Last of four parts
When autism researchers arrived at Norristown State Hospital near Philadelphia a few years ago, they found a 63-year-old man who rambled on about Elvis Presley, compulsively rocked in his chair and patted the corridor walls.
Ben Perrick, a resident of the psychiatric institution for most of his life, displayed what the University of Pennsylvania researchers considered classic symptoms of autism. His chart, however, said he was schizophrenic and mentally retarded.
Delving into the file, the researchers learned that as a 10-year-old, Perrick had seen Dr. Leo Kanner, the psychiatrist who discovered autism. In his notes from 1954, Kanner described Perrick as “a child who is self centered, withdrawn, and unable to relate to other people,” and recommended that he be committed.
Later, other doctors relabeled Perrick. The autism diagnosis was forgotten.