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2.1. Outline the following theoretical models in relation to identifying autism; Kanner, Asperger, Wing and Gould.


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There are several theoretical models relating to identifying autism. On this page, we will look at three of these; Kanner, Asperger, and Wing & Gould.




Kanner’s theoretical model of autism, proposed by Dr. Leo Kanner in the 1940s, focused on describing the core features and characteristics of ASC (which Kanner termed Early Infantile Autism). While our understanding of autism has evolved since then, Kanner’s model laid the foundation for recognizing and diagnosing autism.

Kanner emphasized the social and emotional impairments in individuals with autism. He observed that children with autism showed a marked lack of interest in social interactions and displayed difficulty forming meaningful relationships with others.


Kanner noted that children with autism exhibited significant challenges in communication. This included delays in language acquisition, difficulty with expressive language (verbal and non-verbal), and a tendency towards echolalia (repeating words or phrases).

Kanner also observed that individuals with autism often displayed repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. This could include repetitive motor movements (e.g., hand flapping, rocking), adherence to rigid routines, and an intense focus on specific interests or objects.He noted that individuals with autism tended to resist changes in their environment or routines. They often displayed distress or agitation when faced with even minor disruptions to their established patterns. Kanner described a strong preference for sameness and resistance to change in individuals with autism. They often displayed an intense need for predictability and struggled with adapting to new situations or environments.


Kanner theorised that there might be a genetic predisposition for the development of autism. He also noted that the parents of autistic children were often highly intelligent, preoccupied with other pursuits, and “limited in genuine interest in people“.

For further information about Kanner’s work, his 1943 paper can be found here.



Hans Asperger, an Austrian pediatrician, also made significant contributions to our understanding of autism. While his work focused more specifically on what is now known as Asperger’s syndrome, his theoretical model contributed to the broader understanding of autism spectrum conditions (ASC).


Asperger emphasized that individuals with what is now referred to as Asperger’s syndrome typically exhibit normal to above-average intelligence. He observed that these individuals often displayed a particular talent or interest in specific areas. These interests could be highly specialized and narrow in scope. Additionally, they tended to engage in rigid thinking patterns, finding it challenging to adapt to changes or alternative perspectives.

Asperger noted that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome had difficulty with social interactions. They often struggled to understand and interpret social cues, norms, and non-verbal communication. As a result, they may exhibit social awkwardness, have difficulty making friends, and experience challenges in developing and maintaining relationships. Asperger also noted that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome often struggled with understanding and empathizing with the perspectives and emotions of others. They may have difficulty recognizing and interpreting the emotions of others and may exhibit challenges in taking another person’s point of view.


Asperger described the presence of repetitive and stereotyped behaviors in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome. These behaviors could manifest as repetitive motor movements, adherence to routines, and resistance to change. Asperger observed that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome often displayed motor coordination challenges. They may exhibit clumsiness or awkwardness in their movements and gestures.

Asperger acknowledged that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome typically have well-developed language skills. However, they may struggle with pragmatic language use, such as understanding and using appropriate social language and engaging in reciprocal conversation.


Asperger’s work was mostly unknown and unacknowledged during his lifetime, only being popularised by Lorna Wing in her 1981 paper.

It’s important to note that Asperger’s model focused on individuals with what was initially considered a separate condition known as Asperger’s syndrome. However, with the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013, Asperger’s syndrome was subsumed under the broader category of ASD. Nevertheless, Asperger’s contributions to our understanding of autism helped shape our current knowledge of the condition.


Wing & Gould

In 1979, Wing and Gould published their paper “Severe impairments of social interaction and associated abnormalities in children: epidemiology and classification” which described children with autism as having three main features. This was the introduction of the mode known as the ‘Triad of Impairments‘. The Triad is composed of:

  1. Impaired Social Interaction
  2. Impaired Social Communication
  3. Impaired Social Imagination

Wing & Gould believed that individuals with autism would have difficulties in each of these areas (to varying degrees), as well as displaying repetitive behaviours.


Wing and Gould had several more achievements, including coining autism as a “spectrum disorder” and founding the National Autistic Society, which provides services for the diagnosis of autism, autism training, and autism research.

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