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Born on a farm outside of Vienna, Austria, Hans Asperger displayed an early talent for languages. He was a member of the youth movements of the 1920s. He also earned his medical doctorate in 1931 and secured his first path into the field of psychology one year later as a member of his university's pediatrics clinic. In 1934, his career developed with a career move to a psychiatric hospital in Leipzig.
It is not certain what he did during the early years of World War II, however, it's been documented that he worked in high-level capacities for the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. In the later years of the war, he was a soldier in Croatia. In 1944, after the publication of his paper on autism, he found a permanent tenured post at the University of Vienna. Shortly after the war ended he became director of a children's clinic in the city. He later held posts at both Innsbruck and Vienna, then from 1964, he headed the SOS Children's Villages in Hinterbrühl.
During his life, he published over 350 medical papers, refusing to cite Grunya Sukhareva in his early work on autism; Sukhareva was regarded as perhaps the first medical professional to describe and publicize the traits that later became known as Asperger's syndrome.
Asperger published the first definition of Asperger's syndrome in 1944. In four boys, he identified a pattern of behavior and abilities that he called "autistic psychopathy," meaning autism (self) and psychopathy (personality disease). The pattern included "a lack of empathy, little ability to form friendships, one-sided conversation, intense absorption in a special interest, and clumsy movements." Asperger called children with AS "little professors" because of their ability to talk about their favourite subject in great detail. It is commonly said that the paper was based on only four boys. However, Dr. Günter Krämer, of Zürich, who knew Asperger, states that it "was based on investigations of more than 400 children".
He was convinced that many would use their special talents in adulthood. He followed one child, Fritz V., into adulthood. V. became a professor of astronomy and solved an error in Newton’s work he originally noticed as a child. Hans Asperger’s positive outlook contrasts strikingly with Leo Kanner's description of autism, of which Asperger's is often considered to be a high functioning form.
Near the end of the World War II, Hans Asperger opened a school for children with autistic psychopathy, with Sister Victorine. Sadly the school was bombed towards the end of the war, Sister Victorine was killed, the school was destroyed and much of Hans Asperger's early work was lost. It was this event that arguably delayed the understanding of autism spectrum conditions in the west.
Interestingly, as a child, Hans Asperger appears to have exhibited features of the very condition named after him. He was described as a remote and lonely child, who had difficulty making friends. He was talented in language; in particular he was interested in the Austrian poet Franz Grillparzer whose poetry he would frequently quote to his uninterested classmates.
- Further information: History of Asperger syndrome
Asperger died before his identification of this pattern of behaviour became widely recognised. This was in part due to his work being exclusively in German and as such it was little-translated; medical academics, then as now, also disregarded Asperger's work based on its merits or lack there-of. English researcher Lorna Wing proposed the condition Asperger's syndrome in a 1981 paper, Asperger's syndrome: a clinical account, that challenged the previously accepted model of autism presented by Leo Kanner in 1943. It was not until 1991 that an authoritative translation of Asperger's work was made by Uta Frith; before this AS had still been "virtually unknown". Frith said that fundamental questions regarding the diagnosis had not been answered, and the necessary scientific data to address this did not exist. Unlike Kanner, who overshadowed Asperger, the latter's findings were ignored and disregarded in the English-speaking world in his lifetime. In the early 1990s Asperger's work gained some notice due to Wing's research on the subject and Frith's recent translation, leading to the inclusion of the eponymous condition in the ICD-10 in 1993, and the DSM-IV in 1994, some half a century after Asperger's original research. Despite this brief resurgence of interest in his work in the 1990s, AS remains a controversial and contentious diagnosis due to its unclear relationship to the autism spectrum. The World Health Organization's ICD describes AS as "a disorder of uncertain nosological validity", and there is majority consensus to phase the diagnosis out of the American Psychiatric Association's diagnosis manual.
In his 1944 paper, as Uta Frith translated from the German in 1991, Asperger wrote,
We are convinced, then, that autistic people have their place in the organism of the social community. They fulfill their role well, perhaps better than anyone else could, and we are talking of people who as children had the greatest difficulties and caused untold worries to their care-givers.
Eric Schopler wrote in 1998:
Asperger's own publications did not inspire research, replication, or scientific interest prior to 1980. Instead, he laid the fertile groundwork for the diagnostic confusion that has grown since 1980.
- Irina Manouilenko (2015). Sukhareva--Prior to Asperger and Kanner. Nord J Psychiatry.
- What Are The Characteristics Of A Person With Asperger’s?. Mental Daily.
- Wing L (1981). Asperger's syndrome: a clinical account. Psychol Med 11 (1): 115–29.
- Baron-Cohen S, Klin A (2006). What's so special about Asperger Syndrome?. Brain Cogn 61 (1): 1–4.
- Frith, Uta (1991). Autism and Asperger Syndrome, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 2
- 299.80 Asperger's Disorder. DSM-5 Development. American Psychiatric Association. URL accessed on 2010-12-21.
- Asperger H; translated and annotated by Frith U  (1991). "'Autistic psychopathy' in childhood" Frith U Autism and Asperger syndrome, 37–92, Cambridge University Press.
- Eric Schopler (1998). "Premature Popularization of Asperger Syndrome" Asperger Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism?, Plenum Press.
- Asperger, H. (1944), Die 'Autistischen Psychopathen' im Kindesalter, Archiv fur Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, 117, pp.76-136.
- Asperger, H. (1968), Zur Differentialdiagnose des Kindlichen Autismus, Acta paedopsychiatrica, 35, pp.136-145.
- Asperger, H. (1979), Problems of Infantile Autism, Communication, 13, pp.45-52.
- Frith, U, (1991)(ed.) Autism and Asperger Syndrome (Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-38608-X) — in which Asperger's 1944 paper is translated and annotated
- Frith, U. (1991). Asperger and his syndrome. In U. Frith (Ed.), Autism and Asperger Syndrome. (pp. 1-36). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Full text
- Asperger's syndrome: a clinical account — abstract
- International Asperger's Year listserv
- Online Asperger Syndrome Information & Support