The 1960s

• Turning point in the history of autism research
• Many autism research groups and organizations formed
• Autism recognized as a biological disorder with neurological causes
• Autism differentiated from schizophrenia
• Brain abnormalities suggested to underlie autism
• Operant conditioning first attempted with autism
• Prevalence: 4.5 per 10,000 people

1940s 1950s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s
1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s


Research in the 1960s
The 1960s were a turning point in the history of autism research. The National Autistic Society (NAS, United Kingdom), the Autism Society of America, and the Autism Research Institute (ARI) were founded by parents of children with autism. However, there were still many inconsistencies in understanding autism, and there was a push to better diagnose and classify the specific symptoms of autism.[1] Research psychologist Bernard Rimland, a founder of ARI, identified autism as a biological disorder with neurological causes, which is the accepted view today.[2] In 1968, for the first time, autism was differentiated from schizophrenia.[3] The psychiatrist Sir Michael Rutter at University College London also hypothesized that “organic brain abnormalities” were a primary influence in some cases of autism. In addition, scientists attempted operant conditioning for the first time on children with autism to modify behavior by setting consequences in response to certain actions.[4] Autism was found to be more common in boys than girls, with a ratio of 2.6 to 1. Overall, in the 1960s, the estimated prevalence was 4.5 per 10,000 people.[5]

Ross Senter, Karthik Kumar, and Sharmila Banerjee-Basu, Ph.D.

  1. Ornitz EM and Ritvo ER (1968) Perceptual inconstancy in early infantile autism. The syndrome of early infant autism and its variants including certain cases of childhood schizophrenia. Arch Gen Psychiatry 18:76-98. PMID: 4169269.
  2. Rimland B (1964) Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior. East Norwalk, CT: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  3. Rutter M (1968) Concepts of autism: a review of research. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 9:1-25. PMID: 4892153.
  4. Wolf MM, Risley T, and Mees H (1964) Application of operant conditioning procedures to the behavior problems of an autistic child. Behav Res Ther 1:305-312. PMID:6025711.
  5. Lotter V (1966) Epidemiology of autistic conditions in young children. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 1:124-135.