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A history of Hans Asperger, Leo Kanner and their colleague Georg Frankl

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Rewriting Autism History
Newly discovered documents show how crucial autism research was ignored, perpetuating misinformation about autistic children.

Elon Green August 17, 2015

History is dotted with simultaneous independent discoveries. From the Möbius strip to the electric telegraph, great minds sometimes do think alike. And for decades now, the Asperger-Kanner mind meld has been the accepted wisdom of the discovery of autism......

"In one of the uncanny synchronizations of science, autism was first recognized on two continents nearly simultaneously. In 1943, a child psychiatrist named Leo Kanner published a monograph outlining a curious set of behaviors he noticed in 11 children at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. A year later, a pediatrician in Vienna named Hans Asperger, who had never seen Kanner's work, published a paper describing four children who shared many of the same traits. Both Kanner and Asperger gave the condition the same name: autism—from the Greek word for self, autòs—because the children in their care seemed to withdraw into iron-walled universes of their own."

....Kanner and Asperger had divergent views of autism. Asperger’s was expansive. He believed that autism was what Frankl called a “continuum,” or what is now called “the spectrum.” This was the idea that, in the words of the National Institutes of Mental Health, autistic people can be “mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.” Crucially, Asperger believed that the condition was not rare. Once you knew what to look for, you’d recognize it in many people. Kanner, however, framed autism as a rare form of childhood psychosis and, eventually—under pressure from his Freudian psychoanalytic colleagues—adopted the view that it was caused by bad parenting and “refrigerator mothers.”...........

.......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 is clear now that Kanner and Asperger’s discoveries were neither independent nor simultaneous. “Asperger clearly discovered autism first,” continued Silberman. And yet, even as Asperger’s ideas have achieved acceptance, history still endeavors to forget him. In late 2012, the American Psychiatric Association announced that the name Asperger's syndrome would be dropped from subsequent editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But his legacy—which is, essentially, being right about autism decades before anyone else—remains.

I've picked portions of this article as its extensive, if you wish to read it in full it's here:

Rewriting The History of Autism

I get that people want to forget Hans Asperger, since he was a Nazi. It wasn't just for show either, he advocated for killing some disabled children, just not the secretly clever autistics. I just hope we can forget Kanner, too, since his contribution was essentially, "yeah, this thing exists" and the rest was just prejudice.
I like what you wrote , come from a family full of high functioning aspies had a job years ago that was full of aspies, testing lab. lots of phds we can pick each other out. Others see us as strange. we are indiviually capable of changing comapanies or the world if given a chance.
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Hans Asperger 'collaborated with Nazis' in WWII

"Dr Asperger was not a member of the Nazi party.

In a 1980 inauguration speech at the University of Vienna, shortly before his death at the age of 74, he said he was wanted by the Gestapo (Nazi-era secret police) for refusing to turn in children to them."

Asperger collaborated with, but was not a member of, the Nazi party, according to the article linked above.

"...the most important lesson of this tragic chapter in history is not that Asperger's work should be ignored, as it was in most of the world until developmental psychologist Uta Frith finally made it available in English. The most important lesson is not that brutal regimes like the Third Reich enable evil men to do evil, but that they are able to compel even well-intentioned people to do monstrous things."

Was Dr. Asperger A Nazi? The Question Still Haunts Autism
...the most important lesson of this tragic chapter in history is not that Asperger's work should be ignored, as it was in most of the world until developmental psychologist Uta Frith finally made it available in English. The most important lesson is not that brutal regimes like the Third Reich enable evil men to do evil, but that they are able to compel even well-intentioned people to do monstrous things."

This isn't something exclusively attributed to Dr. Hans Asperger. Millions of Germans had to come to terms with their own passivity in existing in a totalitarian system, whether or not they were a party member. Trying to exonerate them somehow under such circumstances seems pointless.

The reality being that if you did not oppose the regime, you were part of the problem- not the solution. Easier said than done perhaps, but then Hitler came to power bloodlessly at a time when his party's voting strength was waning. Events that their democratically elected leaders and voters had to ultimately take responsibility for.

