The word “autism” was coined by Dr. Eugene Bleuler, the Swiss psychiatrist who recorded the one case that he had seen in the American Journal of Insanity in 1912. Bleuler called the condition autism from the Greek word, autos, meaning self, because of the total occupation with self-stimulation in the patient to the exclusion of others. Bleuler described the disorder using four A’s: Association, affect, autism and ambivalence (Kaplan, 1985).
However, the word autism was not used again until Dr. Leo Kanner used it in 1944 to describe a condition he began to see in children of soldiers returning from World II. Intriguingly, one year prior to this, 1943, Dr. Hans Asperger in Europe also observed this disorder, and called it Asperger Syndrome. There was commonality in the symptoms of both these labels, and also in the timing.
This was the era of England’s bouncing bomb, Japan’s bombs on Pearl Harbour, and America’s retaliation with the atom bombs laced with such toxins as benzene that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and caused tremendous deaths and crippling diseases. Indeed, this is the same era of the Nazis and their use of chemicals. Later, this would become worse with the testing of thermonuclear bombs with uranium and strontium-90 (Weyler, 2004, p.31). Then, the 1960’s Vietnam war and the defoliant, agent orange, which was laced with dioxin—the most dangerous chemical known to man (Levine & Perkins, 1997, p.411).
In the beginning it was thought that autism was childhood schizophrenia, but that theory did not hold out—the symptoms were not similar—the progression not relevant. Then, Dr. Bruno Bettelheim attributed the condition to “cold mothers.” But his theory was supported by many who poured money into the Chicago Orthogenic School where children were put to develop a relationship with workers in order to improve their disorder—but this was not successful—love and warmth were clearly not enough.
Eventually, Bettelheim’s strongest opposition came from Dr. Bernard Rimland whose son was autistic, and Rimland was able to observe that the condition was not caused by “cold mothers.” Rimland’s research would lead him to suspect the mercury-laced Therimosal in vaccinations as published in The Independent London on November 26, 2006. Rimland advocated this until the day he dies. Rimland is also remembered for creating the ABA system for training children with autism which is still widely used today (Buckley, 2002).
In fact, it was because so many Canadian parents applied for assistance to enroll their autistic children in the ABA programs and had to go to Court to get the funds for this training, that Canadians began to see just how many autistic children there were in Canada. If the mainstream had not covered this issue, especially as most parents were turned down particularly if their child was over six years old, Canadians would not have know there were so many children with autism stuck away a home with overtired and overwhelmed parents begging for assistance, while the government continued to treat autism as a micro problem when in reality it was a macro issue—a paradigm of C. Wright Mills.
Ironically, in 1994, the American Psychiatric Association confirmed that asperger syndrome was a form of autism, and this was recorded in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM). It was also confirmed that autism was not retardation, nor schizophrenia, or caused by cold mothers, but rather, autism was a neurodevelopmental disorder that affected the communication area of the brain.