Within two generations, the popular and scientific understanding of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related conditions have undergone a massive shift in some parts of the world. We have moved from routine institutionalization (or worse) of people with ASD to an appreciation of a spectrum of social communication.
How did this sea change come about? Journalist Steve Silberman has been writing and commenting on autism for years, notably with a 2001 feature in Wired magazine on ASD rates in California’s Silicon Valley. He has compiled his exhaustive research into NeuroTribes to try to answer that question.
… The clinicians most often credited with discovery are Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner. Asperger’s clinic in 1930s Vienna embraced the full range of ASD. But Silberman asserts that to protect his charges from euthanasia by the Nazis, Asperger focused his case reports on gifted children ostracized by their peers, later termed high-functioning. Eventually, these cases would be called Asperger’s syndrome; in the DSM-5, controversially, this diagnosis is folded into ASD.