What does the NAS make of this discovery by Steve Silberman about Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger?
Not only does it cast serious doubt on the notion that Kanner’s discovery was completely independent of Asperger. Of perhaps greater importance, it may help resuscitate the reputation of Asperger—a man whose prescient ideas were long ignored.
Other theories as to why Kanner shunned Asperger’s work are less persuasive. Some historians have believed that Asperger’s work was unknown to Kanner because of the language barrier. But German was Kanner’s native language. Not only that, Kanner was keenly familiar with Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, the neurological journal that published Asperger’s papers, and referenced it many times in his work.
It’s possible that Kanner, as a Jew, found it objectionable that Asperger—through no fault of his own—was working for *** who had taken over his clinic. It could be that Kanner thought Asperger himself was a Nazi, though Silberman argues persuasively he was not.
Once you consider the implications of such buried history, the scope of the tragedy is almost crushing.
But the damage done by Kanner, intentionally or otherwise, is inescapable. For far too long he perpetuated ideas about autistic children that were simply not true. And for too long no one was the wiser. “By burying Asperger in history, Kanner obscured the breadth and diversity of the spectrum,” said Silberman. This, in turn, meant “many children who would have been eligible for a diagnosis under Asperger’s more expansive model of autism were left to struggle along on their own in a world not made for them.”
It does appear that Asperger's "more expansive model" of autism as a wide spectrum has gained acceptance since around 1990 (largely due to the work of Simon Baron-Cohen et al.) and it also appears that most work in the field recognises this now - whether or not Asperger himself is credited with it.
While it's unfair that he doesn't / didn't receive the credit (whatever the reasons) it's inexcusable that so many people have gone un-diagnosed because of it. We're seeing the results of this now with so many adults being diagnosed later in life having gone through life without the support or understanding that might have helped more when they were younger. It's also accepted that this 'new' way of approaching autism as such a wide-ranging spectrum is responsible for what appears to be such a rise in autism's prevalence since around 1990. (Better late than never?)
With this 'new' acceptance of the 'spectrum' encompassing such a varied range of 'things', it seems ridiculous that the term 'Asperger's' is being phased out of the latest diagnostic manuals. 'Asperger's' seems to more accurately distinguish the set of parameters under which a person is diagnosed, just like Anorexia which is being considered for inclusion on the same spectrum. Will Anorexia eventually lose it's name too, to be absorbed into the autism spectrum? Won't absorbing all of these, and others, into one make it more difficult to see where anyone sits on the spectrum? I haven't yet read the new diagnostic manual but, personally, I can identify with 'Asperger's' more easily than with 'High-functioning autism'.
The official history is that ASD was discovered independently by Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, and Leo Kanner had no knowledge of Hans Asperger and his work.
Steve Silberman has carried out research which proves that Leo Kanner had plenty of knowledge of Hans Asperger and his work but for some reason deliberately kept quiet about it.
Yes, sucks to be Asperger. No point in trying to re-write history though. At least now his work is being recognised to the benefit of many more people on the spectrum - even if he didn't receive the credit for his early contributions. I'm more concerned with the path of future research which does seem to encompass his work.
My mother has read the article and she thinks that Hans Asperger was a victim of WW2 era politics. His work wasn't just obscure and undiscovered. It was deliberately suppressed with concerted attempts to airbrush him out of the picture.
Having read the link you posted, it certainly looks like you're both right but when did the term 'Asperger's' start to be used to describe HFA? Has that only been since around 1990 too, when the wide spectrum of autism began to be recognised?
I've only fairly recently had a personal interest in the subject of autism and when I came across the term 'Kanner's', in the past, I just thought it was an American term for a (then) little-understood syndrome.
There are lots of incidents throughout history of someone's work / groundbreaking research / discovery being appropriated by someone else who then goes on to receive all of the credit for it. Some of these incidents, like Asperger's, are indeed because of political reasons but it's also occurred due to racism, sexism, and even ageism in cases where a young researchers work is claimed by their mentors as their own. Unfortunately we'll probably never know who was REALLY behind some of these things but at least Asperger is among those who, albeit posthumously in many cases, are being credited with their work eventually.
Endymion said:Some of these incidents, like Asperger's, are indeed because of political reasons
A sinister atmosphere surrounds this discovery. Leo Kanner made no efforts to plagiarise the work of Hans Asperger but instead suppressed it.
Leo Kanner survived / escaped the holocaust and it's possible that in his eyes Hans Asperger was a Nazi collaborator. Without risking sounding anti-Semitic, Jewish power and influence ran high in the US during the post war decades including in academia, publishing, and medicine. Therefore Leo Kanner was seen as a hero and Hans Asperger a villain with reprehensible views and guilt by association. Remember that history is usually written by the victors. A modern day analogy to this would be whether the NAS would be willing to accept a major discovery in ASD if they found out that the researcher was a senior member of the BNP. As the NAS is an image conscious organisation that chases public money then I seriously doubt it.
What I am interested in knowing is when was the work of Hans Asperger first known about in Israel. Large numbers of German and Austrian Jews emigrated to Israel in the post war decades and it would be surprising if none of them knew about Hans Asperger and his work.
That’s a great article Arran, thanks for posting.
I think we have to remember that Kanner did an awful lot of good for a lot of people and he devoted his life to helping individuals with autism and their families. While the article is certainly interesting, I think it’s important we don’t cast any judgements. Nobody is perfect and nobody gets it right all the time, whatever the reason may be.
It has sparked my curiosity to do more research and certainly, there’s no doubt that my life would have be different, had I had a diagnosis and relevant support, when I was younger. I won’t deny that. I’m coming to terms with that, slowly, it’s definitely a big deal.
I also think it’s important for this information to be made public, as it tells as much about social influence etc as it does about the history of autism. Asperger’s work is extremely important and he deserves credit for it. He too, it seems, was also a remarkable person.
I’m interested in this discovery for several reasons but I also acknowledge that if Kanners work did cause a lot of harm, it also caused a lot of good, and so did Asperger’s work. I’m grateful to both of them. I’m also interested how we move forward, as a society, in including autism into society. I’ve got big visions and while I acknowledge challenges, I think we are heading in the right direction.
Great discussion everyone.
BlueRay said:I also think it’s important for this information to be made public, as it tells as much about social influence etc as it does about the history of autism.
The article is more than 2 years old. A good place to start research is Silberman's since-published work 'Neurotribes'. It's a dense and heavy (for me) read, but fascinating.
Martian Tom said:The article is more than 2 years old.
The article was written in 2015. Has the NAS read it yet or have they been spending their time chasing local authorities for money for residential care services instead?
IMO it is the greatest milestone in the development of ASD since the discovery of Hans Asperger's work itself.
There are questions about exactly why didn't Leo Kanner go the whole hog and plagiarise the work of Hans Asperger. Did other people in his circles know about Hans Asperger and force him to keep quiet about it for some reason or other?
I will have to read Neurotribes because it could contain more information about this period of history.
Oh I think I’ve heard about ‘neurotribes’, I’ll check it out although my reading skills are not currently at their best so it might be something for another day.