Is it time we stopped saying ‘Aspergers Syndrome’?
Autism awareness starts with knowing your terminology.
Hans Asperger is often referred to as a pioneering hero paediatrician whose contribution to the field of autism produced the eponym Asperger’s syndrome (coined by Dr Lorna Wing in 1981).
But new research reveals that Apseger was actually a Nazi collaborator who sent children to their deaths.
According to Herwig Czech (2018) in the journal Molecular Autsim, Asperger referred “profoundly disabled” children to the Am Spiegelgrund clinic in Vienna, despite knowing what took place there.
The narrative of Asperger as a principled opponent of National Socialism and a courageous defender of his patients against Nazi ‘euthanasia’ and other race hygiene measures does not hold up in the face of the historical evidence. What emerges is a much more problematic role played by this pioneer of autism research. Future use of the eponym should reflect the troubling context of its origins in Nazi-era Vienna.
Czech (a historian of medicine at the Medical University of Vienna) analysed documents which were previously assumed destroyed and these revealed that Asperger “actively contributed” to the Nazi eugenics programme and “on several occasions, he published approving comments on race hygiene measures such as forced sterilizations.”
According to John Donvan and Caren Zucker in their book In a Different Key, Asperger signed a letter of referral effectively condemning a little girl (Herta Schreiber) with encephalitis to death to the Am Spiegelgrund clinic, a rehab facility that had been converted into a killing centre by Asperger’s former colleague, Erwin Jekelius.
Asperger’s syndrome has quite dreadful links and as a term should be removed from the medical and educational lexicon. How can we use the term named after someone who cooperated with the Nazi regime’s murderous policies?
Asperger’s syndrome is forever tainted as Aspeger was a cog in the Nazi killing machine. He was far from a compassionate clinician and educator and his name symbolises evil. Time for a new label.