Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Understanding autism

3.1 The first diagnoses

Back in the 1960s, parents of some of the first UK children to be diagnosed had to contend with the view that the autism was ‘their fault’. In the pioneering group of parents featured here, this stigmatising perception engendered disbelief and a determination to challenge the prevailing attitudes.

Timothy Baron was one of the first children to be diagnosed in the UK. His difficulties became apparent quite early – at 15 months – when his initial babbling began to disappear. However, his parents ignored advice to put him in an institution. Michael, his father, was one of the pioneering group who established the National Autistic Society, and its founding chair. Here first is Timothy's sister, filmmaker Saskia Baron:

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SASKIA BARON:
In 1961, Tim was one of the first children in Britain to be diagnosed with autism.
MICHAEL BARON:
There were doctors saying this child is hopelessly handicapped, and the best thing for him was to go into a hospital. And you should get on with your life and forget all about him.
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MICHAEL BARON:
We had a paediatrician who was interested in him and tried to find out what was wrong. And I remember well that during the course of those consultations, he went off to the USA and came back and decided yes, it was what they then called childhood psychosis. We now call it-- call it's autism.
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Note that the paediatrician who diagnosed Timothy had apparently picked up new information about autism while in the States. The diagnosis given was ‘childhood psychosis’. The term autism did not yet appear in diagnostic classifications, and clinicians often used ‘childhood psychosis’ and ‘childhood schizophrenia’ interchangeably with it – though it was later demonstrated that autism had distinct symptoms. Nowadays many more professionals have knowledge of autism, and diagnosis is more likely to be carried out by a multidisciplinary team.

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