Autism in America

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“Its not who you are underneath its what you do that defines you.” This quote from Rachel Dawes in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series defines Bruce Wayne for the rest of the series. Autism Spectrum Disorder is also something that is a defining factor of life for many children. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder, that causes social, behavioral, and communication challenges. This is caused by the lack of medical knowledge up until the recent decades. People who were on the low functioning end of the spectrum in the past they were treated horribly and locked away like lab animals. There are people who believe Autism Spectrum Disorder developed when children were given vaccines, and people also believe that Autism Spectrum disorder stems from the changes in food. However, people with Autism Spectrum Disorder have always existed in America, but they only started to become more prevalent in recent centuries.

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In America during the early nineteenth century people who had Autism Spectrum Disorder were looked down upon. They were treated horribly and segregated from the rest of humanity. John Donovan and Caren Zucker authors of “Autism in Early America” mention, “Howe was appalled by the horrifying conditions in which many “idiots” lived — crammed into almshouses, kept in cages, left to wander unwashed and uncared for (Donovan et. Al).” This example was not uncommon for people on the Autism spectrum. Since the people that lived here were not well taken care of and left to their own devices this was a large reason as to why Autism went underdiagnosed during the nineteenth century. Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe was the lead on changing the way the United States of America viewed Autistic people. He worked for better treatment of these people which helped to lead a cultural shift in society. Dr. Howe when developing his diagnosis of Autism looked for the root cause of intellectual disability. In the later part of the nineteenth century he went to the state legislature to ask for fund for a school to prove people that were so called “idiots” could be educated. His work at the school was successful enough that the legislature gave him money to open a second school. After these schools opened several more opened after providing education to people who were Autistic or “idiots.” Sadly, Howe’s institutions fell victim to two problems. First, they were provided education, but it was not the quality of education that people who do not have disabilities were provided. Second during the twentieth century many of the schools fell into disarray and were shut down since no one kept up with them. Dr. Howe’s efforts finally paid off in 1991. A law was passed creating federal rights for students who have Autism Spectrum Disorder.

In 1991 under president George H. W. Bush a law was passed making it so that students who had disabilities have the federal right to be in the same schools as everyone else. The reason this law was created and passed was for the purpose of bringing students with disabilities out of separate schools and into public schools. Jackie Jones in the article states, “DASP provides professional development and technical assistance to make the postsecondary experience more accessible to autistic students, … (Jackie Jones).” DASP is a program that was able to be created because of the law passed by George H. W. Bush. This program at the time of the article’s publishing was three years old. It has helped students at university ease into college life; and this has made socialization a bit easier for them. The work in this program also provides technologies that are adapted to the needs of the university’s Autistic students. DASP also provides a sense of community for the special needs students who may feel like they are the only ones that have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Research on this matter has continued since the start of this program as we look towards the future on how to treat Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Around this time in the 90s Autism Spectrum Disorder started to rise in numbers. People started to have more vaccinations and food started to change. As people who started research and said that autism only started to develop out of these changes in food and the increase of vaccinations.

Research has been done over the last 150 years and we have learned a lot but still have much more to do. The medical community knows only a little more than we did during the nineteenth century. Research that has been done since then has now given us signs of what to look for in children. The article argues, “With growing numbers of families across the country affected by autism spectrum disorder — over all one in 88 children will be diagnosed with A.S.D., and one in 54 boys … (“Study Suggests More Services Needed for Young Adults.”)” Now that the medical community has guidelines of how to diagnose Autism. It may have led to another problem being an over diagnosis of the developmental disorder. Overdiagnosis is a problem because the guidelines become blurry again making it harder to diagnose. A problem that stems off overdiagnosis is that people who really need the help will not get covered by insurance and the Special Education portions of schools do not get proper funding. People’s attitude towards Autism have become more positive. Although there are still some people who are not quite as accepting of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Churches and parishes have started to provide programs, but most are not willing to put the extra step forward to help these families. As we go further ahead in time, we hope to gain better treatment for people and families that have been affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Autism has defined the lives of many people over the years. The lives of people that were Autistic in the nineteenth century were horrid. They were isolated into almshouses and left in horrendous conditions and they were labeled as “idiots”. This led to Autism being under diagnosed for several years. In 1991 president George H. W. Bush passed a law that created federal rights for all students that have disabilities to be in the same schools as students without disabilities. As people with Autism and the medical community look to the future, they look to gain more knowledge about the developmental disorder and for people to become even more accepting of the disorder. There has also become an overdiagnosis which has led to problems for people that need help and can not get it because of insurance companies not wanting to cover those needs. In conclusion people that have Autism Spectrum Disorder since the nineteenth century have been treated differently over the years from animals in the past to now being given equal treatment and education as other students who are not disabled.

Works Cited

Donovan, John and Caren Zucker. “Autism in Early America.” Smithsonian, vol. 46, no. 9, Jan. 2016, pp. 114–121. EBSCOhost,,cpid&custid=s1088435&db=a9h&AN=112184286&site=ehost-live. Jones Jackie. “Autism in Academia.” Chronicle of Higher Education, vol. 58, 17 Mar. 2012, pp. 38–42. EBSCOhost,,cpid&custid=s1088435&db=a9h&AN=73825805&site=ehost-live. “Study Suggests More Services Needed for Young Adults.” America, vol. 206, no. 19, June 2012, pp. 6–7. EBSCOhost,,cpid&custid=s1088435&db=a9h&AN=76247145&site=ehost-live.

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Autism in America. (2019, Feb 14). Retrieved December 3, 2022 , from

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