This thesis illustrates that Kanner held an explicitly descriptive frame of reference toward his eleven child patients, their parents, and autism. Adolf Meyer, his mentor at Johns Hopkins, trained him to make detailed life-charts under a clinical framework called psychobiology. By understanding that Kanner was a psychobiologist by training, I revisit the original definition of autism as a category of mental disorder and restate its terms. This history illuminates the theoretical context of autism's discovery and has important implications for the first definition of autism amidst shifting theories of childhood mental disorders and the place of the natural sciences in defining them.

Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior (hereafter Infantile Autism) is a book written by Bernard Rimland, published in 1964. The book proposed a theory to explain the causes of autism. The book also synthesized research into autism and used Rimland's neural theory, described in the book, as a theory to explain some aspects of behavior, intelligence, and abnormality. Moreover, Infantile Autism contributed to a debate between Rimland and child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim in the 1960s over whether autism was caused by upbringing (see refrigerator mother theory) or by impaired brain development. Rimland's book convinced many autism researchers to look for abnormal psychological development.

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