• Home
  • Early Contributors

Early Contributors

This Section focuses on the contributions of eminent researchers whose work explained Autism concretely, and helped the discovery of various treatment methods.

Eugen Bleuler

The term "Autism" is derived from the Greek word "autos" which means "self" used to describe a person who lives in self-isolation, having no social interaction.

The term "autism" had been first used by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1911 while dealing with symptoms of schizophrenia.

Leo Kanner

In the 1940s, Dr. Leo Kanner, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University in the US, recognised that a number of children sent to his clinic displayed similar characteristics which he named 'early infantile autism' - the word autism deriving from the Greek for 'self'.

Although he described in detail the characteristics of 11 children he saw between September 1931 and February 1943, there were certain features that were universal and he selected those as crucial for diagnosis. These were:

  • A profound lack of affective (emotional) contact with other people
  • Intense insistence on sameness in their routines
  • Muteness or abnormality of speech
  • Fascination with manipulating objects
  • High levels of visio-spatial skills or rote memory but major learning difficulties in other areas.
  • An attractive, alert, intelligent appearance

Kanner's pioneering work was slow to catch on but is now the focus of much international research.

Hans Asperger

At about the same time, the German scientist Hans Asperger identified a similar condition that has come to be known as Asperger's Syndrome.

A Viennese physician, Hans Asperger, working at the same time as Leo Kanner, published a paper which described a pattern of behaviors in several young boys who had normal intelligence and language development, but who also exhibited autistic-like behaviors and marked deficiencies in social and communication skills.

Asperger noted the similarities to Kanner's Syndrome but also observed some major differences:

  • Whilst Kanner reported that 3 of his 11 patients did not speak at all, and the remainder rarely used language to communicate, Asperger noted that his case study patients spoke 'like little adults'
  • There were also disagreements regarding gross coordination and fine motor skills. Kanner reported that whilst the former was poor the latter was very good whilst Asperger observed that both were affected
  • Kanner believed that learning by rote would be the best method of advancing an autistic person whilst Asperger suggested that his patients were 'abstract thinkers' and therefore performed best spontaneously

Lorna Wing

By the late 1970s Dr. Lorna Wing and Dr. Judith Gould in Camberwell (UK) conducted extensive research which made apparent that both the diagnoses of Kanner and Asperger were accurate.

By examining a large sample of children on one area of London, Wing and Gould were able to show that Kanner's Syndrome and Asperger's Syndrome were both part of a wide range of disorders affecting social interaction and communication. This led to the notion of 'autistic spectrum disorders' and to the idea of a 'triad of impairments'.

Eric Schopler

Dr. Eric Schopler (1927-2006), a professor of psychiatry and psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill for more than 40 years and a pioneer in the humane and effective treatment of autism.

In an era when parents were blamed for causing what was felt to be a psychological problem, Eric was one of the first to use empirical research to establish the true, neurological basis of autism and its effective treatment. The treatment that included parents as co-therapists.

His methods have been studied and adopted by autism programs around the world, bringing hope and brighter futures to thousands of families in dozens of countries. In the process, hundreds of people have come to know and admire him and have been privileged to call him "friend."

He earned a PhD in clinical child psychology at the University of Chicago. As the faculty of the Psychiatry department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in collaboration with Dr. Robert Reicher, he applied his earlier research on receptor processes to the treatment of autism. Funding was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health and trials were conducted with autistic children and their parents. The outcome of these trials was the creation of the TEACCH program (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children).

Dr. Eric Schopler along with Dr. Robert J. Reicher and Dr. Barbara Rochen Renner also developed Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), a behavior rating scale intended to help diagnose autism. CARS was designed to help differentiate children with autism from those with other developmental delays, such as mental retardation.

CARS is considered the gold standard in the field. Development of the CARS began in 1966 with the production of a scale that incorporated the criteria of Leo Kanner (1943) and Creak (1964), and characteristic symptoms of childhood autism.

Ivar Lovaas

Dr. Ole Ivar Lovaas, Ph.D. (8 May 1927 - 2 August 2010) was a Norwegian-American clinical psychologist at UCLA. He is considered to be one of the fathers of ABA (applied behavior analysis) therapy for autism through his development of the Lovaas technique and the first to provide evidence that the behavior of autistic children can be modified through teaching. His method is the only modality approved by the Surgeon General's Office and has over thirty years of scientific research. In recent times, people refer to his method as ABA.

A. Jean Ayres

Dr. Anna Jean Ayres (1920 - 1989), PhD, OTR, FAOTA, is credited with having first identified sensory integration dysfunction in 1960. She is the author of the Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests, and was one of occupational therapy's foremost leaders in theory development.

Born in 1920, Anna Jean Ayres grew up on a farm in Visalia, California. As a child, she struggled with learning problems similar to those she would later study. After obtaining a master's degree in occupational therapy and a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Southern California, Dr. Ayres began postdoctoral work at UCLA's Brain Research Institute.

Here she began to formulate her theory of sensory integrative dysfunction. Prior to Dr. Ayres' landmark research, children who had sensory integrative dysfunction suffered from a misunderstood disability. Parents were frustrated by a child who would become agitated by simple daily tasks, had more labored handwriting than other children, had difficulty attending in school and was disorganized at home.

Through her research, Dr. Ayres made the discovery that such children had a neural disorder that resulted in inefficient organization of sensory input received by the nervous system. She developed diagnostic tools for identifying the disorder and proposed a therapeutic approach that transformed pediatric occupational therapy.

In 1972, Sensory Integration International, a not-for-profit organization, was established to further Dr. Ayres' work. Through the educational programs offered as part of the mission of Sensory Integration International, and through operation of "The Ayres Clinic", the pioneering work of Dr. Ayres Continues.