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The music of his speech is pitched high, alternately poetic and pedantic - as if the soul of an Oxford don has been awkwardly reincarnated in the body of a chubby, rosy-cheeked boy from Silicon Valley. Nick's father is a software engineer, and his mother is a computer programmer.They've known that Nick was an unusual child for a long time.

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Both Kanner and Asperger gave the condition the same name: autism - from the Greek word for self, Kanner went on to launch the field of child psychiatry in the US, while Asperger's clinic was destroyed by a shower of Allied bombs.

Over the next 40 years, Kanner became widely known as the author of the canonical textbook in his field, in which he classified autism as a subset of childhood schizophrenia.

If not forcibly engaged, these children spend their waking hours in trancelike states, staring at lights, rocking, making high-pitched squeaks, and flapping their hands, repetitively stimulating ("stimming") their miswired nervous systems.

In one of the uncanny synchronicities of science, autism was first recognized on two continents nearly simultaneously.

Now there are more than seven new cases of level-one autism - 85 percent of them children - entering the system every day. Rates of both classic autism and Asperger's syndrome are going up all over the world, which is certainly cause for alarm and for the urgent mobilization of research.

Autism was once considered a very rare disorder, occurring in one out of every 10,000 births.Asperger was virtually ignored outside of Europe and died in 1980.The term wasn't coined until a year later, by UK psychologist Lorna Wing, and Asperger's original paper wasn't even translated into English until 1991.He's infatuated with fantasy novels, but he has a hard time reading people.Clearly bright and imaginative, he has no friends his own age.In August 1993, there were 4,911 cases of so-called level-one autism logged in the state's Department of Developmental Services client-management system.

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