Autism - significant dates


Eugen Bleuler
1911: Dr. Eugen Bleuler coins the term 'autism', derived from the Greek word autos, meaning self. The famous psychiatrist used it to describe aspects of schizophrenia, where a patient has withdrawn from the world into himself.

1943: Dr. Leo Kanner, of Johns Hopkins University, identifies autism as a distinct neurological condition in psychiatric patients, but couldn't specify its cause.

Hans Asperger
1944: Dr. Hans Asperger characterises a less severe autistic syndrome, for people suffering autistic symptoms, but still have normal intelligence levels, and non-delayed speech. This syndrome goes largely unnoticed outside of his Austrian home.

1950: Bruno Bettelheim coins the term 'refrigerator mother,' blaming emotionally distant parents for causing their children's autism. According to Bettelheim, parents who withdraw love from their children push them into mental isolation. Bettelheim becomes an internationally acclaimed expert on autism, and a driving factor in autism being considered a psychiatric instead of a neurological disorder.

1964: Dr. Bernard Rimland publishes Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behaviour. This book is one of the first of its kind insisting autism is a biological rather than emotional disorder.

1967: Dr. Rimland founds the Autism Research Institute.

1980: Autism is added as an official medical illness to the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual).

1981: Dr. Lorna Wing publishes a paper describing children similar to those diagnosed by Asperger, and coins the term 'Asperger's syndrome', one year after Dr. Asperger's death.

1994: Asperger's syndrome is added to the DSM IV

1997: Richard Pollack publishes a biography of Bruno Bettelheim, accusing him of lacking credentials in his field or even a basis for his refrigerator mother theory. In the book, Bettelheim is exposed as a graduate of art history, with no formal training in medicine, psychology or psychiatry. In addition, Pollack shows that Bettelheim had no evidence for his theory, or even valid case histories.


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