The eleven Kanner: the story of the first patients diagnosed with autism

The eleven Kanner: the story of the first Patients diagnosed with autism


On World Autism Awareness Day, we remember the figure of Leo Kanner. This child psychiatrist was able to recognize and diagnose the syndrome who had eleven children in 1943. Seventy years later, many questions surrounding autism spectrum disorder.

There are moments, people, circumstances change our entire worldview. Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Curie, Fleming and Franklin are cited among those rare examples. People who are able to see the forest where others perceive trees. Characterized by an extraordinary sense of observation, a passionate curiosity to discover the world, and especially, a powerful intellect, his story is one of those researchers who were able to see beyond. As happened to Leo Kanner , child psychiatrist who first diagnosed the autism .


Kanner, Klekotiv born in 1894, emigrated with his family to the United States only three years after graduating as a pediatrician at the University of Berlin. Despite his youthful dreams of becoming a poet, the Austrian doctor began working at a hospital in South Dakota, which allowed him to attend the congress of the American Psychiatric Association . There he met Adolf Meyer , who would offer to work in the newly created service child psychiatry in Johns Hopkins .

A universe in the head

His frustrated career as a poet would not forget the human side of their profession. There where others saw only simple related to a possible schizophrenia symptoms, the doctor could appreciate differential characteristics of children receiving. These Donald T. , autism patient zero was. “ considered for each patient as a person who should be understood against biological and social complexity ” describes a research on humanistic profile psiquiatra.

Donald T. was first, but in reality was more. Eleven different, unique, special youth. The eleven Kanner . Children whose symptoms had been previously confused with other disorders such as schizophrenia. Leo Kanner received them in his office, exploring the universe who lived in their minds, intrigued watching their behavior. These unusual features he saw when smaller played. They seemed happy when alone.

 autism

Donald T., the first patient diagnosed with autism

Before examining Donald, had received a long letter from his father. The psychiatrist read with amazement on pages 33 and obsessively detailed description of the man, desperate for the behavior of his son five years. “ is happiest when he is alone, while drawing in a shell embedded in thought, distracted from everything that happens around him .” Kanner discovered that the children seemed disconnected from external reality

The father painfully recounted the behavior of his son, engaged in spinning toys and move from side to side your head. When Donald T. first went to the hospital, Kanner also appreciated the little talked about himself in the third person, repeating phrases and disjointed words. The universe that was going on in his head was more complex than initially thought , which Kanner described as “fascinating peculiarities” in Article Autistic disturbances of affective contact .

The psychiatrist Donald T. examined in 1938. In subsequent years, the correspondence between the family and remained Kanner, like exams medical. The child was able to read, memorize words and even learned to play a few notes on the piano. It was clearly not suffering from mental retardation, but his brain seemed disconnected from everything that was happening around him .

 autism

Donald Triplett, patient zero autism during adolescence

Four years later, Leo Kanner noted the behavior of Frederick. Antisocial behavior that the doctor had perceived Donald was repeated. “ not want to play with the normal things that other children play ” explained his mother. Completely ignored the guests who came to his house, however, showed an immense terror elevators. Something similar to what Richard suffered only three years. Smart and funny in equal measure, their parents watched in fear as the child was unable to communicate with anyone. Not that I could. Is that not seem to mind.

The same thing happened to Paul, Barbara, Virginia, Herbert, Alfred, Charles, John, Elaine . Children were healthy, peaceful, calm and in which, however, something was wrong. In his famous article, Kanner rejects the description given by other doctors ‘idiots’ or ‘retarded’. No, they were not. The psychiatrist suspected that those eleven young people shared an autistic syndrome, which made him locked up in his little shell . Caught by his own mind, they can spend hours, days, weeks without being distracted by what happens around him. As if people had not really exist.

Children frozen

Among the forties and sixties, the doctor in his office received many more children. The notes collected were summarized in an article in 1943, in which the doctor borrowed the ‘autism’ concept Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler . The youth were characterized by repetitive behaviors present in showing his introverted, bordering on antisocial, with significant language problems. Autism has a genetic origin, is not related to the so-called emotional coldness

In all cases, the symptoms were the same. Kanner, at first, described his behavior as ‘cool’. This apparent lack of warmth made that society does not understand what it was autism. In 1967, the writer Bruno Bettelheim published The empty fortress , a book that popularized the theory -incorrecta- emotional coldness. According to the psychologist, autistic children seemed ‘frozen’, misinterpreting the origin of autism.

Of no avail Leo Kanner wrote years later various publications against the hypothesis of emotional coldness. The psychiatrist condemned the terrible accusation that Bettelheim had poured on the mothers of those children, which blamed for their condition. But the damage was done. During those decades, many young people with autism were subjected to harassment with the infamous electroshock therapy. Other neuropsychiatrists, such as Lauretta Bender , they decided to try alternative treatments, reaching administering LSD to the smallest. And there is nothing more cruel than blame the family of the medical problems of a child.

 autism

Dubova | Shutterstock

The questions that still hover over the disorder, as heterogeneity, the influence of genetic or environmental factors and cognitive parameters, show the complexity representing people with autism for research. Considered within the ASD , we now know that there single cause that explains its development.

The science has identified various genes related to autism . Numerous studies also suggest that epigenetic could play an essential role in the development of autism spectrum. Anyway, this disorder does not yet have preventive screening, diagnostic methods or appropriate therapies.

The work done in the description of ‘the eleven Kanner’ is essential to know this syndrome, and especially, avoid stigmatization of patients who suffer. Therefore it is worth remembering the documentary Maria and I . It knows the story of cartoonist Miguel Gallardo about his relationship with his daughter Maria was diagnosed with autism when he was only eight years:

“Over time also we discovered that Mary was like an island in the middle of the sea. An island which could not reach. Only occasionally down the tide and could approach briefly to where she was. ”







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The eleven Kanner: the story of the first patients diagnosed with autism
Source: english  
April 2, 2015


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