The Nazi History Behind Asperger

The following paragraphs were taken from an opinion piece recently published in the New York Times by Edith Sheffer (Sunday Review, March 31, 2018). Ms. Sheffer is a senior fellow at the Institute of European Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of the forthcoming book, “Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna.” The article is freely available to read/download for those interested.

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“As Asperger sought promotion to associate professor, his writings about the diagnosis grew harsher. He stressed the “cruelty” and “sadistic traits” of the children he studied, itemizing their “autistic acts of malice.” He also called autistic psychopaths “intelligent automata.””

“Some laud Asperger’s language about the “special abilities” of children on the “most favorable” end of his autistic “range,” speculating that he applied his diagnosis to protect them from Nazi eugenics — a kind of psychiatric Schindler’s list. But this was in keeping with the selective benevolence of Nazi psychiatry; Asperger also warned that “less favorable cases” would “roam the streets” as adults, “grotesque and dilapidated.””

“Asperger worked closely with the top figures in Vienna’s euthanasia program, including Erwin Jekelius, the director of Am Spiegelgrund, who was engaged to Hitler’s sister. My archival research, along with that of other scholars of euthanasia like Herwig Czech, the author of a forthcoming paper on this subject in the journal Molecular Autism, show that Asperger recommended the transfer of children to Spiegelgrund. Dozens of them were killed there.”

For those interested, I wrote a similar opinion piece in this blog.

3 responses to “The Nazi History Behind Asperger

  1. Almost like a coincidence, someone now has written what I did about Asperger said about his patients, their “cruelty” “malice” “imbecility”….

    which has nothing to do with living in war torn Nazi Germany which promoted bigotry and domination over the weak as ideals, and authoritarian often cruel Germanic militant parenting which obviously did not affect the children (sarcasm), a week ago on your blog.

    It’s coming to light, I believe many of his admirers will feel disillusioned when they see his very words.

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    • Okay Ill add one more, using the phrase “psychopathy” did not mean he called them what we call psychopaths. It was translated from German psychopathirien I think which at the time means roughly “psychopathology”.

      I have no clue why they chose to translate such a way into English. Psychopathy itself didn’t have it’s modern meaning in English even back then, it just meant personality disorder. Which shows a poor understanding Asperger had since clinical symptoms of autism disorder such as seizures or motor problems are very real. Heck I think they may have renamed Schizotypal personality disorder to just schizotypal disorder for the same reason since there are clinical symptoms.

      And if the children or anyone on the spectrum displays personality disorder, it is likely a result of having autism affecting character development growing up and is not primary, and can be prevented with intervention. Hence I am befuddled why theory of mind and social deficits are considered primary when they are likely secondary (from poor cognitive abilities, language problems, attention problems, problems with information integration, weak central coherance, and finally difficulty interacting at a young age from all of the former preventing skill acquisition,)

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  2. “I believe many of his admirers will feel disillusioned when they see his very words.”

    I think you underestimate the power of cognitive dissonance to pretend things away there.

    Like

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