Something German Pastor Martin Niemöller lamented in a rather poetic fashion after surviving the war:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
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All I can say I am not an American.

I'm curious. In what context? Your parents and family ?

I can only guess, taking into consideration the occupation of the Netherlands by the Nazis. One very long- and very harsh. Particularly in the last year of the war, when the Dutch were deliberately starved by the Nazis. Though my impression of present times seem to reflect much more cordiality between the Dutch and the Germans. At least with much younger people born long after the war. People more in tune with the European Union rather than their tragic past.

I once worked with someone who had to endure the occupation of Denmark as a child. Lots of interesting, but sad stories. Though Denmark fared better than the Netherlands when it came to occupation by the Nazis.

And I had a college professor who had to deal with the Nazis firsthand in Norway as a young adult. Who had no problem expressing her intense prejudice of Germans. So much so I once watched a woman withdraw from her class for that very reason in 1976.

There's also the matter of how the Nazis treated captured Canadian airborne troops in France in 1944. Summarily shot as spies and saboteurs. Causing a reprisal by the Allies resulting in some captured members of the SS taken out of line and immediately shot without due process. With some who were thought to be SS who were misidentified as such.

World War Two definitely colored how people may feel about so many Germans however they are known in terms of science and technology. Lest we forget one of the most influential members of NASA- Werner Von Braun. A scientist and honorary colonel in the SS so instrumental in implementing the V-2 rocket that devastated so much of London and its civilians in 1944.

Werner Von Braun certainly had his share of controversy and detractors as well. A lot of hard feelings still out there within and beyond our own generation. Perhaps had Hans Asperger lived in the time of Sigmund Freud his research would have been better received, and much earlier.
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My wife is of German descent 8th generation Canadian. Context is the general political situation with our southern neighbor.
(Not written by me)

Mar 8, 2022

Professor Amanda Kirby Highlights Forgotten Neurodiversity Heroines On International Women’s Day

Nancy Doyle

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

I am an organizational psychologist specializing in neurodiversity.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, it is becoming a trend to right the wrongs of the past and amplify the work of women who were erased from the popular discourse. Famous examples include Dr Rosalind Franklin, whose work on DNA was essential but was overlooked by the Nobel Prize committee when they awarded her colleagues, Crick, Watson and Wilkins in 1962. We are also aware of Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first algorithm, yet her boss Charles Babbage is hailed as the ‘father of computing’. Also regularly overlooked in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is Dr Gladys West who invented the core mathematical principles behind GPS technology.

Neurodiversity And Sexism

The social and medical sciences are not immune from historical sexism. We see this in the story of sociologist Judy Singer, who originated the concept of neurodiversity but is rarely referenced academically by the male academics who are now famous for their writing on the subject. Singer’s academic career was cut short by her position as a single parent raising an autistic child. Singer rightly criticizes the neurodiversity discourse around “pushy mothers” advocating for their kids and being chastized by professionals. What about the dads? Where are they? Why are we singling out only half the parents as responsible for their child’s welfare and then berating them for being hysterical and making up their problems?

The layers of gender bias in neurodiversity are many and their tentacles stretch way beyond the diagnosis disparity. We might also suggest that the reason we have such a wide disparity in diagnosis between men and women is because the male scientists who have dominated the field have created the definitions and checklists from their own standpoint.

Today, we acknowledge the many women sociologists, psychologists and physicians who have contributed to the neurodiversity narrative and advanced our mission without recognition and fame. Professor Amanda Kirby presents two women whose work she would like to amplify.

Dr Grunya Sukhareva

Professor Kirby states: “Introducing Dr Sukhareva. Perhaps you have not heard of her? Surprisingly I had not done so till recently. Two full decades before Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner published work relating to autism there was a Russian Jewish female doctor in Moscow who was ahead of the field.”

