Kanner syndrome: what it is and how it’s related to ASD

Until recently, autistic disorders have been given different names depending on the cognitive, emotional, relational and social characteristics of each individual.

In addition to Asperger’s syndrome, Kanner syndrome was one of the diagnosed autistic disordersUntil changes to diagnostic manuals put an end to their concept.

Today we are going to know a little more about what Kanner syndrome is, who discovered it, how it differs from Asperger’s, the history of its discovery and theoretical conceptualization as well as to understand why he is no longer diagnosed.

    What is Kanner Syndrome?

    Kanner syndrome is one of the names with which classical autism was known, unlike Asperger’s syndrome. If at Asperger we were talking about a cognitively highly functional autism, in Kanner syndrome we would be talking about children with problems of different intellectual abilities, as well as social, relationship and empathy problems. This disorder was first described by the same person who gave it his last name, Dr. Leo Kanner.

    Although today the various syndromes and disorders associated with autism were included in the category of autism spectrum disordersYes, it is true that the names Kanner Syndrome and Asperger Syndrome are still very important. Each person with autism is a world, and in each case it will be necessary to take into account to what extent cognitive abilities are affected, as well as emotional and communicative abilities.

    Symptoms of this syndrome

    The main symptom of Kanner syndrome or classic autism is abnormal or impaired development of social interaction and communication. People who suffer from this syndrome appear to be indifferent to the reactions of other human beings, even to people who are in their closest circle, whether they are adults or children. As can be seen in Asperger’s syndrome, the person barely has empathy and affection.

    It is normal for babies without psychopathology to smile at a moving human face, in addition to showing interest and curiosity in others. Very quickly, they come to pay attention to what others are doing. In contrast, children with Kanner syndrome they show a disproportionate interest in inanimate objects, Leaving out the people themselves. They can spend hours and hours practicing ritualistic behaviors, such as spinning a top or playing or blowing a ball.

    People with Kanner syndrome usually don’t have eye contact with other people, and in case they do, it looks like they are looking through them. Outraged, have communication problems, with a high linguistic impairment or delayed language acquisition. His way of speaking is very abnormal, with a striking, monotonous and metallic voice. There are cases of adults who present with global aphasia, that is, complete restriction of speech, although there is also a speech disorder.

    They also exhibit language disorders, such as delayed echolalia, pronominal inversion and other linguistic phenomena, repetitive and stereotypical play activities, mostly developed on their own. Kanner himself called these ritualistic phenomena “insistence on identity”..

    In addition, people diagnosed with this syndrome are said to be characterized by a significant lack of imagination, good mechanical memory and no deformities or problems at the motor or physical level. Kanner pointed out that these traits were already visible in early childhood, wanting to highlight their differences with other later-onset “autistic” disorders, as was the case with schizophrenia.

    Among the more serious symptoms that we find in Kanner syndrome, there are those that cause aversion to others. These symptoms include behaviors such as intense rocking, blows to the head, random aggressive behavior and self-harm. Hypersensitivity and hyperresponsiveness to sensory stimulation may also be observed, causing people with Kanner syndrome to express it by screaming, running away, covering their ears to a sound, or not tolerating touch.

      History of this concept in psychiatry

      From the earliest days of psychology and psychiatry, autism has been viewed as a concrete form of childhood psychosis.

      Kanner syndrome was first described in 1943 by Dr Leo Kanner, who worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He made his discoveries just a year before another leading physician in the field, Mr. Hans Asperger, described his well-known syndrome. The first definition of Kanner syndrome corresponds to the traditional idea of ​​autism, that is, people who, from an early age, have relationship problems, empathy and cognitive impairment.

      In 1956, Kanner published an article on the syndrome which he had conceptualized with his colleague Leon Eisenberg, known to be the inventor of the ADHD diagnostic label. It is from there that autism takes more and more importance in scientific research, new autistic disorders are raised and knowledge is expanding more and more on this type of psychological problem in the pediatric field. .

