, Volume 37, Issue 10, pp 2022-2023
Date: 06 Oct 2007

Asperger (1906–1980) and Kanner (1894–1981), the two pioneers of autism

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More than 60 years ago, two very similar descriptions of children displaying severe social deficits and unusual behaviours were published, one in English, one in German, both using the term ‘autistic’. Leo Kanner (1943) in Baltimore, USA, described 11 children with ‘early infantile autism’ in his seminal paper Autistic disturbances of affective contact’. In the same year, October 1943, Hans Asperger, in Vienna, Austria, submitted his thesis on ‘Autistic psychopathy in childhood’, which was published in 1944, describing four children with ‘autistic psychopathy’. Both authors used the term ‘autistic’ which was coined by Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, who used this label to describe the characteristics of individuals with schizophrenia. However, only Asperger acknowledged the fact that he had adopted Bleuler’s terminology in his doctoral thesis, whereas no references to Bleuler are evident in Kanner’s paper as highlighted by Schirmer (2002).

Leo Kanner has always been seen as the pioneer