History & Myths of Autism

See also:    Bruno Bettelheim    Cure?    LSD Studies   

Internet Resources

Causes (of autism) are said to be: lack of parental love, lack of parental attention, lack of parental discipline, family stress, poor educational methods, and a mental health profession prejudiced toward neurobiological explanations for behavior.
Russell Barkley
...Hey kids, it's a game! Spot the progenitors of a few dozen currently living autism spectrum and normal-ish citizens of the United States.
Autism Diva
...we may not communicate very well, we may have odd behavior, and some of us cannot speak at all, but we are conscious. From the highest functioning to the lowest functioning autistic person, there is indeed a person inside. Always remember that.
This quiz contains true and false questions designed to increase knowledge and awareness of autism.
Dill Pickle
Lorna Wing suggests that ancient legends of 'fairy changeling' children, in which fairies were believed to steal away a human baby and leave a fairy child in its place, are actually early references to autism.
In search of a better comprehension of this disorder called Autism, we strongly recommend the reading of the book Autism - Explaining the Enigma, by Uta Frith. We have transcribed excerpts from this book which we consider elucidative about that subject.
Uta Frith
Am J Ment Defic. 1959 Jul;64(1):81-6
Lauretta Bender
One of the key points that advocates of the 'autism is mercury poisoning/mercury causes autism' theory often cite in defence of their theory is that autism wasn't diagnosed until Mercury started to be used in vaccines. Shortly after it was, they say, autism started to be diagnosed. Pretty impressive eh? Well, no. Not really. Leaving aside the fact that citing this as evidence is akin to saying that breathing causes ear infections because I never got an ear infection until after I started breathing, there's very compelling (and fascinating) evidence to indicate that autistics have been with us since the Victorian era (early 1800's).
Kevin Leitch
The truth about autism is often so difficult to bear that the disorder is publicly characterized by sad half-truths and misplaced hope
Betsy Bates
Overall, I'm left with an overwhelming feeling that the pro-cure camp are getting increasingly desperate. Just about every statement on that site is incorrect either factually or by omission. Its in fact so bad that I started to wonder if it was indeed misinformation as I originally thought – maybe it was just simple ignorance? I'm still undecided but I hope that if you've found this site (I doubt I'll get a link back somehow!) that your eyes are open to the dangers of such wilful misleading of people in such a shabby, grubby and underhand way.
Kevin Leitch
Unfortunately, the general understanding of the word autism hasn't kept up with the newer medical research shared today. It is proven that people with autism can lead happy and productive lives when appropriate supports and therapies are provided.
Robert Williams Jr.
While "cure" and "recovery" prognoses for autism might have been the expectation of 80s and early 90s, they do not represent expectations today.
Robert Williams Jr.
1. What is a diagnosis, a historical perspective? 2. The history of Autism as a medical term. 3. Current understandings of Autism. 4. My personal understanding of Autism.
Larry Arnold
Myths include: Autism is rare; Autistic children are retarded; Autism is caused by Refrigerator Mothers; Autism is curable; People with autism have no emotions; Autistics are savants; Autistics have no sense of humor.
April Judge
The concept is shifting from the narrow perception of aloof autism, described by Kanner, to a wider one that includes a spectrum extending to a broader, subclinical phenotype... In the absence of a cure, the implementation of ideas will continue to outstrip factual evidence. Clinicians are challenged by the availability of information (and misinformation), particularly on the internet.
T.P. Berney
These were patients, like Down's in 1887, and like Kanner's 50 years later, who began to regress after a period of normal development. These constituted roughly 25 percent of our cases, I would say. In each and every case, the mothers identified some event as the trigger for the regression. I remember distinctly one mother tying the regression to the child falling off the pier and nearly drowning; another tied it to when the child was hospitalized for tonsils-and-adenoids surgery; another to the time the child got trapped in the silo.
Darold Treffert, neurodiversity.com
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1960 Jul;3:66-81
H.H. Eveloff
This article examines the existence, description, perception, treatment, and outcome of symptoms consistent with autistic disorder in nineteenth-century London, England, based on case histories from the notes of Dr William Howship Dickinson at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Three cases meeting the DSM-IV criteria for autistic disorder are described in detail. Other cases in which autistic traits are described are briefly summarized. The article explores the environment of contemporary medical practice, beliefs about childhood brain disorders, and social practice regarding children with brain disorders, and the impact of these factors on assessment and treatment. It correlates Dickinson's observations with current research on autism, providing information about children with autism before the condition was formally named in 1943.
Mitzi Waltz
Since 1938, there have come to our attention a number of children whose condition differs so markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far, that each case merits a detailed consideration of its fascinating peculiarities.
Leo Kanner
Although Americans glorify the idea of motherhood, a virulent denigration of individual mothers permeates American humor, literature, film, academic study and public policy.
Yoshie Furuhashi
Summarizes recent scholarship on motherhood, 1600--present; situates twentieth-century mother-blaming as the product of specific historic forces; and explains how the cultural misogyny undergirding mother-blame works to elide broader social analysis.
