Tag Archives: autism

New HHS: Psych & Ethnology, Mental Tests in Russia, & More!

The October 2014 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Among the articles included in this issue are ones exploring the relationship between psychology and ethnology, the role of mental tests in Russian child science, and the Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa by Wahbie Long (right). Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“On relations between ethnology and psychology in historical context,” by Gustav Jahoda. The abstract reads,

Ever since records began, accounts of other peoples and their institutions and customs have included comments about their mental characteristics. The present article traces this feature from the 18th century to roughly the First World War, with a brief sketch of more recent developments. For most of this period two contrasting positions prevailed: the dominant one attributed human differences to ‘race’, while the other one explained them in terms of psychological, environmental and historical factors. The present account focuses on the latter, among them those who asserted ‘the psychic unity of mankind’. Generally it is shown that from the early period when writings were based almost entirely on secondary sources, to the beginnings of empirical studies, ethnological theories were indissolubly linked to psychological concerns.

“The mental test as a boundary object in early-20th-century Russian child science,” by Andy Byford. The abstract reads, Continue reading

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New Issue of History of Psychiatry: DSM, Autism, & Hospital Magazines

The December 2013 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Included in this issue are articles that explore the magazines produced in Irish psychiatric hospitals, the nature of DSM classification, and the history of autism. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55): a bicentennial pathographical review,” by Johan Schioldann and Ib Søgaard. The abstract reads,

Researchers in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, medicine and theology have made exhaustive efforts to shed light on the elusive biography/pathography of the great Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55). This ‘bicentennial’ article reviews his main pathographical diagnoses of, respectively, possible manic-depressive [bipolar] disease, epilepsy, complex partial seizure disorder, Landry-Guillain-Barré’s acute ascending paralysis, acute intermittent porphyria with possible psychiatric manifestations, and syphilidophobia.

“Through the lens of the hospital magazine: Downshire and Holywell psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s and 1970s,” by Pauline Prior and Gillian McClelland. The abstract reads, Continue reading

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New Issue: History of the Human Sciences

The July 2013 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on the development of the concept of autism in Britain, an interview with Holberg prize winning philosopher Ian Hacking (right), and Adam Smith’s views on animals, among others. Full title, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“How autism became autism: The radical transformation of a central concept of child development in Britain,” by Bonnie Evans. The abstract reads,

This article argues that the meaning of the word ‘autism’ experienced a radical shift in the early 1960s in Britain which was contemporaneous with a growth in epidemiological and statistical studies in child psychiatry. The first part of the article explores how ‘autism’ was used as a category to describe hallucinations and unconscious fantasy life in infants through the work of significant child psychologists and psychoanalysts such as Jean Piaget, Lauretta Bender, Leo Kanner and Elwyn James Anthony. Theories of autism were then associated both with schizophrenia in adults and with psychoanalytic styles of reasoning. The closure of institutions for ‘mental defectives’ and the growth in speech therapy services in the 1960s and 1970s encouraged new models for understanding autism in infants and children. The second half of the article explores how researchers such as Victor Lotter and Michael Rutter used the category of autism to reconceptualize psychological development in infants and children via epidemiological studies. These historical changes have influenced the form and function of later research into autism and related conditions.

“‘I am a philosopher of the particular case’: An interview with the 2009 Holberg prizewinner Ian Hacking,” by Ole Jacob Madsen, Johannes Servan, and Simen Andersen Øyen. The abstract reads, Continue reading

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Egocentrism in Piaget’s theory

New Ideas in Psychology

A valuable new article will appear in the December issue of New Ideas in Psychology: “The concept of egocentrism in the context of Piaget’s theory,” by Thomas Kesselring and Ulrich Müller.  As a hybrid serving both historical and contemporary interests, it is very nearly perfect.  And it makes some incredibly valuable contributions.

The gist: the term “egocentrism” is a hold-over from Jean Piaget’s postdoc in psychoanalysis.  But what he meant by its use has been badly misunderstood.  Really, it ought to be conceptualized in terms of a process of “decentering.”  This claim is supported by appealing to an apology by Piaget—he explained that his choice of terms was “unfortunate”—and by a deep and thorough reading of the relevant primary sources (in both English and French).

We don’t know much, in English, about Piaget’s postdoctoral training (but in French see Ducret, 1984).  The article lays out some of that background: “The roots of the concept of egocentrism can be traced back to Freud’s influence” (p. 328).  This then situates what follows: the article’s focus is on how Piaget’s empirical work led him away from psychoanalysis toward something new.  It also engages the subsequent misunderstandings that emerged as a result of the uneven translation of Piaget’s writings into English.

