Author: Marion Pennell

High Functioning and Fine

Those familiar with the “discovery” of autism usually attribute it to Leo Kanner, an American psychiatrist working at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. His famous monograph, published in 1943, was made possible with the help of assistants Georg Frankl and Anni Weiss, both of whom had previously worked with Hans Asperger, a pediatrician working in Vienna during WWII. Kanner had a narrow definition of autism. He thought it was a rare childhood psychosis and forwarded the theory of “refrigerator mothers” as the cause. Asperger thought it was far more common and existed on a “continuum,” or what we now call the ‘spectrum.’ Asperger’s position vis-à-vis the Nazi regime under which he lived put his research in the shadows, and it was only in 1991 that Uta Frith’s book Autism and Asperger Syndrome brought his work to the English-speaking world at large. The American Psychiatric Association included Asperger Syndrome, as distinct from autism, in the DSM-IV in 1994, and subsequently removed it from the DSM-5 in 2013. I suspect the American health system, run by insurance clerks, …