Most likely, you didn’t know November is Autism History Month. That’s okay, as few people do.

It is important for all of us to understand the history that affects those on the autism spectrum as well as their family, friends and employers.

Autism History Month

1910 — The term “autismus” (or “autism”) is coined by Swiss psychologist Eugen Bleuer, referring to a subset of schizophrenic behavior. “Autós” is the Greek word for “self,” and Bleuer used it to describe patients who withdrew from others and focused solely on their own inner world.

1940s — Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger are both researching children with a similar condition — the former in the US in 1943, the latter in Germany in 1944. Kanner studied a group of nonverbal boys with more severe autistic traits, while Asperger’s “little professors” were more verbal (and thus seemed more intelligent), but had limited interest in socializing. Asperger considered his condition separate from “early infantile autism” (which is what Kanner’s diagnosis was ultimately called).

1967 — Bruno Bettelheim blames autism on cold parenting, leading to the (long since disproven) “refrigerator mother” theory, that autism was caused by uncaring parents.

1977 — Research conducted on twins shows that autism is genetic and caused by differences in the brain that occur during early development.

1980s — Autism is added to the third Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-III, as a separate diagnosis from schizophrenia, with which it was previously paired. Autism is first added as “infantile autism” in 1980, then added again as “autistic disorder” in 1987.

1991 — The United States recognizes autism as a Special Education category for the first time, allowing schools to provide Special Education services to autistic students.

1994 — Asperger’s syndrome is added to the DSM-IV.

2013 — The DSM-5 (no longer numbered with Roman numerals) drops Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, and other subsets of autism — putting everyone under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder.

2014 — Autism Citizen is incorporated and receives its nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service. We’ve been advocating for autism ever since.

Today, in 2017, most people know about autism. It remains one of the fastest growing conditions in the world. Of course, despite the history shown above, autism has existed as part of mankind since the dawn of our species. Autistic children often died in early childhood in our early history, and if they survived, were brutally mistreated, and were often killed by family, or the government. It is one of the reasons we have few documented cases of autistic adults in historic documents.

In the 18th century, autistic individuals were institutionalized and considered insane, placed in such horrible facilities as Bedlam, together with the criminally insane. The 19th and early 20th centuries fared no better, until 1972 when Geraldo Rivera, a news reporter on ABC-TV New York, exposed the mistreatment at New York City’s Willowbrook State School in Staten Island.

In history though, we do have evidence of many great people, largely on this higher functioning end of the spectrum, including Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln, Andy Warhol, Dan Ackroyd, and many others have shaped our world, not the least of them being Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

So, when you think of autism, think of this history, and the care that is needed, not only by those directly affected, but also their families. Please consider supporting Autism Citizen in our work.



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