In this connection, I would like to draw particular attention to the article’s new translation of a short passage from a lecture delivered in 1920.  This has never before been available in English:

Autistic thinking that forms personal symbols remains with us throughout our lives. However, its role changes with age. In the child, autism is everything. Later, reason develops at the expense of autism but can reason ever completely shed itself of autistic thinking? It does not appear this way. The task is therefore to create… a psychology in order to determine in each individual the exact relations between the level of intelligence and the level of autistic or unconscious life (Piaget, 1920, p. 57; trans by Kesselring & Müller, 2011, p. 328).

This paragraph provides the basis for everything that follows: egocentrism, as a concept, sits midway between self-focussed thought (autism) and self-transcendent thought (logical, scientific thinking).  It is important to note, however, that this use of “autism” is different from what we mean today by applying that label.  And the authors, quite helpfully, note this.

This leads Kesselring and Müller to reference some of Piaget’s early comments on the importance of social interaction in decentering the child from overly-narrow thinking: “Social interaction and the becoming aware of the self lead to a mediation of the child’s own point of view by other perspectives and, as a consequence, a universe of relations gradually replaces the universe of absolute substances” (p. 329; citing Piaget, 1927/1930, p. 250).  These claims are critically important for a proper understanding of Piaget’s theory, but so often missed.  Related ideas can also be found in Sociological Studies, which includes reprints of two articles from that period (1928 [pp. 184-214] & 1933 [pp. 215-247]).

There are lots of other wonderful insights (e.g., regarding the replacement of “imitation” with “accommodation” and his replies to Vygotsky), but my purpose here is not to provide highlights.  The article is too valuable to allow it to be glossed over.  It is, simply, an excellent example of a project that uses history to serve science.

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The Story of Autism’s First Child

The October 2010 issue of The Atlantic features a fascinating article, “Autism’s First Child,” on the life of first individual to be diagnosed with autism, Donald Triplett (above), now 77 years old. The authors of the article discuss their efforts to track Triplett down and what his life has been like in the video below, which accompanies The Atlantic article. The article is described as follows:

As new cases of autism have exploded in recent years—some form of the condition affects about one in 110 children today—efforts have multiplied to understand and accommodate the condition in childhood. But children with autism will become adults with autism, some 500,000 of them in this decade alone. What then? Meet Donald Gray Triplett, 77, of Forest, Mississippi. He was the first person ever diagnosed with autism. And his long, happy, surprising life may hold some answers.

The full article on article can be read here.

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Lancet Retracts Article Linking Vaccine to Autism

The leading medical journal of the UK, The Lancet, has formally retracted the article by U.S. physician Andrew Wakefield that claimed the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism in some children.

A statement by the The Lancet says:

several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false…

The original article had prompted panic among many parents in both the UK and the US, and had fueled a movement by thousands to refuse vaccines for their children.

The retraction follows an investigation into the article by the General Medical Council (GMC) of the UK. According to the Guardian, the GMA reported that

Children had been subjected to invasive procedures that were not warranted, a disciplinary panel ruled. They had undergone lumbar punctures and other tests solely for research purposes and without valid ethical approval.

Although the article has now been scratched from the public record, the conclusions of neither the GMC nor The Lancet spoke directly to Wakefield’s claim that MMR and autism are linked. This claim has been the subject of intense criticism by members of the scientific and medical communities, as AHP reported on here.

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Sidney Bijou Dies at 100

Sidney BijouSidney Bijou, the psychologist who developed behaviorist principles into a therapeutic system for children with a range of disorders, died on June 11 at the age of 100. There is an extensive obituary in the New York Times. Bijou worked with radical behaviorist B. F. Skinner in the 1940s, and he came to believe that reinforcing desirable behavior with praise or a hug or just attention would help children who were not responsive to traditional punishments or therapies. Bad behavior was ignored or, if particularly dispurtive, resulted in a short “time out,” which has since become a culturally pervasive technique. Bijou started using his new approach with defiant children, but as the system grew in popularity, it came to be a standard system for helping autistic and attention-deficit children as well, under the name of applied behavior analaysis, or ABA.

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Data Linking MMR Vaccine to Autism “Fixed”

Andrew WakefieldThe Times of London is reporting that the data published in 1998 that set off a worldwide scare that the MMR vaccine was closely linked to the onset of autism in children was cooked by the article’s author, Andrew Wakefield.

According to the exclusive report:

The research was published in February 1998 in an article in The Lancet medical journal. It claimed that the families of eight out of 12 children attending a routine clinic at the hospital had blamed MMR for their autism, and said that problems came on within days of the jab….

Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated…. Continue reading

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PhD in History of Asperger’s and Autism

Breaking News: The University of Groningen has announced that a 4-year research grant will be provided for a student of non-Dutch nationality to study the history of Asperger’s Syndrome. The position, leading to a dissertation about “the proliferation of Asperger’s Syndrome,” will be in the Theory & History of Psychology section of the Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences. Application details are here. (The deadline is October 27.)

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