Autism Awareness: The “Birth” of Autism

Autism Awareness | Dr. Robert MelilloAutism was first identified in 1943 by Leo Kanner, MD, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, after he encountered a five-year-old boy whom he described as being “withdrawn and living within himself.” In his now-classic research paper published that same year in the journal The Nervous Child, Dr. Kanner wrote: “He seems to be self-satisfied. He has no apparent affection when petted. He does not observe the fact that anyone comes or goes, and never seems glad to see father or mother or any playmate.”

The child, who Dr. Kanner identified as Donald T., was but one of eleven “problem children” he was seeing at Johns Hopkins with similar troubling personality and social characteristics. These children, he noted, “have come into the world with an innate inability to form the usual biologically provided affective contact with people.” Hence he called the condition autism for the Greek works auto, meaning self. At the time he also noted, “These characteristics form a unique ‘syndrome’ not heretofore reported…which seem rare enough, yet probably are more frequent than is indicated by the paucity of observed cases.”

How right he was.

At the time of Dr. Kanner’s discovery and for a decade or so thereafter, autism was considered a rare condition that was seldom seen or talked about. By the 1960’s the incidence of autism had doubled to 4 in 10,000. The CDC currently reports that an estimated 1 out of 68 children in the United States are diagnosed with autism! This is an alarming increase – one that puts autism in the category of an epidemic. It is an urgent problem that cannot be ignored. The time to better understand and treat children with autism spectrum disorder is now.

To learn more about autism and what parents can do now, check out my book Autism: The Scientific Truth About Preventing, Diagnosing, and Treating Autism Spectrum Disorders – and What Parents Can Do Now.