History of Autism and Aspergers

History and Timeline of Autism

Based on what I’ve gathered, researched and collated on the above topic from the site of https://www.verywellhealth.com/autism-timeline-2633213 it reads that the history of autism began in the year of 1911, when a Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler was coining the term, using it to describe what he believed himself to be the childhood version of schizophrenia. Since then, our understanding of autism has now evolved while culminating in the current diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and informed by many notable events impacting autism clinical research, education, and support from worldwide sites and information we need is at our fingertips.

Timeline of Autism


1926: A child psychiatrist in Kiev, Russia, by the name of Grunya Sakharov, wrote about six children with autistic traits in a scientific German psychiatry and neurology journal.

Source: https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2018/11/13/meet-grunya-sukhareva-the-forgotton-woman-who-defined-autism/



1938: A psychologist in New York, by the name of Louise Despert, details 29 cases of childhood schizophrenia, some who have symptoms that resemble today’s classification of autism.

Source: https://blogs.uoregon.edu/autismhistoryproject/archive/j-louise-despert-schizophrenia-in-children-1938/



1943: Leo Kanner from America was the first psychiatrist that first discovered autism in 1943 who published a paper describing 11 patients who were focused on or obsessed with objects and had a “resistance to (unexpected) change.” He later named this condition “infantile autism.” During this time period, Leo Kanner based on the published article he wrote while coining the idea about autism infantile is called Autism Disturbances of Affective Contact.

Source: https://www.writework.com/essay/autism-and-other-similar-disorders

1944: An Austrian paediatrician by the name of Hans Asperger publishes an important scientific study of children with autism, a case study describing four children ages 6 to 11. He notices parents of some of the children have similar personalities or eccentricities, and regards this as evidence of a genetic link. He is also credited with describing a higher-functioning form of autism, later called Asperger’s syndrome.

Source: https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/hans-asperger-592.php

You can also watch a brief history of Hans Aspergers on my channel called REVEALED: Hans Aspergers sending Autistic Children to Nazis and the link to this video is found here: 

1949: Kenner  again from America proclaims that his theory autism is caused by “refrigerator mothers,” a term used to describe parents who are cold and detached. The Refrigerator mother theory, also known as Bettelheim’s theory of autism, is a controversial psychological theory that the cause of autism is a lack of maternal (figurative) warmth. Evidence against the refrigerator mother theory began in the late 1970s, with twin studies suggesting a genetic etiology, as well as various environmental factors. [Modern research generally agrees that there is a largely epigenetic etiology of autism spectrum disorders.

The terms refrigerator mother and refrigerator parents were coined around 1950 as a label for mothers or fathers of children diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia. When Leo Kenner first identified autism in 1943, he noted the lack of warmth among the parents of autistic children. Parents, particularly mothers, were often blamed for their children’s atypical behaviours, which included rigid rituals, speech difficulty, and self-isolation. (Source cited and researched from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refrigerator_mother_theory)

Also in the year of 1967, Bruno Bettelheim held the notion that autism was the product of mothers who were cold, distant and rejecting, thus depriving their children of the chance to bond with them.

Source: https://www.dagospia.com/img/foto/12-2020/bruno-bettelheim-1399053.png




1952: In the first edition of the American Psychiatric Associations’ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), children with symptoms of autism are labelled as having childhood schizophrenia.

On January 1 1952, the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was published. Symptoms related to Autism were placed under the category of Schizophrenia. Autism was not given its own set of diagnostic criteria and was not documented as its own illness/disorder

Source: https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/autism-1316f406-b066-4612-aee0-216e1bf1167b


1956: Leon Eisenberg from Philadelphia, USA publishes his paper “The Autistic Child in Adolescence,” which follows 63 autistic children for nine years and again at 15 years old. He was during his years of work an American child psychiatrist, social psychiatrist and medical educator who “transformed child psychiatry by advocating research into developmental problems.

Source: https://ethics.harvard.edu/sites/hwpi.harvard.edu/files/styles/profile_full/public/eisenberg_0.jpg?m=1515882195&itok=WI03VLYG


1959: Austrian-born scientist Bruno Bettelheim publishes an article in Scientific American about Joey, a 9-year-old with autism.

Source: https://www.dagospia.com



1964: Bernard Rimland published Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behaviour, challenging the “refrigerator mother” theory and discussing the neurological factors in autism.
Bernard Rimland

Rimland wrote that Autism was a biological disorder. This was the first time a causal explanation had been given that was different from Kanner’s “refrigerator mothers” cause.

Source: https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/autism-1316f406-b066-4612-aee0-216e1bf1167b

1964: Ole Ivar Lovaas begins working on his theory of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) therapy for autistic children. Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/23/health/23lovaas.html





The Sybil Elgar School begins teaching and caring for children with autism.

The National Autistic Society (NAS) opens its first school: the Sybil Elgar School. This school has received international recognition related to the teaching standards put in place by then-principal Sybil Elgar. More than 350 students have attended this school since it opened.

Source: https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/autism-1316f406-b066-4612-aee0-216e1bf1167b



A group of parents of autistic children have the first meeting of the National Society of Autistic Children (now called the Autism Society of America). In January 1, 1965, Bernard Rimland founded this society.

Source: https://www.autism-society.org/

1967: Bruno Bettelheim writes Empty Fortress, which reinforces the “refrigerator mother” theory as the cause of autism.


1970s: Lorna Wing proposes the concept of autism spectrum disorders. She identifies the “triad of impairment,” which includes three areas: social interaction, communication, and imagination. On 7 October, this would have been the 93rd birthday of Dr Lorna Wing who coined the term the autism spectrum and revolutionised thinking on autism and the number of autistic people. She was also a co-founder of the National Autistic Society and helped set up our first diagnosis centre in 1991.

