Sunday, June 24, 2007

Clinic Notes: The "Autos" in Autism

In 1943, American psychiatrist Leo Kanner published the first paper on autism. The word “autism” comes from the Greek word “autos” or “self” and was first used by Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, in 1912. Bleuler described “autistic thinking” as not involving outside reality, but only the individual's inner thoughts or feelings. He thought schizophrenics were locked into this way of thinking. Kanner used the term autism to describe the extreme social disinterest he observed in eleven young children, and thought the disorder was congenital. The stereotype of the child with autism being aloof locked in his or her own little world is still with us. However, I think that I have seen a change in this stereotype during my 37 years of clinical experience. Many of the kids who come to my clinic now with an autism diagnosis are very social or at least interested in being very social. Unfortunately, their verbal communication holds them back so they do not do well socially. Social stories and modeling social interactions can help, but unfortunately many kids do not solve their communication problems earlier enough to develop socially.

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