In honour of World Autism Awareness Day
There are so many people who have been diagnosed with a form of autism, and I am sure there are many more who are undiagnosed. I am sure that this is nothing new, but the word itself is a fairly recent coinage. It was invented in 1912 in German as Autismus, by Swiss psychiatrist Bleuler, who originally used it to refer to some symtoms of schizophrenia, and extended it to autistic patients, and soon after adopted into English.
Bleuler saw autism as a problem where the patient is possessed with an incapability to see past their own self, a problem of self-absorption, if you like. This influenced the formation of the word. It is made from Greek prefix auto- (αυτό- in Greek), which unsurprisingly means “self”, with the simple addition of the noun suffix –ismos.
Our understanding of and attitudes towards autism may have changed since Bleuler’s day, but the word has proved a convenient one and has remained the same.