History of Autism: Unraveling Autism’s History

By Wellness Hub

Last Updated: April 5, 2023

A Historical Perspective on a Complex Condition

History of Autism. Ever wondered who discovered it? Lets us know in this article
Autism, also known as Autism spectrum disorder(ASD), is a neuro-developmental disorder that affects social communication and behavior. The complexity of the condition, with its various symptoms and severity, has not yet allowed for a full understanding of its causes.
Early in childhood, generally, at two or three years old, ASD is typically diagnosed. Children with Autism may struggle with communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviors or interests. Some may also experience sensory sensitivities or works with coordination and motor skills.
Three main categories of symptoms are associated with Autism: social communication challenges, repetitive behaviors, and sensory issues. Children with Autism may struggle to initiate or maintain conversations, understand nonverbal cues, or share their thoughts and feelings with others. They may also have difficulty with social reciprocity and forming friendships.
Repetitive behaviors can take many forms, such as lining up objects, repeating phrases or words, or engaging in stereotyped movements. Individuals with Autism can also experience sensory issues, such as sensitivity to certain sounds, textures, or lights. Some people with Autism may have only mild symptoms and be highly functioning, while others may require significant support in their daily lives.
While the causes of Autism are not fully understood, research suggests that a combination of Environmental and genetic variables might influence how it develops. Currently, there is no known cure for Autism, but early intervention and counselling can help autistic people become more socially competent, behave better, and live better overall.

the chart of Professors who researched about Autism
The chart of Professors who researched about Autism

The Evolution of Autism: A Journey from Early Recognition to Modern Understanding

The development of Autism has a complicated past and has changed significantly over time. This article delves into the history of Autism, from its early recognition to the evolution of diagnosis and understanding, as well as the development of therapies and ongoing research. Early Recognition and Misconceptions (1911-1943) The history of Autism begins with the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, who coined the term “autism” in 1911.

Initially, from the Greek term “autos,” which means “self,” Bleuler used the term to describe a group of symptoms he observed in patients with schizophrenia.

Leo Kanner and “Early Infantile Autism” (1943)

However, the early understanding of Autism was limited, and the condition was often confused with other mental health disorders. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the concept of Autism as a distinct condition began to emerge.
Leo Kanner and the Emergence of “Early Infantile Autism” (1943) Leo Kanner, an Austrian-American psychiatrist, is considered a pioneer in autism research. In 1943, he published a groundbreaking paper describing 11 children who exhibited unique characteristics, including social withdrawal, difficulty with language, and repetitive behaviours. Kanner named this condition “early infantile autism.” Kanner’s work laid the foundation for further research and understanding of Autism. However, he also suggested that the parents of autistic children were emotionally cold, coining the term “refrigerator mothers.” This idea, which has since been debunked, blamed parents for their child’s condition and caused many families unnecessary pain and guilt.

Professors Leo Kaner and Asperger 
The scientists of Autism
Professors Leo Kaner and Asperger
The scientists of Autism

Hans Asperger and Asperger’s Syndrome (1944)

Hans Asperger and the Discovery of Asperger’s Syndrome (1944) One year after Kanner’s publication, Hans Asperger, an Austrian paediatrician, published a paper describing a group of children with similar characteristics to Kanner’s early infantile Autism.

Asperger’s patients displayed social and communication difficulties but had average or above-average intelligence and language skills. Asperger’s work went largely unnoticed until the 1980s when English psychiatrist Lorna Wing translated and introduced the concept of Asperger’s syndrome.
In 1994, Asperger’s syndrome was formally added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which increased awareness and diagnosis. The Evolution of Diagnosis and Understanding (the 1950s-1990s)

The Evolution of Diagnosis and Understanding (1950s-1990s)

In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers began to explore the biological basis of Autism. Bernard Rimland, an American psychologist, challenged Kanner’s refrigerator mother theory and advocated for a more scientific understanding of the condition. Rimland’s work marked a turning point in the history of Autism as researchers increasingly recognized the condition’s neurological basis. The 1970s saw further progress in understanding Autism as a spectrum disorder with varying severity and a range of symptoms. The 1952 release of the DSM’s initial version
included Autism under childhood schizophrenia. In 1980, the DSM-III introduced “autistic disorder” and provided more precise diagnostic criteria. The Rise of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Other Therapies (1960s-Present) Ole Ivar Lovaas, a Norwegian-American psychologist, developed Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in the 1960s as an intensive, structured approach to help children with Autism develop social communication and behavioural skills. ABA has since become a widely used intervention for individuals with Autism, with numerous studies supporting its effectiveness.

The Development of Additional Therapies

Alongside ABA, professionals develop other therapies and interventions to address the unique needs of individuals with Autism. These include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, social skills training, and sensory integration therapy. As our understanding of Autism has grown, so has the range of support available to help individuals and their families navigate the challenges associated with the condition.

The Expansion of the Autism Spectrum (1990s-Present)

The Expansion of the Autism Spectrum (1990s-Present) As research continued to advance, the concept of the autism spectrum expanded. In 2013, the DSM-5 introduced “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD) to encompass a broader range of symptoms and severities. This change reflects the understanding that Autism presents differently in each individual and highlights the need for personalized support and intervention.
The DSM-5 also eliminated the separate diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, folding it into the broader ASD category. This decision received mixed reactions, as some argued that the unique Asperger’s syndrome label helped individuals obtain specialized support and nurtured their sense of identity.

Autism Spectrum in 90's

Advancements in Research and Genetic Factors 2000s-Present There have been substantial improvements in the last few years in our understanding of the genetic factors associated with Autism. Although researchers have not yet identified the exact causes of Autism, they now recognize it as a highly heritable condition involving a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors.
Additionally, research has shown that certain environmental factors during pregnancy, such as exposure to certain chemicals or infections, may increase the risk of Autism in the offspring.
Autism awareness campaigns, such as World Autism Awareness Day (April 2), have helped to increase understanding and acceptance of individuals with Autism. Many advocacy organizations, such as Autism Speaks and the Autism Society, work to raise awareness, provide resources, and support research efforts.
The Role of the Neurodiversity Movement (Late 1990s-Present) The neurodiversity movement, which emerged in the late 1990s, has significantly impacted how society views and understands Autism. This movement emphasizes respecting and valuing neurological differences, such as Autism, rather than viewing them as deficits that need fixing


In conclusion, The history of Autism is a story of evolving understanding, diagnosis, and treatment. Over the past century, we have seen significant advancements in our knowledge of this complex condition, leading to improved support and resources for individuals with Autism and their families. As research continues to uncover the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to Autism, our understanding and ability to support those affected by the condition will likely continue to grow. Ultimately, the journey through the history of Autism is evidence of the tenacity and tenacity of individuals, families, and professionals in their quest for understanding, acceptance, and support.