The Development of Autism

“From the Margins to the Mainstream” by Temple Grandin revolves around the author Grandin explaining to people how anyone can succeed even if that person has a disability like autism. Grandin brought up the idea that over time people with a disability such as autism have been treated differently both in a positive and in a negative way, which she believes is because of the generation people lived in. Although Grandin didn’t go into a lot of detail of how the treatment and viewing of autistic people developed over time it was something that I was interested in learning more about. Through research I was able to find that the idea of autism and its definition have developed throughout time; there are even more opportunities given to autistic people but that doesn’t stop the feeling that they and their families are outcast.

In the beginning when autism was first presented to the world it was used as a way of describing someone with schizophrenia which is a completely different disorder and with time it started to separate itself from it. Now schizophrenia is seen as a disorder in which there is a malfunction in the connections between their thought, emotion, and behavior while autism is seen  as mental condition causing difficulty in communication and forming relationships. For example in Sole-Smith’s article it explained how the definition of the word autism developed over time from the moment it was first used in 1908 to now. “1908-The word autism is used to describe a subset of schizophrenia patients who were especially withdrawn and self-absorbed.” “Infantile autism is listed in the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual Disorders (DSM) for the first time; the condition is also officially separated from childhood schizophrenia.” This shows that throughout time the definition of autism changed drastically from being an example of schizophrenia to being a completely different disorder, one which doesn’t relate to schizophrenia. But the definition isn’t the only thing that developed over time; the treatment has changed as well. In Sarris’s article it states, “In the 1950’s many kids with a ‘mental disability’ or who acted out of the ‘normal’ and were seen as ‘retarded’ or ‘insane’ were sent to institutions.” In this case, “institutions” refers to psychiatric/mental hospitals in which they ‘treated’ serious illnesses as down syndrome, clinical depression, and autism. But in the article 10 Years of Progress: it showed that over time the “treatment” for autism also developed to now offering therapy. “Though children with autism vary in how far they progress with behavioral therapy, we now have solid evidence of its benefits. This has enabled Autism Speaks to successfully advocate for health coverage of behavioral health treatment, now the law is in more than 40 states and counting. Now many more families are getting desperately needed therapy that was once denied.” This shows that although there is no cure for autism people have tried different methods for treating it. First they tried taking them to mental institutions until they found out that behavioral therapy was an effective way of helping those with autism. This all shows that the definition and treatment have completely changed throughout time from being a form of schizophrenia to being a completely different type of disorder with a new treatment.

In addition, when autism was first presented, autism was said to be caused by mothers not loving their children enough, but throughout time that idea also changed. For example in Sole-Smith’s article it states what scientist first thought was the cause for autism, “Psychologist Bruno Bettelheim popularizes the theory that ‘refrigerator mothers,’ as he termed them, caused autism by not loving their children enough.” This shows that the cause of autism was believed to be their mothers not loving their children enough, but similar to the definition of autism, this cause also developed with time. In the article 10 Years of Progress it stated that “Experts once believed that autism was almost entirely hereditary.” This shows that the cause of autism developed over time to then believe that the cause of it wasn’t because of “refrigerator mothers” but because of genetics. But once again that idea changed once more in Choi’s article it states, “Past- the cause of autism was poor parenting. Present- The exact cause of autism are unknown.” This shows that what people thought was the cause of autism changed twice over time with scientist being certain about the first two causes to then finally admitting that they are unsure what the true cause is. Likewise to the definition and treatment of autism, what was thought to be the cause of autism also changed over time. It was first thought that the cause of autism was from mothers not loving their children enough; then the cause was then believed to be hereditary, up to now in which people aren’t even sure what the true cause is.

On the other hand, most autistic people and their families still feel as outcast but there are a lot more opportunities that are given to help them succeed. Over time people have been able to ensure that autistic people were given the same opportunities. But that wasn’t always the case there was a moment where there wasn’t a special education given to those who needed it. In Choi’s article it states, “1960’s… there are no education available for children with autism. Their fate was mental handicap hospitals and sedation.” But this also changed throughout time autistic people have been given more opportunities. In Sole-Smith’s article it stated, “1991- The federal government make autistic a special education category. Public schools begin identifying children on the spectrum and offering them special services.” This shows that the way autistic people were being treated has changed in a positive way over the course of years in a manner that promotes autistic people getting the same opportunities. Although there has been a lot of improvement in assuring that autistic people get the same opportunities as others, they can’t help but still feel as outsiders. This is why many people won’t get themselves or their children diagnosed due to how society will act but in the process it will be closing a lot of doors for them. In Sarris’s article it states, “The diagnosis may invite stigma, prejudice, and the loss of a parent’s feeling of ‘normalcy’. On the other hand, a diagnosis can open doors to therapies and educational services that may improve the child’s symptoms and quality of life.” This shows that autistic people and their families are being seen as outsiders all due to the fact that autism itself is seen as a negative thing causing them to feel as if they are not “normal,” but people have tried to change the viewing of autism in a positive way. In Choi’s article it states, “Several movies or books, attempt to create an atmosphere to change the view of people on social issues.” This means that throughout time people have used movies and books as a platform of communication to try and convey their message that autistic people aren’t so different from us. They may need extra help in some cases but they still wish to be treated with the same amount of respect as anyone else. Although autistic people and their families still receive stigma from others because they aren’t what society considers “normal” there are many people who try to change the image of autism using movies or books in a positive manner, just how the government has tried to ensure that autistic people get the same opportunities by offering special educational categories.

Overall while researching I have learned many things like how autism, its definition, and its viewing in general has developed. Over time there are more opportunities given to autistic people but some things still haven’t changed like how autistic people and their families can’t help but feel as if they are outcast. I thought that society viewed autistic people with respect but now I know that most of them are treated as less or as outcast just because they aren’t like the others. But there has been improvements throughout time like autistic people getting a special category in schools that would help them get an education and now being offered free behavioral therapy that will help them all throughout their life. Although there has been all these changes made to ensures that autistic people get the same opportunities as others there is still a lot more we need to grow in to ensure that everyone is treated equally.

Works Cited

Choi, Grace. How does understanding of autism change over time. Prezi, 2 December 2014, Accessed 6 March 2017.

Sarris, Marina. THE STIGMA OF AUTISM: WHEN ALL EYES ARE UPON YOU. Interactive Autism Network, 15 January 2015, Accessed 3 March 2017.

Sole-Smith, Virginia. The History of Autism. Parents, 2017, Accessed 6 March 2017.

10 Years of Progress: What We’ve Learned About Autism. Autism Speaks, 23 February 2016, Accessed 3 March 2017.