Hans Asperger, A Guy Who Sucked

Hans Asperger in 1940

At some point in your life, you may have heard of something called “Asperger’s Syndrome“. For a good while, it was the term to describe a particular form of Autism Spectrum Disorder that tends to fall on the milder end of things. This used to be called “high-functioning”, but we don’t really use functioning labels anymore. That’s a post of its own, so take my word for it right now. Much like functioning labels, the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” has fallen out of favor. That’s because Hans Asperger, the guy whose name got stuck on it, sucked. Hard.

Who the Fuck Was Hans Asperger, Anyway?

Hans Asperger was born in Austria in 1906. He was an odd duck who had trouble making friends and was considered to be “remote”, according to one biography I found. He did, however, show a talent for language and fucking loved to quote the work of Austrian poet Franz Grillparzer. Like, a lot. Unfortunately, his audience for these quotes were his classmates, whose complete lack of interest he did not notice. Though he loved hiking in the woods and mountains, he came off as clumsy. And, he was obsessed with death. Along with autism, it’s one of the major topics of his extensive publishing list. Now, if you know anything about autism, you’re probably thinking, “This son-of-bitch has got to be autistic.” We can’t know for sure since he was never diagnosed, but I’m guessing he was. And, that makes all the shit that comes later so much fucking worse.

Why Do We Know This Fucker?

Asperger is known for his work on autistic children. He is, in fact, credited–along with Leo Kanner–with publishing the first scientific documentation of autism (which is bullshit, but more on that later). His 1944 writings on the condition, based on his observation of 4 boys, noted that they displayed “a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversations, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movements.” (Say, where have we heard all that before?) Asperger, however, died before his work became widely recognized. All his shit being written in German doesn’t help this situation. It also doesn’t help that it took almost 50 years before an authoritative translation and any research on his work was done. Unfortunately, these researchers didn’t look deep enough into Asperger and his work. If they had, things might have turned out differently.

Why Did He Suck?

The TL;DR on this one is that Asperger was a fucking Nazi. And, while that is enough to establish anyone’s suckage, there is more to it. So goddamn much more. Let’s start with his Nazism. To be fair, Asperger wasn’t a “card-carrying” Nazi as he never actually joined the Nazi party. But, he was a member of Bund Neuland, a pro-fascist, pan-German youth organization. And, Nazi authorities apparently felt he was down with the cause because there is no record of his ever having troubles with the Gestapo, a group not exactly known for tolerating any dissent. That’s all pretty circumstantial, sure. But, as Norweigian doctor Ketil Slagstad noted in a 2019 paper, Asperger was “a well-adapted cog in the machine of a deadly regime.” Why would he say this? Because Asperger referred multiple children to the Nazi’s Am Spiegelgrund facility. And, Am Spiegelgrund was a euthanization center for kids who didn’t measure up to the fucking Nazi’s ideas about “hereditary worthiness” and “racial purity”. Isn’t that nice?

It’s Bad

Remember what I said earlier about the possibility of Asperger being autistic was fucked up? It’s because a lot of the kids he sent to Am Spiegelgrund were autistic. First a little background on Am Spiegelgrund. It was a children’s clinic at the larger Am Steinhof psychiatric hospital in Vienna. And, as the period we’re talking about was after 1938 (aka post-Anschluss), guess who was running things in that neck of the woods? If you said “fucking Nazis”, you are correct. Jaded and cynical, maybe, but correct nonetheless. And, since fucking Nazis are in the picture, it’s a pretty safe bet that they weren’t treated with loving care. Basically, Am Spiegelgrund was part of the Nazi’s child euthanasia program, which is a phrase I wish I didn’t know existed. They murdered 789 kids there. Why? To maintain “racial purity”. And Asperger, that fucking Nazi cocknocker, knew what was going on when he sent those kids there.

Like Really Bad

Even the diagnosis that he came up with–aka “Asperger’s Syndrome”–is rooted in the Nazi’s vile endeavor of creating a “master race”. Herwig Czech, who wrote one of the earliest papers outlining the fucking Nazi Asperger’s work for the regime, shows at length that the man was fully on board with their theories of “racial hygiene”. He shows that Aperger’s work was based on determining who could be useful to the regime–those with lesser support needs, aka “high-functioning–and who should be euthanized–all the others, aka, “low-functioning”. Basically, what was called “Asperger’s Syndrome” before the DSM folded it into Autism Spectrum Disorder, began as a way for fucking Nazi doctors to determine who was useful to the state and who was a goddamn burden that should be eliminated.

So Fucking Bad

But, Asperger’s douchery doesn’t end with being “a well-adapted cog in the machine of a deadly regime.” It is entirely possible that he cribbed the work of another doctor who made strikingly similar observations almost 20 years before Asperger’s 1944 paper laying out symptoms of autism. Who was this doctor that the fucking Nazi Asperger may have ripped off? A Russian woman named Grunya Efimovna Sukhareva. In her work as a psychiatrist, Sukhareva treated 6 boys who displayed the symptoms also noted by the fucking Nazi Asperger. She published a paper stating her findings in 1925. Both her paper and Asperger’s cited the work of Ernst Kretschmer. Yet, Asperger’s “landmark” 1944 work makes no mention of her. These details led Sula Wolff to ask in a 1996 paper how it was possible that Asperger did not know of Sukhareva’s work. I’ll leave you to ponder Wolff’s question and simply end this section by saying “Fuck that guy”.

What Do We Do About This?

That’s really the question, isn’t it? I mean, I should have a fairly decent reason if I’m going to inundate you with this much awful shit, right? Yes, I should. And yes, I do. Actually, I have a couple of reasons. One is to show, though sharing the knowledge that a lot of what we have thought about autism comes from the work of a fucking Nazi plagiarizer, how much awful shit neurodivergent people have to deal with. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a lot. Another reason is to say that even a fucking Nazi plagiarizer gets it right now and then. Asperger did seem to have a good understanding of what was going on with his patients, even if he did–allegedly–steal the work of someone else. Uncovering his research did help lead us to the understanding that autism is a spectrum, which is not nothing. Getting here without all that Nazi/eugenics bullshit would’ve been nice but our fucked up world is messy that way. And, I’m not sure what we can do about that.

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