By Julie Obradovic
It was April of 1943 when Dr. Leo Kanner, arguably the leading childhood psychiatrist of the day, wrote the words in the journal The Nervous Child that changed the rest of us, and the month of April, forever.
“Since 1938, there have come to my attention a number of children whose condition differs so markedly and uniquely from anything reported so far, that each case merits – and I hope, eventually receives – a detailed examination of its fascinating peculiarities.”
At that time, Dr. Kanner was an immigrant who had lived on two continents in multiple countries; was fluent in two languages; and had just written the authoritative and exhaustive guide on all things related to childhood psychiatry in 1935. Because of his research, he was the premier expert in the country that the first 11 families of children later diagnosed with autism ever came to for help and why.
The fact that he had just written and published a book on the subject only 8 years prior to making this extraordinary statement; that he was almost 50 years old and had lived on two continents when he did; and that he was announcing to the world in fancy academic language,
“Hey everyone, there’s something NEW here…and PECULIAR… and FASCINATING…. and I’VE NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE…. and I’m an authority on this stuff… and I’m going to give it its own name because of it…”
Because, as our beloved Dan Olmsted and so many others have said for over a decade now, if he was right and autism was new, it cannot be genetic. Something in the 1930’s in two very specific parts of the world actually, the United States and Austria, changed. And that’s really only a handful of things.
And likewise, if he was wrong, he simply gave a name to a human condition that’s always been with us. In other words, he was expert enough to get to name it something new that we still call it, but too ignorant to realize it wasn’t. (Think about how ridiculous that logic is. Never mind. Don’t. It hurts.)
A condition that nobody, including himself, bothered to name, discuss, or identify prior.
That isn’t expressly written about anywhere in medical or folk literature beforehand.
That no one over the age of 40 today ever heard of until the late 1980’s.
Because it was new, but not new, don’t you know?
We just didn’t call it that for 70 years even though it had a name.
Because doctors were incompetent.
Like every school and every teacher.
And every parent.
So we didn’t diagnose it.
And then we misdiagnosed it.
And now we over-diagnose it.
And hordes of misdiagnosed folks were institutionalized.
While they also worked for NASA.
And got married.
And then they died.
(Oh, God, it did make my head hurt. Damn it.)
There’s a word for this kind of rationalizing. It’s called “DENIAL”. And each and every one of us has experienced it at least once in our lives. I can think of at least 3 times in my own life, the regression of my daughter being the first instance that comes to mind.
Denial has a certain sound and a certain language all of its own. It makes things complicated that aren’t complicated. It insists there is an exception to the rule. It speaks in circles and contradictions. It cloaks itself in mystery and layered explanations.