Neurotribes: How the Cookie Crumbles

I am reblogging this post from 4-5 years ago. It complements yesterday’s blog by Jill Escher in regards to Neurotribes. The same can be regarded as my own personal opinion after reading the available literature and corresponding with some of the people mentioned in this post.

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It has been several months since the publication of Neurotribes and more data is constantly emerging about the contrived nature of the publication. The whole story pitting Kanner (the villain) against Asperger (the saint of Neurodiversity) is factually incorrect. The supposition that Kanner stole the idea/diagnosis from Asperger is falling apart. At present many academicians, like Pat Howlin, Joe Piven, Bennett Leventhal, Olga Bogdashina, and Jim Harris are voicing their concerns for the undeserved acclaim Neurotribes has received. Incensed students of Lorna Wing take exception to having Neurotribes dedicated to their mentor when Silberman apparently is not able to decipher whether Lorna Wing was a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

It is true that Silberman apparently “discovered” that George Frankl went to work with Kanner after previously having worked with Asperger. From there on he formulated the grandiose idea that Kanner had stolen the diagnosis of autism from Asperger by having Frankl act as an intermediary. As a matter of fact Kanner acknowledged in his publications that Frankl worked with him at Hopkins. What is open to discussion is whether Frankl was able to mentor somebody of Kanner’s stature. Hopkins faculty members were talented clinicians with diverse training in a world-class academic institution with a rich European tradition. It seems quite likely that anybody at the Hopkins Department would have given Frankl a run for his money.

The Hopkins Psychiatry Department was established by Adolf Meyer and from early on developed a tradition of intermixing both European ideas of psychoanalysis with the biological foundations of neurology and neuropathology. This was the Department where Lauretta Bender (psychiatrist and neuropathologist) did her initial research before going to establish herself in New York as the world’s leading authority in childhood schizophrenia. Lauretta, a figure of great influence over Kanner, wrote one of Kanner’s academic obituaries. In their writings it is evident that they had a mutual admiration society. It was at Hopkins that Lauretta met Paul Schilder, MD, PhD her future husband. Paul, an Austrian psychiatrist who immigrated to the Unites States, worked along with Lauretta diagnosing and treating psychotic children and publishing over 300 articles before his untimely death.

At Hopkins Frankl was an interesting addition who could have received mentorship from others but probably not the other way around. His few years at the institution were rather undistinguished and his writings in regards to the emotional disconnect observed in some children denote some major confusion as to pathophysiological mechanisms. Although highly praised by Kanner, Frankl lacked the biological tradition forged at Hopkins and eventually moved on after a few years to head a small Child Psychiatry clinic in Kansas City.

Contrary to Silberman’s statement in Neurotribes, Kanner did give an opinion on Asperger’s contribution at least twice during his life. He believed that the conditions both them had described were different. Kanner described classic autism as being present at birth thus classifying the same as a neurodevelopmental disorder- in this belief he was unwavering. Asperger agreed with Kanner and believed his own cases represented a personality disorder developed or forged during the lifetime of the individual. He explained the use of the word psychopath as a personality disorder in the introduction of his article. Unfortunately, Uta Frith did not translate this section into her well-known English version.

While Kanner was taking steps to report his patients, Frankl was at a loss on how to describe the condition and whether it was in any way different from childhood schizophrenia. Contrary to Kanner and Asperger, Frankl never took a stance as to whether autism was a neurodevelopmental condition or a personality disorder. His interest, if anything, focused on non-idiopathic cases which differed remarkably from Kanner’s classical autism. Frankl never mentored Kanner because he had reached no mayor conclusions of his own and had no ideas to teach. His citation index (contrary to that of Kanner) was abysmal and his work was never acknowledged as being of potential significance. Indeed, it was Kanner who first brought up the subject of autism in a letter to the mother of his incept patient and later on developed a differential diagnosis as well as recognizing antecedents within the medical literature. As Kanner worked on his cases and prepared his publications, Frankl had already passed many years into oblivion. In a rather peculiar twist of fate Kanner is now being vilified for having employed Frankl rather than acknowledged for having saved his life.

What is odd about Asperger’s report is the fact that after seeing a significant number of cases, they were all males, higher functioning, and many had significant gifts and/or abilities. It now appears more evident that the bias in his series probably reflected the fact that the Third Reich (or Asperger himself) eliminated those who were primarily females, lower functioning and lacking gifts or useful abilities. Thus, although Asperger recognized the gifts in some autistic individuals he also disposed of those lacking the same. The parallel of the Nazi regime’s elimination of lower functioning individuals and Silberman’s willful lack of recognition towards the same individuals in Neurotribes is uncanny.

As stated in a previous blog, Mr. Silberman acknowledges that he left the more severely affected individuals out of his book because, “If we live long enough, we all become ‘diaper wearers’ eventually…Disability is a part of the human experience.” This is NOT the case. Head banging or wearing diapers is not part of our human experience, no matter the age of the person. In this Mr. Silberman, Asperger, and the Nazi regimen have a lot in common. It is easy to see why Silberman condones any murderous actions on part of Asperger (see: bit.ly/1npmaLq).

Contrary to Silberman’s statements in Neurotribes it appears that physicians during Asperger’s time had to pledge allegiance to the Third Reich in order to practice medicine in larger institutions. The Austrian historian of Nazi atrocities Herwig Czech, has chronicled Asperger’s involvement in the Third Reich. The story is partially available in a German publication edited by Arnold Pollak and written in collaboration by Maria Asperger Felder, Herwig Czech, Helmut Groger, Francesca Happe, Kwthrin Hippler, Fritz Poustka, Roxane Sousek and Lorna Wing was entitled Auf den Spuren Hans Asperger. Unfortunately many details of the atrocity are lacking in the publication. In the near future Herwig Czech will be submitting the full and extensive details for publication in Molecular Autism. Hopefully the forthcoming Czech’s publication will be Silberman’s last nail on the coffin.

It seems that Steve Silberman did make contact a few times over the years with Herwing Czech, but never with probing insightful questions. Silberman was made aware of Asperger’s Nazi involvement but preferred not to mention it in his book. Donvan and Zucker also made contact with Czech establishing a long-term relationship with constant questions, document requests and verifications. This contrasts with Silberman’s primary preoccupation: when was Czech was going to publish his whole report? While probing into this aspect of Asperger’s life Silberman seemed to have a story already in mind and wanted to publish before Czech’s full report appeared in press.

For those interested in further readings on Neurotribes, please refer to the following blogs:

Neurotribe or diatribe?: bit.ly/1psMJ45

Steve Silberman and his tribe of Nazi sympathizers: bit.ly/1npmaLqlem

2 responses to “Neurotribes: How the Cookie Crumbles

  1. Thank you for your well-researched article. I would like the American Psychiatric Association ( APA), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and others to issue statements on the definition of autism. Neurodiversity proponents believe that autism is an identity, and that they can just declare themselves “autistic.” Then, they serve on government boards and in disability advocacy organizations. They have power and influence in government. As time goes on, parents of those severely affected by autism are bullied and silenced by neurodiversity advocacy.

    Liked by 1 person

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