Autism as described in the 1960s: The child in the glass ball

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Here’s a brief newspaper article from 1967 that — while very general — is actually quite consistent with many of today’s perspectives on autism.

Mainstream recognition of the disorder was still more than three decades off, but stories like this were important in paving the way toward helping understand these very different, and quite amazing, minds.

Bizarre withdrawal symptoms mark infantile autism cases

by William G Patrick, Tribune Medical Editor

“The Child in the Glass Ball.”

This is the title of a book published recently in Sweden, which tells about the child with infantile autism — a strange condition that causes him to draw within a shell or behind an invisible wall.

He has many bizarre symptoms, which were described at the University of Utah Medical Center by one of the country’s leading authorities on autism.

He is Dr Bernard Rimland, director, US Navy Personnel Measurement Laboratory, San Diego, and faculty member of San Diego State College.

Not psychotic

The autistic child is neither psychotic nor mentally retarded, although his parents may suspect he is. He is almost invariably healthy and “beautiful looking,” Dr Rimland said.

Virtually without exception, the parents of autistic children are persons of superior intellectual achievement. Some autistic children have spontaneous recoveries and become outstanding adults. Many do not.

Dr Rimland said the usual forms of psychiatry don’t help, although some children are helped by “operant conditioning” — changing behavior patterns by a system of reward and punishment.

>> Autistic children live in ‘shells’ (1967)

Some over-stimulated

Dr Rimland said autistic infants fall into two general groups. Some are “hyper alert,” over-stimulated. Others lie in an inert way, and at first mothers think they are such good babies.

At about four months, parents realize something is wrong. Between four [months] and 18 months, crib-rocking starts, and may be so violent the child may bruise himself. Or he may spend hours in a jump chair, going violently up and down. After that, he starts just staring into space.

MORE  Marvel and DC super heroes: Ka-pow! Look at 'em now (1966)

Dr Rimland said these are some of the other symptoms shown by autistic children: They have feeding idiosyncrasies. Some will have only milk; others won’t touch it. They have a preoccupation with mechanical things, all the household appliances and gadgets. They have good memories, but cannot draw deductions from things they have read.

>> Mom: Autism is not your fault (1963)

Some are mute

An autistic child has been known to read a page of an encyclopedia, and then repeat it word for word, but he could not discuss what he had read. So-called “idiot savants” are believed to have been autistic children.

Some autistic children are mute, and they have the worst outlook for recovery. If a child has speech at age 5-1/2 — the age at which behavior seems to change — the possibility of becoming normal is best, the speaker explained.

Dr Rimland said autism occurs four times as frequently in boys as in girls, and seldom is there more than one autistic child in a family, unless there are identical twins.

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