Date of Award


Document Type




First Reader

Dr. George Keck


In 1943, in Autistic Disturbance of Affective Contact, Leo Kanner describe eleven children whose symptoms appeared to constitute a unique syndrome. This was termed "early infantile autism" in 1944. Early infantile autism is a syndrome of which the symptoms can usually be traced back to the fourth month of life, but that often does not become disturbingly evident until the first or second year. Outstanding characteristics include extreme withdrawal from contact with people an obsessive need for sameness in the environment; skillful manipulation of objects and often an affectionate relationship to them; a physical appearance of intelligence; and speech pathology ranging from bizarre language, a private metaphorical system, and other uncommunicative forms, to complete mutism.

Autistic children look normal. In fact, they usually seem bright because of an alert, thoughtful expression. There motor coordination seems normal; they usually move quickly and are energetic and skillful with their fingers. Their problem is soon evidenced by their avoidance of another's eye and by a lack of visual or auditory response to others. They are deaf and blind to people. In retrospect, one can detect the first signs of psychopathology in infancy. There are no social smiles, no evidence of pleasure in the mother's company. One mother complained, "He didn't look at me when I fed him in my arms," and another typical complaint includes, "He never noticed when I came into or left his room" or "He was never cuddly." There was no reaching out; the autistic child did not get set to be lifted into his parent's arms. There was no particular reaction to strangers, either. Usually, these children were regarded as especially good babies, because their demands were few; they were content to be left alone and did not make the normal fuss at bedtime or other moments of separation. Such information regarding early infantile characteristics is admittedly tenuous, because it is always obtained after it is well established that the child's affective relationships are very limited. However, there is no doubt by the end of the first year. There is no imitation of gestures (e.g., waving bye-bye) or sounds, and also the baby remains uninterested in social games like peekaboo and pattycake.

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