Beryl Satter
A review of The Cradle of Thought, by Peter Hobson.
British Broadcasting Corporation
What is most relavant to the claims is the claims themselves, not the person making them. However, this doesn't mean that it isn't relavant to point out that the knowledge used to form a claim was acquired though either experience or academics...
Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia 1971 Jan-Mar;1(1):20-32
Michael Rutter
In 1867 Maudsley, the noted British psychiatrist, included in his textbook, Physiology and Pathology of Mind, a 34-page chapter on "Insanity of Early Life." In it he not only tried to correlate symptoms with developmental status but also suggested an elaborate seven-point classification, which went as follows: 1. Monomania; 2. Choreic mania; 3. Cataleptoid insanity; 4. Epileptoid insanity; 5. Mania; 6. Melancholia; 7. Affective insanity. Anyone superciliously critical either of the terminology based on the then circulating coinage or of the cohesion of the grouping may be reminded that the differentiation of the childhood psychoses has to this day not gone far beyond a degree of controversial floundering. (Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia, 1971, 1(1):14-19)
Leo Kanner
The essential feature of both conditions (amentia and dementia) is the absence or imperfection of normal mental faculties, without reference to the physical defect or default, or the pathological condition underlying or associated with them.
H.B. Wilbur
Perhaps the most significant myth, and one that still may be believed in the general public, is the image of autism as a condition caused through psychological trauma of childhood and through bad or poor parenting.
Journal of Chronic Diseases 1961 Apr;13:312-4
Charles B. Ferster
Autism is not a new disorder, the 'explosion' in autism cases, whether apparent or real, notwithstanding. While it is true the first description of "early infantile autism" by Dr. Leo Kanner did not occur until 1943, certainly disorder did not begin there. Surely autistic disorder, like mental retardation, has been one of man's medical maladies from earliest times. In fact until 1943 autistic disorder was generally simply subsumed under the category of 'mental retardation.' Sometimes that is still the case of mistaken diagnosis even today. In fact, the present-day practice of reclassifying cases from mental retardation to autistic disorder may account for some of the 'explosion' in new cases of autism.
Darold A. Treffert
Prominent radio talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger today advises a mother with an autistic child to place her child in an institution so that she can 'have a life.'
...the Vitamin Shoppe website.
Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia 1971 Jan-Mar;1(1):82-6
D. Arn van Krevelen
There are strong indications that many autists suffer primarily from an emotional disturbance, from a form of anxiety neurosis, which prevents or retards normal affiliation and subsequent socialisation, and this in its turn hampers development of speech..
Niko Tinbergen
Paper read at American Psychological Association, Los Angeles, September, 1964
Todd Risley et al
"The description of changelings is very similar to those given to autistic children," (Leask) says. "Changelings were described as unresponsive, resistant to affection, did not express emotion, cried a lot or did not speak."
Catriona Purcell
Dr. Phil highlighted a family whose nine-year-old son was rubbing his feces on the walls of the house, torturing animals, acting violently toward his siblings and was prone to intense tantrums. Dr. Phil informed the parents that their son did not have a behavior problem -- that his problems were the result of poor parenting. He continued by informing the parents that their child had 9 of the 14 characteristics of a serial killer.
As a comprehensive worldview, psychoanalysis provided both theory and evidence; less research program than interpretive schema, it offered an explanation for autism that worked until it failed to cure. Psychoanalysis failed as a biomedical theory and form of treatment; nevertheless it did indeed spawn research schools, generate funding, and offered a systematic means of comprehending the previously inexplicable, in this case severe disorders of development. The emphasis on the contingent, rather than determined, aspects of development, recurs in contemporary discussions of both gene-environment interactions and therapeutic modalities.
Chloe Silverman
Outcome in adult life is closely related to level of ability in childhood. However, much can be done through education to improve quality of life for all those affected, regardless of ability.
Lorna Wing
The story of Rosemary Kennedy's life, gets a bit unclear to me when I try to piece together all of the tiny snippets that have been written about her. Rosemary was said (in the majority of the articles I've read) to be "mentally retarded" and was lobotomized when she was 23. What very few of these articles bring up is the fact that her father, Joseph Kennedy had this done secretly and afterward told the family that Rosemary had went to a monastery to live her life for God. Instead, he put her in an institution to live out the rest of her life. (Supposedly, even her own mother did not know until 20 years after the fact!)
Patti Shepard
American Journal of Psychiatry. 1962 Oct;119:376
G.E. Vaillant
Goodness gracious! These children developed WITHOUT chelation, methyl B12 injections or ABA, can you imagine?! If you haven't read the orginal Kanner papers you really need to, especially if you think you will ever use the phrases, "classically autistic" or "Kanner autism".
