The History of Autism

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Recently I posted about the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis being an epidemic or fad, found in this post here, “Autism is NOT a Fad.”

Autism is not a fad.  The diagnosis is on the rise.  Why?  The label is new and did not exist before.  People had autism, but there was not a name for the symptoms or behaviors they were experiencing.

The first documented case of autism, dates back to an ancient time in the period of psychology, 1797 with Victor of Aveyron.

Victor of Aveyron

Victor was a feral boy, found living wild in the woods and believed to be around 12 years old in France.  He was brought to civilization many times then, but would wander away back to the woods.

Eventually the boy was given to a young Doctor named Jean Marc Gaspard Itard.  The Doctor named the feral child Victor and tried to teach Victor how to talk.  Victor never spoke, but Itard did break new ground in teaching practices for the developmentally delayed.

It is unclear how Victor ended up in the wilderness.  Maybe abandoned or he wandered away, but he was believed to have lived alone in the wilderness for 7-8 years.  Victor never spoke, but he did learn the meaning behind actions.

Paul Eugene Bleuler

Paul Eugene Bleuler was the man to first coin the term autism in 1910 (coming from the Greek word autos, or self) when he was describing symptoms of schizophrenia.  After his death, Hans Asperger adopted Bleuler’s terminology of “autistic psychopath” when discussing child psychology.

Hans Asperger

In 1944 Hans Asperger first defined Asperger’s Syndrome. By following four boys, he identified a pattern of behavior he called “autistic psychopathy,” meaning autism personality. The pattern of behavior that led to Asperger’s Syndrome included “a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversation, intense absorption in a special interest and clumsy movements.” Asperger called children with Asperger’s “little professors,” because of their ability to talk about their favorite subject in great detail.

Leo Kanner

Leo Kanner introduced the label of infantile autism in 1943.  He followed 11 children who he determined were very intelligent, but desired to be alone and insisted on sameness.  His study of autism helped end years of terminology around “infantile schizophrenia.”

When it comes to diagnosing a person or child with an official diagnosis, it has to exist.  Disorder’s of the mind are diagnosed through Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM).

The work of these gentlemen helped bring the disorders to light, however,  Asperger’s Syndrome did not become an official diagnosis in the DSM until 1994.

The autism spectrum wasn’t created until 2013.  These dates are fairly recent.


The autism spectrum was created in 2013.

Understanding the history of autism, that it is a disorder that has always existed, but was called something from infantile schizophrenia to psychopath helps to understand why the diagnosis itself is on the rise.  There is a name for the things people have been experiencing for so long.

And there is help.  Which our household has benefited greatly from.



9 thoughts on “The History of Autism

  1. It’s interesting to read something more about autism. I know one family (their’re pretty close to me) with autistic kid and have learnt a lot about their life but never about autism itself. Thank you! 🙂

  2. I am so thrilled they identified and named the autism spectrum. I would hate to have my son called a psychopath or to have schizophrenia. Those two names mean something completely different from what autism kids struggle with. Thanks for the history lesson.

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