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.”
I need to look at it again, because I was reading it piecemeal first time and I wasn't taking a lot of it in - but there are large chapters devoted to the work of Kanner and Asperger, and it covers precisely this issue and the factors surrounding it.
Can't help but wonder, if Asperger's work hadn't been suppressed, whether there would have been a lot more knowledge around during my childhood in the sixties. A lot of people might have been saved a lot of grief and suffering.
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.
Kanner was also a fascinating man and did much to improve the lives of many people. I know his refrigerator mother theory was alarming but it was in keeping with the theory/understand of that time.
If Asperger’s work was recognised earlier Tom, we may have got a diagnosis as kids but that’s not to say we would have got appropriate or any support all that was actually helpful. However, at least we would have known that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with us and I’m quite sure my life would have panned out very differently. I have had to come to terms with this, as I think many of us late diagnoses have. I allowed myself to grieve and wonder what my life might have been like, which I think is important, especially to be able to move on from it. It’s a big deal so it’s important we don’t down play it.
It's not just children of the 1960s. Definitely children of the 1980s (Lorna Wing's paper was virtually secret knowledge back then) and even children of the 1990s - I didn't find out about AS until after 2000 despite having a statement of SEN at primary school.
I have been wondering how many children and teenagers with undiagnosed AS were sent away to unsuitable residential schools for EBD or other behavioural problems - that more often than not caused more harm than good - because knowledge of AS was suppressed. Does the NAS have more info about this? There is now a concept of boarding school syndrome in adults.
It's interesting to note that the political left in Britain have been very quiet about Hans Asperger and I can't help thinking that they overwhelmingly view him as a Nazi collaborator who deserves to be vilified. The people I have encountered who are most favourable towards Hans Asperger are overwhelmingly centre right in their outlook and don't go round screaming Nazi at people like SWP and some Momentum types do.
My best friend at primary school, got sent away to a ‘special’ school in our first year of school. It could have been him, me or both of us but for some reason they targeted him and sent him away. I have never forgot him, and I’m sure wherever they sent him, it wasn’t the right or best place for him. I’m guessing he was undiagnosed autistic like me, so I doubt back then he would have got the right support. I’d love to track him down.
I have some NAS publications from the 1970s and 80s somewhere at home. Almost nothing in them applies to me because they are entirely about Kanner autism. Therefore anybody with AS at the time would not have been considered autistic so would have been outside of the territory of the NAS.
Information about the number of children with undiagnosed AS who were sent away to unsuitable residential or reform schools is scant. I have read the book A Childhood Not Easily Forgotten: a History of Abuse by Lee Woolcott Ellis who attended two residential schools from the age of 6 to 16 during the 1970s. There is no mention of ASD, and it appears he attended the schools because of family problems, but I have almost no information about the schools themselves apart from them being at the centre of child abuse and sex offences cases in recent years, nor any information whether or not there was anybody with ASD there. One of the schools near Ipswich is now a classy restaurant.
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.