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.”
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.
I found it an excellent read in audiobook form! Lots I didn't know, including the fascinating details of Asperger's work before and during the war.
It makes me sad to think of all the children who were sent away. I remember a little boy in my son's school, about 20 years ago, who had gained a reputation for being a 'naughty' and getting out of control boy, and his mum as some kind of lazy unintelligent worthless piece of *** who was to blame for her son's behaviour. They wanted to send him away, but she took him off school dinners, changed his diet and his behaviour changed.
They say the playground can be a cruel place but the mothers were pure evil in their behaviours and treatments of some mothers and their kids.
An unproven theory I have is that they were victims of an overreaching post-war welfare state.
In the 1920s and 30s parents and families were responsible for looking after disabled children and children with SEN. Attitudes changed in the 1950s amongst those in power and amongst large sections of society that parents shouldn't be burdened with having to provide for disabled children and children with SEN. The welfare state should provide education and care services for them instead. Parents have the right to go out to work and live a normal life without having to look after problem children. Therefore what happened was large numbers of boarding schools were opened for disabled children and children with SEN. They started closing down in the 1980s as a result of government cost cutting and the scaling back of the post-war welfare state under the Thatcher government as local authorities were less and less inclined to send children to them. Attitudes also changed towards families supporting their children and inclusion in mainstream schools.
There was also a belief amongst those in power and large sections of society that problem children at school was the result of bad parenting or parents who failed in their duty to bring up kids properly. Therefore the solution wasn't SEN schools, different teaching, or a different curriculum. It was residential schools.
We’ve come a long way, in a relatively short amount of time, from when disabled people were hidden away and people with mental health problems were seen as a form of amusement.
We’ve got a long way to go and the more we talk about it the more awareness there will be.
Attitudes have changed in society since the 1950s but the closure of residential schools was Maggie Thatcher's cost cutting. Local authorities had become increasingly reluctant to pay the fees to send children with SEN or disabilities to residential schools by the end of the 1980s due to changes in legislation on how they can spend money.
Yeah, along with the closure of long term mental health hospitals with the introduction of ‘care in the community’, a great idea in theory but as a cost cutting excercise it was never going to work and not only that it put a lot of people in danger and in terrible situations. They’re still trying to sort that out!
Mental hospitals were unsuitable and inappropriate places for people with AS. They could not provide the support and services that they require.
Some of them, maybe all of them were terrible places and we haven’t moved too far forward in support for people with AS but we’re moving in the right direction.
It's interesting how a thread develops and changes direction. Now we are onto mental hospitals and residential schools for autistics.
The nearest I came was a year in a 'special' school when I was 9/10. This was not residential, just normal school hours 9 till around 4pm. However no teaching took place and looking back I suspect half the children were autistic. There was no violence and I found it to be a peaceful place of refuge. Away from the awful so called normal children. The long police interview I had makes me suspect that sex abuse did take place.
AS was generally viewed as a behavioural problem in the 1980s by schools and educational psychologists. They did not tick the boxes for autism back then and as they tended to be of average or above average ability in literacy and numeracy then they were deemed not to have learning difficulties. An erroneous belief circulated that children could only have SEN if they were below average in literacy and numeracy.
The result is that AS was concluded to be something to be sorted out using harsh discipline as it was believed that children with AS either did not know right from wrong or did know right from wrong and chose to do wrong.
I mentioned how Jewish power and influence in the post-war years could have been responsible for suppressing Hans Asperger, but could he (and people with AS) also have been a victim of Protestant Christian values of discipline that run high in both the US and Britain even amongst people who are not religious? Remember that Austria was a largely Catholic country when Hans Asperger carried out his research.
The special school I went to was in 1972. At that time autism was virtually unheard of in the general population.
And all these SENs and EHCP were unknown.
Education was compulsory and if we refused to go to a school we got sent to other schools.
As far as I know, there was no exhaustive testing like there is now.
We just got sent from school to school until we agreed to attend.
That special school was actually enjoyable and peaceful. In later years I started to question how it was run and what actually went on in there.
No. Academic teaching. Before I went there I was behind other children academically. When I left I was even further behind.
Some children were there longer than me. And I saw no improvement in them. One girl of my age was always sitting under tables or hiding behind a large old wooden bookcase. Not engaging with anyone in anyway. When I left a year later she was still behaving the same way.