A History of Autism

Autism Research and Publications


Eugen Bleuler first used the term autism in relation to schizophrenia. 'Autism' and 'autistic' come from the Greek 'auto' or self.

Leo Kanner

Leo Kanner used the term infantile autism to describe unusual characteristics seen in a study of 11 children. He also suggested a possible genetic component to these bahaviours.

Hans Asperger

Asperger studied 4 boys who showed similar unusual characteristics.

Kanner: Lack of stimulation

Kanner observed that children with autism experienced a lack of stimulation in their environment. He referred to refrigerator mothers undemonstrative fathers.

Bernard Rimland

Bernard Rimland proposed the existence of a biological link involved with autism.


The syndrome and features of autism were validated.


Bettleheim popularised the theory of autism being a result of an unstimulating environment and the term 'refrigerator mothers' became widely used.


A link was made between early childhood autism and neurological disease in children with congenital rubella.

Schizophrenia and autism

Early childhood autism was recognised as being separate from schizophrenia.

Twin Studies

Folstein and Rutter conducted studies on twins to explore the genetic component of autism.

Triad of Impairments

Lorna Wing identified the Triad of Impairments representing the core characteristics of autism.

'Journal of Autism and Development Disorders'

The 'Journal of Autism and Development Disorders' was founded

E. R. Ritvo

Dr E. R. Ritvo presented research to suggest that autism may be inherited.

'Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disorders"

The journal of 'Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disorders" was founded.

Theory of Mind

Uta Frith proposed that children with autism lack a Theory of MInd.

International Autism Research Review

International Autism Research Review founded

Candida Infection

Rimland suggests link between candida infection and autism.

Impaired Executive Function

Sally Ozonoff suggested that executive functioning or problem solving requires planning, impulse control and working memory and that executive functioning related to the frontal lobes may be impaired in individuals with autism.

Autistic Spectrum

Lorna Wing recognises Asperger syndrome as a form of autism and introduced the term autistic spectrum.

Weak Central Coherence

Frith and Happe proposed that individuals with autism have difficulty in making meaning from the whole rather than individual parts.

Mind Blindness

Baron-Cohen publishes his book 'Mind Blindness'.

'Focus on autistic behaviour'

The journal 'Focus on autistic behaviour' was founded.

Thinking in Pictures

Temple Grandin published 'Thinking in pictures and other reports from my life with autism'

'Focus on autism and other developmental disorders'

The journal 'Focus on autism and other developmental disorders' was founded

MMR Vaccine

Andrew Wakefiled proposed a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism.

In utero risk

Rodier looked at the link between in utero risk factors such as rubella and alcohol and autism.

Empathising-Systemising Theory

Baron-Cohen suggest that autism is an example of the extreme male brain showing strengths in systemising often leading to obsessions but also displaying a lack of empathy.

Rapid Brain Growth

Courchesne proposed a link between autism and rapid brain growth in infancy.

Environmental Influences

'Autism' and Environment' workshop in USA to explore the effects of the environment on the developing brain.

Vaccines not a risk

Destafano found no link between autism and the number of vaccines a child receives in a day.

Autism Communities of Practice

Autism Society of America

The parent advocate group, Autism Society of America was formed.

IHC sub committee for autism

A group of parents were formed into a sub-committee within the IHC in New Zealand to focus on autism. This group later became Autism NZ Inc.


Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-Handicapped children was founded in the US by Eric Schopier. It increased the services on offer to autistic children and included parents in their therapy.

Autism NZ Inc

Official launch of Autism NZ Inc.

Autism Awareness Year

2002 was declared Autism Awareness Year in the UK.

Autism Speaks

Autism Speaks was founded

NZASD Guideline

New Zealand Autism Spectrum Disorder Guideline was published by the Ministry of Health.


IDEA ( Intellectual disability empowerment in action) launched ASD Plus to provide communication and behaviour services to support individuals with ASD and their families.

Autism Prevelance

4.5 in 10,000

Lotter's epidemiological study suggested a rate of 4.5 in every 10,000 individuals were autistic.

15 in 10,000

As doctors began to recognise autism the number of reported cases in USA rose to 15 in 10,000.

1 in 150

CDC (Centers for disease control and prevention) in USA reported 1 in 150 individuals were on the autistic spectrum.

1 in 110

CDC in USA reported autism being present at a rate of 1 in 110.

1 in 88

CDC reported 1 in 88 children being on the autistic spectrum.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Screening Tools

Introduction of ASQ ( Autism Screening Questionnaire) and M-CHAT ( Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers).


Autism related behaviours categorised under schizophrenia in DSM-I

Childhood autism rating scale

The Childhood autism rating scale was introduced by Schopler and others to assist in the identification of autism.


Autism related bahaviours remain classified under childhood schizophrenia.

Behavioural Approach

Behavioural approaches were seen as the most effective way to teach children with autism.


Infantile Autism was recognised as a pervasive developmental disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III (DSM III). 6 symptoms were listed.

drug therapy

Drugs started to be used in the treatment of autism.

DSM III update

The term "infantile autism" was replaced by 'autistic disorders' and 16 new diagnostic criteria added.

Applied Behaviour Analysis

Ole Ivar Lovaas introduced the use of Applied Behaviour Analysis.


DSM IV altered the category of pervasive developmental disorders to include Asperger Syndrome and significantly increased the range of diagnostic criteria for autism.