Leo Kanner and autism. 75-year perspective

James C O Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


In 1943, Leo Kanner published the first systematic description of early infantile autism. He concluded that this wa. neurodevelopmental disorder and that ‘these children have come into the world with an innate inability to form the usual, biologically provided contact with people’. Moreover, his astute descriptions of parental behavior in his first publications were prescient and underlie later recognition of the importance of genetics. Our understanding has grown over the ensuing years with revisions in diagnostic classification, recognition of the broader autism phenotype in families, appreciation of the importance of developmental models, advances in genetic methodology, better understanding of the relationship to intellectual deficits, recognition of syndromic autism in neurogenetic sydromes, advances in neuroimaging, and advances in animal models, both mutant mouse models and transgenic non human primate models. Kanner recognized diagnostic heterogeneity and opined that the children had not read those diagnostic manuals and did not easily fall into clear cut categories. Such heterogeneity continues to confound our diagnostic efforts. Always an advocate for children, when reviewing the DSM III criteria in 1980, Kanner emphasized that no matter how well developed our criteria each child must be treated a. unique person.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-17
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Review of Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2018


  • autism
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • developmental models
  • DSM-5
  • genetics
  • IBIS network
  • intellectual developmental disorder
  • Leo Kanner
  • neurogenetic syndromes
  • neuroimaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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