Autism in children was first described in 1943. The author of the publication, Leo Kanner, listed among the features of the disorder:

  • social withdrawal;
  • low involvement in interactions;
  • poor communication skills;
  • strong attachment to unchanging surroundings;
  • atypical emotional functioning.

The term ‘early childhood autism‘, created by Kanner, is still sometimes used by professionals today. His description of the disorder has long shaped the thinking of the autistic child as having great cognitive difficulties and a relatively low level of intelligence. Therefore, many people with intelligence within the normal range did not receive a diagnosis of autism and the support they needed.

Shortly afterwards, in 1944, the work of Hans Asperger was published. He described a group of boys with social-communicative limitations similar to those presented by Kanner. In doing so, he highlighted the normal intellectual and linguistic development of his patients. He also highlighted the abilities and potential of his charges, calling them ‘little professors’. The disorder described by Asperger, which was mild autism, was later named after him.

In subsequent years, it was recognised that the problems characterised by the two doctors were part of a larger group of holistic developmental disorders (autism spectrum disorders). Professionals also modified their thinking about ASD. For example, the definition of the most important symptoms, the terminology for individual disease entities or the place of the disorder in systematics have changed. One manifestation of the current approach to the problem is the eleventh revision of the WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which came into force in 2022.