom of schizophrenia by using word autism.

1920: In the history of autism first-time electroconvulsive theory used to treat symptoms of autism.

1920: Dietary restrictions have been implemented for autism treatment.

1927: A student of Bleuler Eugene Minkowski describes autism as a trouble generator of schizophrenia.

1943: A doctor Leo Kanner in the United States noticed 11 children who already have mental retardation had difficulty in speech or having speech disorder and cant interact socially with others. They have social and emotional limitations with them. Kanner named this condition to Kanners syndrome and Asperger named it Aspergers syndrome.

1944: A German scientist Hans Asperger describes Aspergers Syndrome by an experiment in which a group of children was found very intelligent with an average understanding of technical knowledge. But they cant socially interact with others. Both researchers symptoms are similar but not identical.

Where The Theory of Refrigerator Mother Started

1965: At the age of 18, Temple Grandin created a squeeze machine for children who are affected with autism

Where The DSM Came Forward

Timeline Of The History Of Autism Spectrum Disorder

The word autism was first used in the English language by Swiss psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler in a 1912 number of the American Journal of Insanity.

However, the classification of autism did not occur until the middle of the twentieth century, when in 1943 psychiatrist Dr. Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore reported on 11 child patients with striking behavioral similarities, and introduced the label early infantile autism. He suggested “autism” from the Greek autos, meaning “self”, to describe the fact that the children seemed to lack interest in other people. Although Kanner’s first paper on the subject was published in a journal, The Nervous Child, almost every characteristic he originally described is still regarded as typical of the autistic spectrum of disorders.

At the same time an Austrian scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, described a different form of autism that became known as Asperger’s syndromebut the widespread recognition of Asperger’s work was delayed by World War II in Germany, and by the fact that his seminal paper wasn’t translated into English for almost 50 years. The majority of his work wasn’t widely read until 1997.

Few clinicians today solely use the DSM-IV criteria for determining a diagnosis of autism, which are based on the absence or delay of certain developmental milestones. Many clinicians instead use an alternate means to more accurately determine a diagnosis.

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Child Psychology And Psychiatry In Britain And The Introduction Of Autism Prior To 1959

As Gillian Sutherland, Deborah Thom, Nikolas Rose and others have documented, the 1920s and 1930s in Britain witnessed a vast expansion of charitable and governmental services to cater for the psychological problems of children . In 1913, the Mental Deficiency Act was passed in England and Wales which ensured institutional care for all children identified as mental defectives. In that same year, Cyril Burt was appointed as the first official government psychologist in the UK and tasked with assessing the levels of psychological disturbance in the child population. He worked with infant welfare centres, school medical inspection officers and reformatory and industrial schools in order to do this . In the late 1920s, the Commonwealth Fund, an American philanthropic body, began to provide funds for the purposes of improving child guidance services in Britain . Early child guidance clinics were used to direct child-rearing practices and to guide the behaviour of problem children . The expansion of psychological services offered growing opportunities for child psychological professionals to observe and assess infants and children.

Progress In The 1970s

About The Center

1971- Eric Schopler and Robert Reichler studied the effects of parent involvement in the treatment of children with Autism.

1972- Schopler started the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children program at the University of North Carolina. The purpose of TEACCH is to provide training and other programs for individuals with Autism.

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Origin And Diagnosis Of Autism

According to Martin Luther, A 12-year-old boy was affected by autism. Luther thought this boy was possessed by a devil. The earliest case of autism is of Hugh Blair of Borgue in 1747 which is registered as a court case in which his brother requests to annul Blairs marriage to get Blairs inheritance. In 1798, A feral child has some signs of autism who are treated by a medical student Jean Itard with a behavioral program.

In the 1940s, researchers within the United States began to use autism to explain kids with emotional or social issues. A doctor from Johns Hopkins University, Leo Kanner used it to elucidate the behavior of many kids he studied United Nations agency acted withdrawn. Simultaneously, Hans Asperger discovered Aspergers syndrome.

Donald Gray Triplett, born in 1933 in a rural town known as Forest, Mississippi. He is the one whom psychiatrist Dr. Leo Kanner in 1938 has first at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Kanner was puzzled after seeing his symptom and was initially unable to diagnose him. However, in Dr. Kanners 1943 paper, Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact, Donald Triplett was registered as Case 1, Donald T.

We Launch Our Too Much Information Campaign

2016 is a big year for us! We launch our Too Much Information campaign to help increase public understanding of autism. 56 million people watch our Can you make it to the end? film about a young autistic boys sensory overload in a shopping centre. Our next films feature a man attending a job interview, a young girl facing challenges at school, and a young woman struggling with public transport.

