A little history into the initial discoveries of Autism

I’ve read a lot of material about autism and the varying degrees of autism and there is certainly a lot of studies and research done today due to the extreme rise and alarming rates. Autism was on the scene and doctors have studied it since the 1940s. The 2 primary doctors that led to the discovery of Autism were from Austria who developed early theories about it.

Dr Leo Kanner was born in 1894 in a small Austrian village and received his medical degree in 1921 after spending time in the Austrian Army during WWI. He was educated at the University of Berlin and emigrated to the United States in 1924 where he began his medical career. He is credited in the academic world as the first child psychiatrist and was the founder of the first academic child psychiaty department established at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and published his first book on the subject, Child Psychiatry in 1935. He wrote his first paper after extensive research on the early evidence of Autism in children in 1943 around the same time a fellow colleague was doing his own research in Austria, Hans Asperger. Dr Leo Kanner led a distinguished medical career and was a pioneer in the early studies of autism and did a lot of work for the field of child psychiatry which has led to a whole field of study which is crucial to continuing studies of autism. He died in 1981.

Hans Asperger was born in 1906 and was educated in Vienna and began his medical career at the University Children’s Hospital in Vienna. He also served during wartime during WWII as a medical officer in Croatia. He married in 1935 and had five children. He lost his younger brother in the war. He started his research on Autism in the early 1940s and published a paper of his findings in 1944 on symptoms of autism. He had various positions as lead medical director and was appointed chair of Pediatrics at the University of Vienna which he held for 20 years.

Dr Asperger conducted investigations on hundreds of children and studied their behaviors and their abilities to talk. He narrowed his focus on a smaller population for his study to check for patterns of forming friendships, the ability to conduct conversations, a preoccupation with repetitive interests, lack of empathy and self esteem issues. Based on his testing and research he was convinced these children had autistic symptoms and was convinced they could use these “special talents” into their adulthood and experience success. Dr Asperger championed the cause for these children affected and felt no matter how bad their struggles were to them and their caregivers in their childhood they were able to translate their experiences to great achievements into their adulthood. It was theorized that Dr Hans Asperger could also have been autistic as a child as he exhibited the same patterns he theorized about. Dr Hans Asperger dedicated his life to his studies relating to Autism and was a significant contributor to the field and to understanding children and adults affected by this condition. He also was a pioneer in the study of autism and made so many important contributions that are well recognized today.

Lorna Wing, a British researcher actually popularized the term “Asperger’s syndrome” in her writings in the early 1980s and a lot of Dr Asperger’s work was tranlated to English and widely adopted in the early 1990s when Asperger’s syndrome was recognized as a formal diagnosis throughout the world. This all happened after Dr Hans Asperger died in 1980.

These doctors were so important in the studies of autism and the doctors of today study their findings and use their conclusions in their own research. Since Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome is becoming more common today there is a big demand for medical doctors specializing in this field of study because it effects so many children.

It seems we only scratched the surface of autism and a simple phrase that was developed by Dr Leo Kanner based on a paper he wrote states it simply as “Aloness and sameness” which can describe many children affected by it.

As a parent of an autistic child we are always challenging the doctors for answers and trying to determine how we can help our children grow and develop and get thru these symptoms that so effect them in every phase of their life so they can grow and lead happy and productive lives and establish healthy relationships and develop positive self esteem and use their condition to positive use so they can achieve success and happiness.

Edward D. Iannielli III

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