      Many authors, such as Lorna Wing, Michael Rutter, and van Krevelen, described cases of autism that differed from what Kanner saw, although the main symptoms of lack of empathy and relationship problems remained present. . They saw that they had different levels of cognitive impairment, Making the Kanner-Asperger dichotomy popularized, particularly in the 1980s, to differentiate cognitively dysfunctional and functional autism.

      Likewise, it must be said that Kanner syndrome has not been such a popular expression for classical autism, as this term is preferred over Kanner’s. Kanner conceptualized his syndrome when the definition of autism proposed by Eugen Bleuler at the beginning of the 20th century already existed. Bleuler defined autistic subjects as people who actively withdraw from their fantasy world.. Kanner linked this definition to schizophrenia, so he preferred to talk about Kanner syndrome as something different from the idea of ​​autism, although it basically coincides.

      Kanner syndrome and Asperger’s disorders and other related disorders have been defined with some subjectivity and some vagueness in nomenclature. Other autism specialists, like Lorna Wing or Van Krevelen, have had some difficulty in objectively defining each autistic disorder, which has called into question the validity of these problems as independent constructs.

      It is for all this that it is not surprising that autism spectrum disorders ended up falling into the same category. Currently, the labels “autism”, “Asperger syndrome” and “Kanner syndrome”, among others, are included in the relatively new category introduced in DSM-5 (2013), “Autism spectrum disorders”.

      Kanner syndrome was conceptualized at a time when child psychology, psychiatry, and clinical pediatrics were immature disciplines.. The scientific methods for proving their constructs were still somewhat rudimentary, in addition to the problem that the researchers themselves could have a high bias when interpreting their results and that there was not as much control as there was. today.

      Whatever mistakes Dr. Kanner may make, this psychiatrist deserves credit for being a pioneer in research into traditional autism, its conceptualization and treatment, as well as expanding his knowledge in child psychiatry. At that time, children who were not like other people, regardless of their specific symptoms, could find in an orphanage or admitted to a psychiatric hospital without receiving specialized care, which has changed with the scientific study of autism and its varieties.

      Reflection and conclusion

      Kanner syndrome is a diagnostic tag that due to relatively recent changes in DSM-5. See autistic disorders are grouped under the same label and, while the differences between people with relationship, emotional and empathy issues continue to be taken into account depending on whether or not they are cognitively functional, it is agreed that they are, in essence, autistic.

      Classical autism coincides with Kanner’s definition of this syndrome. Today, there would be no diagnosis, at least officially, with this syndrome, but of course the type of intervention that would be applied to the person would coincide with that of other autistic people, focused on knowing how to interpret the emotional cues. facial and control of self-injurious and repetitive behaviors.

      Although the term is obsolete, there is no doubt that the research conducted by Kanner and other autism specialists has contributed to a more scientific and humanitarian view of those suffering from this disorder. He went from seeing autistic children as impossible to “correct” or “cure” to reaching out to them, little by little, including them in all kinds of activities. and the situations in which they may concern children without any psychopathology, although, of course, with limits.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Atlas of Genetic Diagnosis and Counseling (3rd Edition) 2017, Harold Chen, ISBN: 978-1-4939-2400-4, p. 233. (English)
      • De Ajuriaguerra, J (1973). Manual of child psychiatry, Masson publishing house, Barcelona, ​​4th edition.
      • Gómez, C., Rojas, A., Vengoechea, J. (2002) Treatise on Psychiatry, Editorial Javegraf.
      • Happé, F (1998). Introduction to Autism, Editorial Alliance, Madrid.
      • Hobson, P. (1995) Autism and the Development of the Mind, Madrid, Editorial Alliance.
      • Lozano, J. (2000). The Diagnosis of Autism, Cuban Journal of Pediatrics.
      • Klin, A., Volkmar, F., Lord, C., Cook, E. (2002) Autism and generalized developmental disorders.
      • Ozonoff, S., Dawson, G., McPartland, J (2002). A Parent’s Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome and High Level Autism. The Guilford Press. New York.

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