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Autism In Historical Accounts

Several interesting accounts of children who were markedly unusual in their abilities and interactions have been noted through the centuries. Perhaps the most famous of these is Victor, a youngster who was discovered in 1797 near St-Sernin-sur-Rance, France, having spent several years living in isolation . Jean Itard, a physician, worked tirelessly over many years with Victor, focusing on socialising him. Although Victors expressive language did not develop, his understanding of the world and of other people improved considerably.

Several reports of feral children of varying reliability are included in the literature on autism, although, as with Victor, it is difficult to differentiate the effects of early deprivation from a biological condition. This has been the difficulty with identifying cases from historical accounts of possible autism the unknown influence of the environment. However, more recent examples where a lack of stimulation in early childhood has lead to autism-like conditions have been seen in the effects on development of children unfortunate enough to have been cared for in Romanian orphanages at the beginning of this century.

Autism Timeline: A History Of Autism

The History of Autism

In the 110 years since Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuer coined the term autism, much has changed over the years. The journey of understanding autism continues to grow and while the autism has changed over the years, there are still many more things to discover. Hopefully we are moving from awareness to getting to a place of simply accepting people who bring special gifts to the world.

1908- Swiss psychiatrist, Eugene Bleuer is the first to use the autism to describe individuals with schizophrenia who lost contact with reality.

1912- Dr. Bleuler publishes Das Autistische Denken in a journal of psychiatry and presents his thoughts on how a person with autism experiences the world.

1938- Dr. Hans Asperger presents a lecturer on child psychology. He adapts Bleulers term autism and uses the term autistic psychopathy to describe children showing social withdrawal and overly intense preoccupations.

1938- Beamon Triplett writes a thirty-three page account of his 4 year- old Donalds unusual behavior and sends it to Leo Kanner.

1943- Dr. Leo Kanner describes a childhood disorder involving social and language impairments and the presence of restricted or repetitive behaviors. The account of 11 children leading to a distinct syndrome.

1944- Dr. Hans Asperger reports on 4 children with a pattern of behavior he terms autistic psychopathy- behaviors include reduce empathy, difficulties with forming friendships, impairments in the ability to maintain reciprocal conversations.

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Brief Introduction To Autism History

Autism is understood today as a complex developmental disability characterized by difficulties with communication, interaction, and behavior. With symptoms apparent early in life, researchers and clinicians agree that no single factor is responsible. They locate autisms origins in a combination of genetics, neurology, and biochemistry. The precise causes of autism, and its developmental mechanisms, remain as mysterious as ever.

Autism is invariably represented as a puzzle. It affects different individuals very differently. So striking is the variationsome individuals cannot use language or care for themselves while others are highly intelligent, verbal, and self-sufficientthat autism now ranges over a wide spectrum of cognitive, social, and emotional abilities. Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, has recently entered the vocabulary of diagnosis and disability in part because autism may or may not prove to be a unified syndrome. In the future, it is possible that we will refer to autism in the plural: autisms.

Autism is more familiar and visible today in the United States than it has ever been before, yet we still know remarkably little about its history. The Autism History Project is an effort to document part of that history in all its drama, complexity, and importance.

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The Man With Two Wristwatches

In the 1970s, early founder, Dr Lorna Wing, and her colleague, Dr Judith Gould, undertake a study in Camberwell, South London to establish the number of autistic people in the area. They meet a young man who felt he needed to wear one wristwatch for Greenwich Mean Time and one for British Summer Time. Meeting this young man with his fascination for time and need for certainty helps the two women realise there were far more autistic people than previously recognised.

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John Lennon Donates To Our First School

In 1965, our founding group of parents ask Montessori trainee teacher, Sybil Elgar, to set up a school for their children in West London. It is the world’s first school specifically for autistic children. John Lennon comes to visit and writes a cheque for £1,000 to help. We now have seven schools for autistic children and young people across the UK.

First Issue Of Communication Magazine Sent Out

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The group of parents receive hundreds of phone calls and letters from worried parents of autistic children. To help provide answers, guidance and advice, they start Communication magazine. It is now called Your Autism and is read by 22,000 people. Full of articles about autistic people and their families, it won the Charity Magazine of the Year award in 2014.

“They said our children were ineducable.” Michael Baron, one of our founders

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Introduction To Asperger Syndrome

In 1944, Hans Asperger in Vienna had published an account of children with many similarities to Kanner autism but who had abilities, including grammatical language, in the average or superior range. There are continuing arguments concerning the exact relationship between Asperger and Kanner syndromes but it is beyond dispute that they have in common the triad of impairments of social interaction, communication and imagination and a narrow, repetitive pattern of activities .