Lorna Wing was born in Gillingham in 1928, and then she became an internationally respected authority on autism. A brilliant psychiatrist and mother to an autistic daughter, Susie, Lorna undertook an ambitious study in the late 1970s of autistic adults and children in South London with Dr Judith Gould. Their work was instrumental in highlighting that the number of autistic people was far higher than previously thought – one in 100 rather than one in tens of thousands.

The concept of the spectrum is a complex one. It is not a simple line from one end to the other and Lorna Wing’s favourite saying was “Nature never draws a line without smudging it.”

In the year of 1991, Wing and Gould founded the National Autistic Society’s first diagnosis centre called the Diagnostic Centre for Social and Communications Disorders. This was renamed the Lorna Wing Centre for Autism in 2008.  It was the first place in the country to provide a complete assessment and advice service for children, adolescents and adults with social and communication disorders. The Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO), which Wing and Gould developed in the 1970s, remains one of the most detailed forms of clinical assessment.

Source: https://www.autism.org.uk/what-we-do/news/lorna-wing-an-autism-hero

On January 1971, the first journal of autism and developmental disorders was written and dedicated to autism and other developmental disorders.

Source: https://media.springernature.com/w306/springer-static/cover/journal/10803/45/8.jpg




The Education for All Handicapped Children Act is enacted to help protect the rights and meet the needs of children with disabilities, most of who were previously excluded from school.

Also known as PL94-142, guarantees a free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This law is significant because it was the first version of special education law. Bryant, Bryant, and Smith, pg. 18.



The Education for all Handicapped Children Act (EACHA). This is known today as IDEA. This requires free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible for children with disabilities.

For more information you can find it here: http://www.mwcil.org/ilhist/chronological

 Source: https://www.sutori.com/en/item/1975-the-education-for-all-handicapped-children-act-eacha-this-is-known-today



Susan Folstein and Michael Rutter publish the first study of twins and autism. The study finds that genetics are an important risk factor for autism. They were the first two conducting the first every identical twin study and determined that Autism does in fact have genetic links/causes. You can find more information here about the couple: https://troubonline.com/theology-of-the-body-alive-in-the-family-michael-and-susan-waldstein/

Photo by: Monica Torreblanca


1980: The third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) includes criteria for a diagnosis of infantile autism for the first time. In the year of June 1, 1980, the DSM-III was published. This is the first time Autism is recognized as its own disorder in regard to diagnostic criteria.

Source: https://www.psychologistpanel.com/diagnostic-statistical-manual-mental-disorders/



December 24, 1980 – ABA and DDT Works!

Lovaas’ two treatments: Applied Behaviours Analysis (ABA) and Discrete Trial Training (DTT) seem to work and are currently the most common treatments used with individuals with Autism. Despite this being said that there has been some hot topic, debate or conversation based on these two different types of therapies used for children with autism as I did share my personal opinion about this on my channel which you can watch it here on the playlist called Therapies and Interventions for Autistic Children & Adults and the link to this playlist is https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLD1nCoeovTZ5Cgygg3GkY3NM1X8aDbhgt. Feel free to view this playlist if you need any information in regards to this to learn more from me based on my knowledge and research made so far.

On December 24, 1988,

The Rain Man was the first movie to depict an individual with Autism. This was critical in raising public awareness for the disorder and what it can look like.

Directed by Barry Levinson




January 1, 1989 –

An assessment was created to evaluate individuals that are suspected to have Autism. This was created by Michael Rutter, Ann Lecouteur, and Catherine Lord. This tool has since been revised and updated.


1990: Autism is included as a disability category in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), making it easier for autistic children to get special education services.
An individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was signed into law on November 29, 1975 in America. It was then known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142). When the law was reauthorized in 1990, it was renamed and has since been known as IDEA.

This civil rights bill was guaranteed as a public school education system for children with disabilities. It also changed the approach to special needs education by guaranteeing access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for every child with a disability. Source: https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/history-of-special-education-and-inclusive-education-timeline-1b402d81-7592-44f6-9441-4c316e601a70.

January 1, 1991,
the federal government made a decision to make students with Autism eligible to receive special education services.






January 1, 1994

This manual of the DSM-4 was the first to add multiple disorders under the overall classification of Autism. Some of these included Rhett’s Disorder and Asperger’s disorder.

Source: https://www.psychologymania.com/2019/03/dsm-iv-tr-diagnostic-and-statistical.html






Temple Grandin writes Emergence—Labelled Autistic, a first-hand account of her life with autism and how she became successful in her field.

Source: https://www.aspergers101.com/6959-2/temple_grandin_portrait_16-1-1-1/





Andrew Wakefield publishes his paper in the Lancet suggesting that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine triggers autism. The theory is debunked by comprehensive epidemiological studies and eventually retracted.






The Autism Society adopts the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon as “the universal sign of autism awareness.”


2003: The Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (GRASP), an organization run by people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorders, is formed.

2003: Bernard Rimland and Stephen Edelson write the book Recovering Autistic Children.

2006: Ari Ne’eman establishes the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN).

2006: Dora Raymaker and Christina Nicolaidis start the Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE) to provide resources for autistic adults and healthcare providers.

2006: The president signs the Combating Autism Act to support autism research and treatment.


2010: Andrew Wakefield loses his medical license and is barred from practicing medicine, following the retraction of his autism paper.



The DSM-5 combines autism, Asperger’s, and childhood disintegrative disorder into autism spectrum disorder.






2014: The president signs the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act of 2014, reauthorizing and expanding the Combating Autism Act.


The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention determined one in 54 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism research and advocacy continue to build on these past events, and researchers have now identified nearly 100 different genes and various environmental factors that contribute to autism risk.In addition, they’re learning more about the early signs and symptoms so kids can get screened and start treatment sooner.




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