JUST THE FACTS
Autism first described as Schizophrenia - In Zürich, Switzerland in the early twentieth century, Eugen Bleuler, a professor at the University of Zürich and director of the Burghölzli Asylum first used the term autism to describe symptoms of schizophrenia.
Leo Kanner was not some country doctor; he was the leading psychiatrist of his day, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He wrote the book "Child Psychiatry." In fact, he's been called the dean or father of modern child psychiatry. Beginning in 1938 he saw children with a behavioral syndrome that differed "markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far." Kanner wrote the landmark 1943 paper, "Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact," about the first 11 cases. Kanner said he'd never seen it before, and neither had anyone else. In 1938, Kanner began studying a small cohort of eleven children with similar behaviors in the Johns Hopkins clinic in Baltimore, Maryland. Donald, Frederick, Richard, Paul, Barbara, Virginia, Herbert, Alfred, Charles, John, and Elaine became the first children described with Kanner Syndrome, later called early infantile autism. In "Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact," Kanner describes each child's preoccupation with objects, monotonous repetitions, insistence on consistency, and deficiencies of language, among other behaviors. He also described the child's home life, socioeconomic and educational background of the parents, and the parents' chief complaints about their children's behaviors. Many child psychologists used Kanner's observations to help them with their diagnoses. Kanner's article was the first description of autism as a unique disease concept distinct from schizophrenia.
Kanner became the world's authority on autism and saw children referred from North America and South America and as far away as South Africa. Yet by 1958 -- 15 years after he first created the diagnosis -- he had seen just 150 autism cases. Another doctor who became the European authority on the disorder
saw only 10 cases in the decade after his first paper was published; a third "found only one true case of infantile autism in 36,500 clinical cases," according to Bernard Rimland's 1964 book, "Infantile Autism." No matter how you slice or dice the diagnostic categories, something doesn't compute -- how can there be half a million children with Autism Spectrum Disorders living in the United States today, when the man who identified the disorder could only find 150 in the first 15 years? What's more, the oldest child Kanner diagnosed with autism was born in 1931. We found no evidence of a child diagnosed with autism who was older than that. True, some autism cases are due to organic causes -- Fragile X Syndrome (Martin-Bell syndrome) or rubella in a pregnant mother -- and Kanner acknowledged that. Still, in 1978, looking back on his career, Kanner said the first child he saw in 1938 "made me aware of a behavior pattern not known to me or anyone else theretofore." We don't understand how a genetic model of autism fits with that. Never mind the 1990s; what happened in the 1930s? Today's medical mainstream pretty much skips over that issue, repeating the mantra of "better diagnosis". We're not so willing to dismiss the eyewitness expertise of the man who first identified the disorder -- we think his observations cannot simply be cast aside if they become inconvenient or inconsistent with a prevailing point of view. That's not a mainstream thing to do at all. For that reason, we've gone back again to the beginning, looking for clues to the roots and rise of autism in Kanner's first cases.
Case 1 - Donald was born October 1938 he was first seen at the age of 5 years, 1 month. His father was a lawyer, his mother was a college graduate.
Case 2 - Frederick was born May 1936, he was first seen at 6 years old. His father, is a plant pathologist, his mother, a college graduate, secretary to physicians, a purchasing agent, director or secretarial studies in a girls school, and at one time a teacher of history.
Case 3 - Richard M. was born November 1937, he was first seen at age 3 years and 3 months. His father is a professor, his mother a college graduate.
Case 4 - Paul G. was an only child born in 1936 in England. He was first seen at age 5. His father was a mining engineer, his mother a college graduate
Case 5 - Barbara K. was born October 30, 1933. She was first seen at the age of 8 years, 3 months. Her father was a prominent psychiatrist, mother was well educated
Case 6 - Virginia S. was born September 13, 1931. She had an IQ of 94. Her father was a psychiatrist
Case 7 - Herbert B. was born November 16, 1937. He was first seen at 3 years and 2 months. Her father was a psychiatrist, mother a physician
Case 8 - Albert L. was born May 1932, he was first seen at age 3 years 6 months and his IQ was 140. His father was a Chemist and a law school graduate. His mother was a clinical psychologist
Case 9 - Charles N. He was first seen at age 4 years 6 months. His father was a high-school graduate and a clothing merchant. His mother has a successful business record, theatrical booking office in New York
Case 10 - John F was born September 19, 1937, he was first seen at 2 years and 4 months of age. His father was a psychiatrist, and his mother was a high-school graduate, who worked as secretary in a pathology laboratory before marriage.
Case 11 - Elaine C. was born February 3, 1932. She was first seen at age 7 years and 2 months. Her father studied law and the liberal arts in three Universities, was an advertising copy write, and her mother had done editorial work before marriage.
Physically all the children were essentially normal. Five had relatively large heads, and several were clumsy. But the most interesting common denominator is that all these children come from highly intelligent families. Four fathers are psychiatrists, one is a brilliant lawyer, one is a chemist and law school graduate employed in the government patent office, one a plant pathologist, and one a successful business man. Nine of the eleven mothers are college graduates. Among the grandparents there where many physicians, scientists, writers, journalists, and students of art. All but three families are represented either in Who's Who in America or in American Men of Science, or in both. Two of the children are Jewish, the others are all Anglo-Saxon descent. In the whole group, there are very few really warmhearted fathers and mothers. Kanner goes on to state that "The question arises whether or to what extent this fact has contributed to the condition of the children." - He later contracts this statement and denounces any relationship between Autism and the Parents Behavior.
Possible Causes of Autism:
To this day we do not have a definite answer as to what causes Autism, however, there is plenty of research that suggest Mercury and Aluminum play their parts. Two of these Eleven children may have been exposed to Mercury, via their fathers occupations.
Case 1 - Donald grew up in a town called Forest, Mississippi. Surrounded by logging camps, lumber mills and a national forest being planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Forest is 50 miles from the sawmills where ethyl mercury fungicides were first tested in the United States in 1929 to preserve lumber, a practice that quickly became widespread; that child was born in 1933
Case 3 - Richard was the son of "a professor of forestry in a Southern university," (North Carolina State) His father began research on southern pines when he joined the N.C State faculty in 1935. In 1936, he assisted in the planting of pine seedlings in the university's newly acquired Hofmann Forest. His son was born in 1937. Organic mercury fungicides, including an ethyl mercury brand, were often used to prevent "damping off' or fungal contamination of pine seedlings during that era.