Only in the past 4 years has this come to light with Spectrum News and the Scientific American reporting her findings from her 1925 published article:

“It was 1924 when the 12-year-old boy was brought to the Moscow clinic for an evaluation. By all accounts, he was different from his peers. Other people did not interest him much, and he preferred the company of adults to that of children his own age. He never played with toys: He had taught himself to read by age 5 and spent his days reading everything he could instead. Thin and slouching, the boy moved slowly and awkwardly. He also suffered from anxiety and frequent stomach-aches.”

Where Sukhareva worked children sometimes lived in a residential setting for 2-3 years having detailed interventions. This allowed her to observe their ‘behaviours’ first- hand and over a prolonged period. Over the course of the following year, Sukhareva identified five more boys with what she described as “autistic tendencies.” All five also showed a preference for their own inner world, yet each had their own peculiarities or talents.

In 1925, she published a study describing in detail the autistic features the six boys shared and these directly mapped to the later DSM criteria, yet Dr Sukhareva is virtually missing from the history of autism. Professor Kirby explains how this happened:

“Very little Russian research from that time was translated into other languages besides German. And although her 1925 paper on autism traits appeared in German the following year, the translation butchered her name, misspelling it as “Ssucharewa.” The paper was only translated into English nearly 70 years later. Interestingly it was translated into German it was likely that Asperger would have read it but he never referenced her work. It was translated into English in 1996.”

Dr Esther Thelen

Professor Kirby describes a second expert in developmental psychology to whom she thinks we should be indebted. This is Dr Esther Thelen. Professor Kirby explains Dr Thelen’s work:

“Thelen's research in the 1980s was focused on human development, especially in infant development. We used to think that child development followed a set pattern from babyhood to toddler: reach, grasp, roll, sit, crawl and then walk (we call these developmental milestones). We used to think that if you didn’t follow the order, it was problematic. The description, prior to Thelen’s work of these milestones resulted in a view of motor development as a rather rigid process. Developmental milestones are a core component of diagnosing neurodevelopmental differences such as dyspraxia, dyslexia and autism.

Thelen and her co-workers demonstrated that there was complex interplay between infants' bodies, their environment, and earlier experiences which impacted on the course of development. Specifically, through careful observation they determined that new born leg kicking patterns are affected by their weight, their context (lying, being held up, being in water) and it was these contexts determining their progress, rather than a natural order of development. Importantly, they showed there was not one single factor but a complex mesh of interactions with resulted in the outcome.”

Professor Kirby draws the following conclusion from Dr Thelen’s work to the neurodiversity movement and the wider concepts involved in the social model of disability.

“For me, this is fundamental to our understanding and provision of support for neurodivergent children and adults today in school or the workplace. We need to move to thinking of people with a diagnosis of dyslexia or autism for example as all needing the same support but always also thinking about the task the person is doing and the environment they are in as this will affect everyone differently.”

Dr Thelen was quoted as saying "The mind simply does not exist as something decoupled from the body and experience," this sentence indicating the trend towards biopsychosocial, holistic understanding of human development. Dr Thelen was able to show that we develop as part of a dynamic and complex system and the environment we are in also interacts too and impacts on our development. Her theory called Dynamic Systems Theory proposes that movement is produced from the interaction of multiple sub-systems within the person, task, and environment). This is of great use to those being diagnosed with dyspraxia, dyslexia and others, as in doing so one's childhood history is analysed for missing skills or unusual trajectories. Dr Thelen's work helps us them determine interventions could help children develop skills that they need for independence.

Professor Kirby Herself

It would be remiss of me to not to mention Professor Kirby’s own work on dyspraxia (aka developmental coordination disorder(DCD)). Her research is world renowned and remains the only consistent academic reporting on this minority neurotype, which is present at similar levels in the population as ADHD and many times the prevalence of autism, yet remains under served. Professor Emeritus at the University of Cardiff, she has 2663 citations for her writing, showing how it has influenced others in the our field. Professor Kirby's work ensures that we don’t forget dyspraxic voices and helps us understand the routes of support required for dyspraxic adults.

Thank you to these great women!

Source: Forbes
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