  • Stephan Ehlers and Christopher Gillberg published the results of a further study carried out in Gothenburg. This study examined children in mainstream schools. The aim was to find the prevalence of Asperger syndrome and other autism profiles in children with IQ of 70 or above.
  • From the numbers of children they identified, they calculated a rate of 36 per 10,000 for those who definitely had Asperger syndrome and another 35 per 10,000 for those with social difficulties. Some of these children may have fitted Asperger description if more information had been available, but they were certainly on the autism spectrum. Teachers of these children had previously recognised social and/or educational differences, but had not been able to find a reason for these differences.


Lorna Wing Revolutionises Understanding About Autism

Dr Lorna Wing develops the term the autistic spectrum. Her and Dr Judith Goulds work leads to figures on the prevalence of autism being revised. This has a huge impact on the number of people being diagnosed and having access to support in the coming decades, not only in the UK but around the world.

“Lorna Wing was one of the two or three most important people in the history of autism.” Steve Silberman, author of Neurotribes

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Modern Therapies For Autism Start

It wasnt until the 1980s and 90s that we start to see more modern therapies for children with autism, such as behavioral therapy focusing on positive rewards and controlled learning environments.

In 1987, infantile autism was expanded into autism disorder and finally had a specified list of diagnostic criteria to help standardize the diagnosing. In this same year, Ivar Lovaas published the first study showing that intensive behavior therapy can help children improve their autistic symptoms.

In 1991, the U.S. Government made autism a special education category, which helped public schools to offer special services to children on the spectrum.

However, the 1980s and 1990s werent all positive movements. In 1998, a study was published that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism. The study was later debunked but got enough attention to still cause confusion to this day.

This brings us to today, which includes the merging of the five different disorders all under the Autism Spectrum Disorder title.

Asperger Syndrome & High

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Since 2013 research has still maintained some distinctions within the autism spectrum, and still used terms like Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism. In fact, at the time of writing this article, Google Scholar gives 18,100 results when I search for papers with the term Asperger syndrome since 2014, and 18,700 results for high-functioning autism. This in itself does not show the two conditions are distinct, but that both terms are popular in the research literature.

But new research is also emerging that indicate differences between Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism,Subtyping the Autism Spectrum Disorder: Comparison of Children with High Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome which suggests some of the terminology the DSM abandoned in 2013 seem to have some utility. The term high-functioning is questionable, but the correlations should not be ignored. It may prove useful to come up with different terminology to be able to talk about real distinctions between high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome, without implying anything about the level of functioning or support needs, because the term correlates with a lot more traits, and thus transcends notions of functioning and support.

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Autism History And Timeline

The history of autism begins in 1911, when Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler coined the term to describe what he believed to be a childhood version of schizophrenia.Since then, our understanding of autism has evolved, culminating in the current diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder , and the many major events that impact clinical research, education, and support for autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder And Current Treatment Practices

The reconceptualization of autism changed the landscape of autism treatment in two important ways. First, the idea that autism is present from birth and thus in part a biological condition paved the way for psychopharmacological interventions, and second, autism is a social and emotional disorder distinct from other mental illnesses and should be treated as such.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that autism spectrum disorders occur in approximately 1 out of every 68 children, and is more prevalent in boys than girls. Although the most obvious symptoms of autism typically appear between 2 and 3 years of age, autism can be diagnosed as early as 18 months in children. Unfortunately, however, the majority of children are not diagnosed until age four.

Early diagnosis and intervention for children with autism is critical and greatly improves outcomes of the disorder. The CDC recommends regular screenings of young children for signs of autism and parents are encouraged to monitor early signs and symptoms and bring any concerns to the attention of the pediatrician.

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We Launch Our Earlybird Programme For Families Of Young Autistic Children

The programme helps the child and family understand their autism, as well as helping to build their confidence, improve communication and reduce anxiety. Programmes are now available for parents of older children and teenagers.

“The EarlyBird programme helped me understand my daughter better.” EarlyBird participant

Recent Studies From Other Countries



  • The Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network in the USA looked at eight-year-old children in 14 states in 2008, and found a prevalence rate of autism within those states overall of 1 in 88, with around five times as many boys as girls diagnosed .
  • The National Center for Health Statistics in the USA published findings from telephone surveys of parents of children aged 6-17 undertaken in 2011-12. The report showed a prevalence rate for autism of 1 in 50, .
  • A study of a 0-17 year olds resident in Stockholm between 2001-2007 found a prevalence rate of 11.5 in 1,000, very similar to the rate found other prevalence studies in Western Europe, .
  • A much higher prevalence rate of 2.64% was found in a study done in South Korea, where the researchers found two thirds of the people on the autism spectrum were in the mainstream school population, and had never been diagnosed before. .
  • Researchers comparing studies from different parts of the world over the past few years have come up with a more conservative estimate of 62 in 10,000. They conclude that the both the increase in estimates over time and the variability between countries and regions are likely thanks to broadening diagnostic criteria, service availability and increasing awareness of autism among professionals and the public, .

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