What Causes Autism Spectrum Disorders?
History of Attribution of Cause
Autism has long been considered a classification of a mental disorder. Early individuals with moderate to severe delays in language and social skills would have been placed in institutions to be “treated” by the medical establishment of the time. Kanner, a psychiatrist, first wrote about “infantile autism” and the associated symptoms in his paper in 1943. It is likely that individuals with autism who were high functioning were considered odd, loners who were not classified as needing intervention.
In the 1950s psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim attributed the symptoms of autism to uncaring and detached mothers who did not love their children enough. Treatment consisted of removing the children from these “refrigerator mothers,” offering psychoanalysis or counseling to the mother, and providing play therapy to the child, ideally in Bettleheim’s institute in Chicago. The disorder was thought to occur in middle-class Caucasian families where both parents were educated. During this period of history not only did the mothers of children with autism have to care for a child with challenging and unusual behaviors, they also experienced the added burden of being blamed as the cause.
In 1964, Bernard Rimland published the book Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior, which attributed the cause of autism to biology rather than poor parenting. Rimland dedicated his career to addressing the biological issues that contribute to and result from autism spectrum disorders. He had long hypothesized that there are brain differences in individuals with ASD compared to the brains of typically developing children. Rimland founded the Autism Research Institute (ARI) that supports the project Defeat Autism Now, or DAN. Annual conferences are held where physicians present information on possible metabolic (interrelated chemical interactions that provide the energy and nutrients) contributions to symptoms and suggest diets that can be used to avoid the side effects of toxins for individuals with ASD.
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