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for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy,
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The Genesis:

People often state that Autism 'happened' only in the twentieth century. But, just like many disorders which we identify now, Autism is believed to have always existed.

It was just not identified as a specific disorder. References to individuals whose descriptions are similar to the characteristics of Autism have existed through history. Amongst these were the 'holy fools' who were a much venerated people in ancient Russia, dating back to the sixteenth century.

These individuals were reported to be eccentric, given to parroting, with stereotypic speech and actions, obsessive interests, and lack of social awareness. Late eighteenth century accounts of the 'Wild Boy of Aveyron' discovered in a forest in France, who was later named Victor, offers us a description that is remarkably similar to Kanner's a couple of centuries later. From the accounts of Victor that are available, there is evidence of a serious impairment in reciprocal social interaction, impairment of sensory attention, lack of imaginative play, evidence of stereotypes and intellectual impairment.

However, while Autism has always existed it is only in the last sixty years that it has been given a name, and described by its very specific characteristics. The word 'Autism' was first used by Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist in 1911 to refer to schizophrenia. Then, over 50 years ago, a young boy named Donald visited the child psychiatrist, Leo Kanner, in his office at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Kanner was "…struck by the uniqueness and peculiarities which Donald exhibited. He could, since the age of two-and-a-half years, tell the names of all presidents and vice-presidents, recite the letters of the alphabet forwards and backwards, and flawlessly, with good enunciation, rattle off the Twenty-Third Psalm. His memory was phenomenal. Yet he was unable to carry on an ordinary conversation. He was out of contact with people, although he could handle objects skilfully. The few times when he addressed someone- largely to satisfy his wants- he referred to himself as 'You' and to the person as 'I'. He did not respond to any intelligence tests, but manipulated intricate form boards adroitly"(Gillberg & Coleman, 1992). Over the next few years, Kanner would see ten other children who were similarly self-absorbed and who had severe social, communication, and behavioural problems.

In 1943, Kanner published a paper applying the term 'early infantile Autism' to this group of children, characterized by withdrawal and with ritualistic behaviours, and gave medical literature a window to this complex and enigmatic disorder. Children with the symptoms originally described by Kanner are now the minority of those diagnosed with Autism, as the quest to understand this condition has expanded into a field of its own. Of note, while Kanner published his paper in 1943, Hans Asperger in Austria independently published a study on Autism in 1944. This work was not translated into English until 1981, but it is clear that Kanner and Asperger, though totally unconnected to each other, both wrote about the same syndrome in two different countries.

Subsequent to the publication of his paper Kanner opined in print that the parents of children with Autism were 'highly organized, professional parents, cold and rational who just happened to defrost long enough to produce a child'. He thereby introduced the concept of the 'refrigerator mother.' This theory was expanded on by the psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, and it impacted the way parents of children with Autism were viewed for many years to come. Bettelheim believed the mothers of children with Autism were highly intelligent, cold, and un-emotional, and that the best treatment was to remove children from these supposedly affection deprived homes, thus establishing a facility known as the Orthogenic School.

The movement against psychogenic theories took off in the early 1960s and was led by parents of children with Autism. Many of them were involved with issues related to Autism in a professional capacity as well. Bernard Rimland, a psychologist in the US published 'Infantile Autism: the Syndrome and its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behaviour' in 1964. Rimland later founded the Autism Society of America in 1965. Lorna Wing, a psychiatrist in the UK published 'Early Childhood Autism' in 1966. In fact, the movement for Autism worldwide, particularly in the area of services, has been pioneered by parents of children with Autism in collaboration with exceptional professionals such as Sybil Elgar in the UK and Eric Schopler in the US.

While Bettelheim's notion of the 'refrigerator mother' and the belief that Autism is caused by cold, career oriented parents has been discarded today in the light of decades of research, the consequences of this notion have had worldwide impact and linger even today. It was many years before researchers gained an understanding of Autism as a developmental disorder of biological origin. In much of the developed world, barring a few persisting exceptions like France, Autism is now acknowledged as a disorder that is not of psychological origins.

Source: Action for Autism

  Autism Spectrum Disorders or ASD is commonly called Autism Neuro- typical: A term used for people who do not have Autism or ASD  
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