Autism Diva
Kaspar Hauser was not only the object of fierce debates, onto whom such notions were projected, he was also the pawn in a political game of republicans against legitimists, of radicals against conservatives. If that were not enough his case aroused the interest of all manner of faddists, charlatans, fortune hunters and sensation seekers. A simple-minded foundling thus became the point of intersection of so many strains of thought so that his own curious personality became hidden under layers of fictional projections. Each had their own Kaspar Hauser – prince, fraud, sweet innocent, pathological liar, tragic object of abuse, victim or culprit.
Martin Kitchen
For all the talk about 'competence-based' models of learning disability, there has been remarkably little acceptance of its corollary that we cannot assume a close association between competence in the classroom and social competence in adulthood.
Murray K. Simpson
Just as classifying people as having an intellectual impairment is an inexact science, so is counting them. Matt's argument raises as many questions as it answers – always a good sign.
Jan Walmsley
Unless its long term goal is to eventually label the entire population of Scotland as having a learning disability, the Scottish Executive needs to face up to the fact that the increase in labelling can not go on for ever.
Matt Egan
What of the child who withdraws in terror into an autistic universe because he cannot cope with the ravings of parents who tell him that he is guilty by nature, that his body is evil, that thinking is sinful, that question-asking is blasphemous...
Nathaniel Branden
Use of autism as metaphor reflects the way metaphors of self-loss, otherness, and animalisation/dehumanisation have been used to describe autism itself. These metaphors say little about autism as a condition, while speaking volumes about cultural anxiety.
Mitzi Waltz
Schizophrenia is not a disease of childhood. Its onset is in adolescence and pre-adolescence. Studies of childhood behaviour of definite adult cases of schizophrenia show that they are, as a rule, model children, inconspicuous, and quite different from the cases described as childhood schizophrenics. Child psychiatry is still in the pre-Kraepelinian stage. No valid classification of mental diseases in children has yet been worked out. For the study of schizophrenia in childhood we have to take into account the progress made since Kraepelin and Bleuler in the refinement of diagnosis. This progress has been in two main areas, in the sifting out of other diseases, and in the development of tests. (American Journal of Psychiatry. 1958 Mar;114(9):791-4)
H.L. Mosse
In the post-war era, it seemed that behind every child with a mental health woe lurked a bad, bad mother. The most famous example was autism.
Claudine Chamberlain
Review of The Cradle of Thought: Exploring the Origins of Thinking, by Peter Hobson
Edward Skidelsky
I have been able to find among the large number of idiots and imbeciles under my observations, that a considerate portion can be fairly referred to one of the great divisions of the human family other than the class from which they have sprung.
J. Langdon Down
In searching for the causes of this wretchedness in the condition and habits of the progenitors of the sufferers, there is found a degree of physical deterioration, and of mental and moral darkness, which will hardly be credited.
Samuel G. Howe
Describes the origins and early years of the National Autistic Society, which was founded by a group of London parents in 1962.
Directed thought is social. As it develops, it is increasingly influenced by the laws of experience and of logic proper. Autistic thought, on the contrary, is individualistic and obeys a set of special laws of its own.
Lev Vygotsky
Child Development 1961, 32:437-456
Charles B. Ferster
Although it is hard to find the specific instance when the “refrigerator mother” hypothesis of autism was first used, it is not difficult to find who first proposed it. As early as his 1943 paper, Leo Kanner was calling attention to what he saw as a lack of parental warmth and attachment to their autistic children. In his 1949 paper, he attributed autism to a 'genuine lack of maternal warmth' and the 'Refrigerator Mother' theory of autism was born.
James Laidler
Interviews with mothers featured in the television program.
Washington Post
In Refrigerator Mothers, seven women share their poignant stories. All but one were told by psychologists or physicians that they were to blame for their child's autism. Yet these courageous women refused to be crushed by the burden of blame.
Fanlight Productions
Explore the legacy of blame, guilt and self-doubt suffered by a generation of mothers with autistic children and learn more about this increasingly common disorder. (Transcript and web feature based on a television program.)
David Simpson
Hector writes that I am "describing the inner world of a deeply disturbed person". High-functioning autism and AS are not "deep disturbances" -- they are disabilities with a biological cause.
Gunilla Gerland
I am specifically interested in the formation of the modern discourse on learning disability. If anyone else has a particular interest in this line of thinking I'd be very keen to hear from you.
Murray K. Simpson
The present study examined 74 clinical case records of children with AP diagnosed by Hans Asperger and his team at the Viennese Children's Clinic and Asperger's private practice between 1950 and 1986. The characteristic features of the children are outlined, including reasons for referral, parental background, behavioural problems, cognitive functioning, communication and interests. Results show that the patients of Asperger described in our study represent a subgroup of children with very high intellectual functioning, specific circumscribed interests and talents but impaired social, communication and motor skills.
Kathrin Hippler, Christian Klicpera
He was beginning to speak; then he stopped quite suddenly... I choose to call this isolation of the mind from the world by lack of intervention of the senses, or sensorial idiocy...
Edward Seguin
In which the author describes a personality pattern very similar to autism, then proceeds to pedantically blame the parents in Brunoesque fashion.
Narayan Singh

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