NOTE: Dan Olmsted wrote this post in 2016. Dan was like Christopher Columbus, following an unknown path in search of a discovery. Autism found Dan - he wasn't a father of an affected child. He was a journalist who knew to listen to sources and follow up. We miss him. If you haven't read The Age of Autism, by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill, we recommend it to you. Their most recent collaboration is also a must read - Denial How Refusing to Face the Facts about Our Autism Epidemic Hurts Children, Families, and Our Future.
Editor's Note: Mark Blaxill and I appreciate the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders -- the leading peer-reviewed autism medical journal -- running our commentary in the issue published this week.
Leo Kanner's Mention of 1938 in His Report on Autism Refers to His First Patient.
Here is the abstract: "Leo Kanner begins his landmark 1943 case series on autistic children by stating the condition was first brought to his attention in 1938. Recent letters to JADD have described this reference as 'mysterious' and speculated it refers to papers published that year by Despert or Asperger. In fact, as Kanner goes on to state, 1938 is when he examined the first child in his case series. An exchange of letters with Despert and later writing by Kanner also point to the originality of his observations."
The matter at hand is both seemingly arcane and ultimately overarching -- what did Leo Kanner mean when he said he became aware of autism in 1938? (He first named and wrote about it in 1943.) Commenters in the Journal have speculated it was a reference to earlier papers by other psychiatrists, which would mean autism was not a new entity, just one that Kanner codified by describing more precisely through a case series. Based on a decade of research with primary documents and personal interviews, we argued -- and, I think, we demonstrated -- that 1938 was a reference to the year the first patient was seen at his clinic at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
That patient, Case 1 Donald T., was the first of 11 who displayed the same novel syndrome "markedly and uniquely different from anything reported so far," as Kanner wrote in that landmark 1943 report. As Ginger Taylor (who first called our attention to the recent discussion in the Journal) aptly wrote on Facebook this week: "Olmsted and Blaxill (again) show that Autism had a start date, and it was after Eli Lilly invented and began selling a water soluble form of mercury in fungicide and vaccine preservation."
So thanks to Ginger, and to Teresa Conrick, our fellow AOA editor who has made invaluable contributions to this ongoing work of identifying those original cases (we are up to 8 of 11!) and finding patterns that point to causation. You can read all about it in our book The Age of Autism, in our subsequent blog posts here, and now in the prestigious, peer-reviewed Journal. And you can count on more to come.
We ended our commentary by writing: "This timing remains the essential clue to the disorder. Something happened to bring a new condition to the attention of child psychiatry." That component can be seen from the beginning -- 1938 -- and it can be seen today, in the damage mercury-laced vaccines, and other vaccine toxins, continue to do to children in the United States and around the world. We feel privileged to have wandered onto this amazingly fruitful pathway, and we intend to keep going until its full implications are recognized and the truth about the condition first observed in 1938 is fully and finally addressed. As Einstein said, "It's not that I'm smarter than anyone else, it's just that I stick with problems longer."