A History of Autism

Where do we go from here?

As I was thinking about what to write this week, it occurred to me that we’ve never really talked about the history of autism and about the discoveries that are still being made.

As far back as the 1700s, we have a story of a scientist born in 1731 whose traits and characteristics were almost identical to Asperger’s Syndrome.

Einstein is believed to be autistic. No one knows, but it’s likely.

After World War II is when scientific study really starts picking up.

Back in 1943, Dr. Leo Kanner started studying a group of kids believed to be, at the time, mentally retarded, or what we would now call developmentally disabled. These kids had several traits in common including, does NOT like change in routine, lack of social interaction, difficult speech development.

Dr. Kanner watched these kids over time and came to the conclusion that this group had what he labeled, “early infantile autism.” The treatment for autism at the time? Throw you into an institution and forget you ever existed.

At the same time, over in Austria, Dr. Hans Asperger, yes of Asperger’s Syndrome fame, published the first ever paper on autism.

Asperger was conducting a study of children similar to Kanner’s, however; Asperger’s group had excellent and often early verbal skills.

That makes Asperger’s Syndrome a certain slice of the spectrum, and Asperger’s Syndrome is what I was gifted with and diagnosed with at age 46.

Unfortunately for the world, Asperger’s work was never discovered until approximately 1981 and wasn’t accepted as a standard diagnosis until the mid-1990s.

I graduated from high school in 1984. That means there was no mention of autism in school-age kids the whole time I was going to school. There was no help available because no one knew autism existed when I was in school.

In 1987, again after I graduated, “Autism Disorder” replaces, “Infantile Autism” in psychological jargon. It’s s step in showing that it’s more than infants.

In 1991 schools began to identify autism disorders as it had been put as a Special Education category by the Dept. of Education.

I don’t know how you view autism. I suppose a lot has to do with how you experience it. Are you experiencing it as someone on the spectrum or maybe as a family member, loved one or friend to someone who is?

How you view it is up to you. How I choose to see my being autistic is like this.

First off, yes, I have a disability and a disability generally hints at a lack of something, but that’s not how I see people on the spectrum.

I see us as having a tremendous gift. We’re all a bit unique, but we can compute and run scenarios quickly, we think outside the box to come up with ideas to get things done.

We may do the same thing over and over again. Then some more. Followed by a touch more. Yes, I’m sure it annoys you, but some people on the spectrum have a compulsion to do it. And I pity the person that tries to stop the repeater.

All I’ll say is, remember Bruce Banner (The Hulk) saying, “you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Today’s students on the spectrum have individualized education plans, that depending on the school district is either a blessing or a waste of paper and time.

Today we know so much more about autism and we’re learning more all the time. I’m happy for the kids growing up today that have the advantages those of us about age 40 and up didn’t have.

Still, though I was taunted, mocked and ridiculed, I don’t know that I would trade my experience of growing up when I did and being diagnosed when I did. I know I have some lasting scars from my past, but I guess they’ve made me who I am.

I don’t always like myself, but there are a few people that do, so I guess I can’t be doing too bad.

Hopefully, we all end life with a story of how great it was to be on the spectrum.

Fingers crossed!

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