Timeline: The Politics & Marketing Behind The Autism Epidemic

Timeline: Early Years | 80s | 90s | 00s | 10s | 20s

Note: The timeline is still in the process of being updated.

[Last updated January 25, 2023]

Autism Politics & Initiatives

The Autism Market

Grants , Funded Projects & Money Raised


Marketing & Media Attention

Organizations & Companies

Autistic Community & Allies


  • 1943

    “Autistic disturbances of affective contact” by Leo Kanner published in the The Nervous Child.

    In this paper, Kanner characterizes eleven cases, 3 girls and 8 boys, and would later call his observations ‘autism’.




  • The beginnings of ABA can be traced back to Teodoro Ayllon and Jack Michael’s study “The psychiatric nurse as a behavioral engineer” (1959) that they published in the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JEAB). 

    Ayllon and Michael were training the staff and nurses at a psychiatric hospital how to use a token economy based on the principles of operant conditioning for patients with schizophrenia and intellectual disability, which led to researchers at the University of Kansas to start the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) in 1968.

  • 1959

    “Joey: A ‘Mechanical Boy’”, Scientific American, 200, March 1959: 117–126. (About a boy who believes himself to be a robot.)


  • 1964

    Infantile Autism: The Syndrome and Its Implications for a Neural Theory of Behavior by Bernard Rimland is published.

    He also acknowledged there may also be a genetic component that could cause children to be autistic. Rimland argued that autism could “be treated—or at least ameliorated—with biomedical and behavioral therapies.”

    Rimland’s book changed the way many in the medical establishment viewed autism. Rimland captured the attention of parents after the book was published and began networking with them, heard their stories and was asked for advice.



  • 1967

    “The Empty Fortress” by Bruno Bettelheim

    The Empty Fortress (1967), contains a complex and detailed explanation of this dynamic in psychoanalytical and psychological terms. These views were disputed at the time by mothers of autistic children and by researchers

    “I am the mother of an autistic daughter, and have considered Bettelheim a charlatan since The Empty Fortress, his celebrated study of autism, came out in 1967.

    “I have nothing personal against Bettelheim, if it is not personal to resent being compared to a devouring witch, an infanticidal king, and an SS guard in a concentration camp, or to wonder what could be the basis of Bettelheim’s statement that ‘the precipitating factor in infantile autism is the parent’s wish that his child should not exist.’”

  • 1967

    Autism Research Institute (ARI) launched by Bernard Rimland



  • 1970s

    Bettelheim appeared on the Dick Cavett show

    Bettelheim appeared ton the Dick Cavett show several times to talk about his theories on autism and psychoanalysis. It’s argued that such appearances shielded Bettleheim’s unethical behavior from scruntiny. After his death, Bettleheim’s work was debunked.

    Video shows clips of the Dick Cavett show when Bettleheim was a guest.


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