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.
Leo Kanner published Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact in 1943 in the journal Nervous Child. This article described the cases of eleven children with autism. Kanner described the behavior and upbringing of each child, aged two to eight, as well as the educational backgrounds of the children's. Though Eugen Bleuler, a professor of psychiatric at the University of Z rich and director of the Burgh lzli Asylum in Z rich in Z rich, Switzerland from 1898 to 1927, was first to use the term autism to describe of a symptom of schizophrenia, scientists cite Kanner's article as the first description of autism as a unique disease concept distinct from schizophrenia. One of the most cited articles about autism in the twentieth century, this article was the first to demarcate Kanner syndrome, which later called childhood autism. Researchers, including Kanner, eventually treated early infantile autism as a disorder resulting from abnormal development of the autistic children's brains.