Autism (v. greek αὐτός “self”) is accounted by the World Health Organization to be pervasive developmental disorder. It is described by physicians, researchers, families and people with autism themselves as a congenital, incurable perception and information processing brain disorder that manifests itself already in early childhood. Other researchers and autistic persons describe autism as a different innate information processing mode, which is indicated by weaknesses in social interaction and communication, and by stereotyped behaviors and strengths in perception, attention, memory, and intelligence.
In the current diagnostic criteria there is a distinction between Kanner syndrome and Asperger syndrome that often appear only after the third year of life. To distinguish between the different forms and symptoms of autism, which suppose different degrees of severity, the autism spectrum disorder is used. Here, however, the precise definition is difficult because the curves are rather smooth.
The interests of people with autism are often limited to certain areas, but some of them are in the area of their special interest, supposing extraordinary abilities, such as mental arithmetic, drawing, music, or phenomenal memory. This is called a savant syndrome and those having it are called savants. 50 percent of known savants are autistic. At the same time, only a very small part of the autistic are gifted.
The Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler coined the term in 1911. He saw in it a fundamental symptom of schizophrenia – the seclusion in the inner world of the patients thoughts. Sigmund Freud took over the terms “autism” and “autistic” by Bleuler and put them close with “narcissism” and “narcissistic” equal – as opposed to “social.”
Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger took the notion – independently – on and described a clinical picture of its own kind differentiated between people with schizophrenia who are actively retreating deep into the interior self and those who live from birth in a state of inner seclusion.
Kanner took the term “autism” in the more specific way, which today is essentially corresponded to the so-called childhood autism (hence: Kanner syndrome). His view gained international recognition and was the basis for further autism research. In contrast, in his publications Asperger described “autism” as something different and was first hardly noticed internationally. This was due to a simultaneous World War II, on the other hand the fact that Asperger was published in German and for decades have not been translated into English. Hans Asperger himself described the syndrome as “autistic psychopathy.” The British psychiatrist Lorna Wing continued his research in the 1980s and the term Asperger syndrome acquired international reputation in professional circles only in the 1990s.
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