Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Excerpt

It is intriguing that conditions which clearly have always existed may nonetheless only be recognized and accorded significance relatively late. This is the case with autism. It was only in the 1940s that the first clinical descriptions were provided by Kanner and Asperger (these were published almost simultaneously, although both researchers seem to have been unaware of the other's work). And yet it is certain that severe, classical cases of autism occurred long before this. Uta Frith and Rab Houston, in their recent book Autism in History, present the most detailed evidence for such a diagnosis in the case of a young man living in the 18th century, and in an earlier book, Frith hazarded the thought that autism might explain the otherwise almost unintelligible behavior of the Franciscan monk Brother Juniper, of the ''blessed fools'' of old Russia, and so on.

While Asperger regarded autism as organic, a biological defect of affective contact, Kanner saw it as psychological, or reactive, a reaction to a supposed lack of parental love or care, and, in particular, to a cold, “refrigerator mother.” Asperger's paper did not become widely known (it was only translated into English in the 1980s), and Kanner's unfortunate formulation was rather widely accepted during the 1950s and 1960s, with sometimes dire consequences to both autistic children and their parents. (Kanner's psychological theory is still accepted in many parts of the world.) But by the late 1960s it had become apparent that autism was organic, although not a “disease” in the usual sense-not specifically a disorder of childhood, but rather a disorder of development, the development of certain parts of the mind and brain, and, as such, a lifelong condition.

Up to this point approaches had been purely clinical and epidemiological-what was the incidence of autism? What were its causes? How did autism present itself, evolve, change with time? What could be done with drugs, or behavioral

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