Spencer Daines and Brandon Schmitz


The word "autism," which has been in use for about 100 years, comes from the Greek word "autos," meaning "self." The term describes conditions in which a person is removed from social interaction -- hence, an isolated self. In the 1940s, researchers in the United States began to use the term "autism" to describe children with emotional or social problems. From the early 1900s, autism has referred to a range of neuro-psychological conditions. But where did the term come from, and how has knowledge about autism changed?


Autism is a spectrum of neuropsychiatric disorders characterized by deficits in social interaction and communication. Boys are four times more likely to have autism than are girls. Asperger disorder is characterized as one of the autism spectrum disorders. The term "autism" is generally used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). These disorders include Asperger Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Many parents and professionals refer to this group as Autism Spectrum Disorders.


One symptom common to all types of autism is an inability to easily communicate and interact with others. Other symptoms linked to autism may include unusual behaviors in any of these areas, Interest in objects or specialized information, Reactions to sensations, and Physical coordination. Most children are diagnosed by age 3 with Autism if they have it. Asperger's gets diagnosed at a later age.


From the 1960s through the 1970s, research into treatments for autism focused on medications such as LSD, electric shock, and behavioral change techniques. The latter relied on pain and punishment. During the 1980s and 1990s, the role of behavioral therapy and the use of highly controlled learning environments emerged as the primary treatments for many forms of autism and related conditions. Currently, the cornerstones of autism therapy are behavioral therapy and language therapy. Other treatments are added as needed.