Andrea M. Garcia, M.A., Michael C. Roberts, Ph.D., ABPP, and Christina M. Amaro, Ph.D.

In addition to a strong interest in pediatric chronic illnesses, many of the early editors of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology (JPP) and members of the Society of Pediatric Psychology (SPP) also had research and applied interests in understanding, assessing, and intervening with developmental disabilities. Initially, SPP distributed a quarterly newsletter among its members that eventually grew in size and quality of content; therefore, it was decided the newsletter should become a professional and scientific journal in 1976. Editors of both the newsletter and the Journal, such as Allan Barclay, Diane Willis, and Donald Routh, had specific interests in learning disabilities and children with developmental disabilities (including autism).

A content analysis by Elkins and Roberts (1988) revealed that during the first four years (1976-1979) of the Journal, 38% of the content was related to developmental disabilities (including autism and learning disabilities) and behaviorally/emotionally disturbance (cf., Canter, Amaro, Noser, & Roberts, 2018). Indeed, the interests of many members of the Society in developmental disabilities and early detection were significantly included in the Journal with special issues focused on learning disabilities, developmental delays, and autism. In particular, JPP devoted a whole special issue in Volume 2, (Issue 4; 1977) specifically focused on autism comprising 11 articles with authors recommending the appropriate assessment and treatment for what was considered then a frequently misunderstood and understudied disorder. Through the guest editorship of B.J. Freeman, this special issue of JPP focused on scientific efforts to better understand autism (later to be labeled Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD) and dispel commonly held beliefs about the onset and maintenance of autism disorders. An important misconceptualization at the time was that dysfunctional parental characteristics and family dynamics were contributors to development of autism and developmental disorders (Drotar, 1977). The special issue also helped to delineate between autism and schizophrenia, which had frequently been lumped together, and emphasized that children with autism could learn functional behaviors and become independent (Drotar, 1977; Freeman, 1977; Lord & Baker, 1977; Sloan & Schopler, 1977).

As the Society struggled to maintain the journal as a privately printed publication due to financial challenges to support publication, Phyllis Magrab was authorized by the SPP governing board to find a commercial publisher to relieve the fiscal pressures. After negotiations, the SPP board approved a seven-year contract (1979-1986) with Plenum Publishing Corporation that would ensure financial security and a future for the Journal (Kazak, 2000; Willis, 2016). The contract created a sounder financial footing for the Journal and helped support other activities of the Society. The contract stated that "by agreement between the Society of Pediatric Psychology and Plenum Publishing Corporation, The Journal will not accept articles concerned with autism and learning disabilities as they relate to autism” (Routh & Mesibov, 1979, p.1). The purpose of this topic exclusion was to avoid competing overlap with another journal that was developing in the publisher’s portfolio (viz., Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, then edited by Eric Schopler; previously titled the Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia). The JPP masthead subsequently stated definitively “The journal does not, however, accept articles on autism or learning disabilities as they relate to autism.”

Two decades later, the SPP contract for publishing JPP changed from Plenum/Kluwer to Oxford University Press in 1998 with volume 23. This change also ostensibly removed the policy restricting autism articles. Our review of published articles in JPP between 1998 and 2019, after this publisher change (and nonarticulated policy change) revealed that only 9 ASD specific articles were subsequently published. The first article related to autism was published in 2008, 10 years after the contract change. Further, 6 of those 9 articles related to autism were focused on common difficulties in pediatric psychology, such as sleeping and feeding.

Taken together, there was a sizeable decrease in the autism related articles over the course of the Journal’s existence (Canter et al., 2018). The Journal contract with Plenum had a direct impact on the publication of autism related articles in the Society’s flagship journal; this impact was sustained even with a different publisher (and no stated policy restricting autism submissions).

Simultaneously with the long-term contractual relationship with Plenum, there were other changes occurring in the field, such as the development of other journals and organizations specifically focused on autism and developmental disabilities. Psychologists interested in autism sought out more relevant societal memberships. Consequently, the field of autism began to specialize, and to this day, there are several high-quality journals dedicated exclusively to developmental disabilities and ASD. Furthermore, as ASD became better understood, many advocacy groups and school psychologists began to change polices to improve the access to free and appropriate education and investigate strategies for inclusive education for children with ASD. With these many changes over time, ASD has become increasingly categorized as a disorder likely to be seen as falling within the category of clinical child psychology (or school psychology and education-based professions) and not a part of pediatric psychology, despite its early footing in pediatric psychology.

However, despite changes in the emphasis on autism and developmental disorders over the course of the Journal’s history, pediatric psychologists continue to provide services to youth with autism, many of whom have comorbid medical conditions. For instance, the prevalence of additional comorbid pediatric conditions such as sleep problems (i.e., pediatric insomnia), feeding problems, pediatric obesity, gastrointestinal problems, and epilepsy is considerably higher in children with ASD than in the general population (Volkmar et al., 2014). Further, autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities have consistently been included within the Handbook of Pediatric Psychology because the editors held to a broad perspective of the field. Although ASD currently has a smaller presence in pediatric psychology, in our view, it should continue to be a relevant area. Given that ASD is not always a part of pediatric psychology training, the field of pediatric psychology has seemingly become even more focused on children with medical chronic illness and less on health of those with psychiatric classification conditions, such as ASD.

If professionals do not see articles on autism in a journal, then the assumption will be made that the journal does not accept such articles, even in the absence of a stated policy that previously existed. If trainees do not read articles on autism in the journal, then the assumption will be made that pediatric psychology does not include issues related to autism in its definition. JPP, as a flagship Journal, as a result of a clause in its earliest commercial publishing contract, may have missed an opportunity to reach a broader audience with innovative articles that help address the interdisciplinary care of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional functioning and development as they relate to the health and comorbid conditions of children with ASD.


Canter, K. S., Amaro, C. M., Noser, A. E., & Roberts, M. C. (2018). Historical analysis: The Journal of Pediatric Psychology from 1976 to 2015. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 43(1), 21-30.

Drotar, D. (1977). Parent-child interaction and infantile autism. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2(4), 161-171.

Elkins, P. C., & Roberts, M. C. (1988). Journal of Pediatric Psychology: A content analysis of articles over its first 10 years. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 13, 575-594.

Freeman, B. J. (1977). The syndrome of autism: The problem of diagnosis in research. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2(4), 142-145.

Kazak, A. (2000). Journal of Pediatric Psychology: A brief history. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 25(2), 463-470.

Lord, C., & Baker, A. (1977). Communication with autistic children. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2(4), 181-186.

Routh, D. K., & Mesibov, G. (1979). The editorial policy of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 4(1), 1-3.

Sloan, J., & Schopler, E. (1977). Some thoughts about developing programs for autistic adolescents. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2(4), 187-190.

Volkmar, F., Siegel, M., Woodbury-Smith, M., King, B., McCracken, J., State, M., & the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2014). Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 53(2), 237–257.

Willis, D. (2016). Pioneers in pediatric psychology: Helping shape a new field. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 41(2), 210-219.