Rewriting Autism History

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.”

Parents Reply Children
  • 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.