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4 Shocking Facts About the History of Autism

4 Shocking Facts About the History of Autism

By Michael J. Cameron, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Chief Clinical Officer for Pacific Child and Family Associates

Would you ever think that autism is related to schizophrenia? And would you ever think that it was treated with LSD? While most people may not relate autism with these things, scientists and families once did.

The documented history of autism is relatively short, with the term “autism” first being used just over a century ago in 1911. Within the past 100 years, what scientists and society know and understands about it has come a long way. During this time, unique and sometimes disturbing theories and treatments have been tested.

The four facts below include the most surprising and unknown pieces of autism history

  1. Autism was used to refer to a group of symptoms of schizophrenia. In 1911, a Swiss psychiatrist, Eugen Bleuler, first coined the term “autism” when using it to define one symptom of schizophrenia. It wasn’t until the 1960s, five decades later, that autism began to be identified by researchers as a separate condition from schizophrenia.
  2. Over the century, the cause of autism has been related to many different variables, poor parenting (“refrigerator mother”), childhood trauma, stress, and vaccinations.2,3  Today, there is no known single scientific cause for autism
  3. In the 1970s and 1980s, about one in every 2,000 children had autism.4 Today, the number has increased to one in every 68 children.5 It is likely that the increase is due to heightened awareness, more screening within schools, and a willingness to label the condition
  4. In the 1960s and 1970s, treatment for autism included a reliance on medication. Today, the cornerstone for treatment of autism is interdisciplinary and requires the collaboration of physicians, psychologists, Speech and Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, and Board Certified Behavior Analysts. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a scientifically validated approach aimed toward improving an individual’s quality of life and behavior by applying techniques that increase adaptive behaviors and reduce those that may interfere with learning.

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It is undebatable that the diagnosis, understanding, and treatment have without a doubt come a long way in its brief history. But, many families are still struggling in the privacy of their own homes with the challenges that autism places upon the family. More and more, the news is highlighting these battles, and families are searching for the support, help, and comfort that they need.

A recent viral initiative, #ACT4Autism, has been started to help unite these families and provide them with the love and support they are in need of. With the #ACT4Autism hashtag, participants are asked to post on their social media pages about how or why they act for autism, what autism means to them, or by showing support for a family member or friend with autism. Participants can also post photos of themselves with the #ACT4Autism hashtag written out or you can share the social messages used on Pacific Family & Child Associates’ social media pages.

For more current information, please click here for our friends at Autism Parenting Magazine

For more information on autism – Grandparents and autism

Dr. Michael J. Cameron, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (Charter Certificant 1-00-0010) is The Chief Clinical Officer for Pacific Child & Family Associates (PCFA) and experienced in the area of behavioral medicine, behavioral health assessment, intervention for diverse populations, and higher education. PCFA is an insurance accepting, national leader in the delivery of services for children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. PCFA services are provided in homes, schools, and in clinics across the United States. Prior to joining PCFA, Dr. Cameron was a tenured Associate Professor and the Founding Chair of the Department of Behavior Analysis at Simmons College. Dr. Cameron earned a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis and a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Northeastern University.

1 History of Autism. WebMD. Accessed online at https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/history-of-autism.
2 The History of Autism. Master’s in Special Education Program Guide. Accessed online at https://www.masters-in-special-education.com/history-of-autism/.
3 Autism History. News-Medical.net. Accessed online at https://www.news-medical.net/health/Autism-History.aspx.
4 Autism Cases on the Rise; Reason for Increase a Mystery. WebMD. Accessed online at https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/searching-for-answers/autism-rise.
5 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Data & Statistics. CDC. Accessed online at https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html.


Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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