Science and medicine

Asperger's children

Asperger's children
  • Publisher: Marsilius
  • Publication: July 30 2020
  • Pages: 336 p., Paperback
  • ISBN / EAN: 9788829705245

Edith Sheffer, a historian and researcher at the Institute for European Studies at the University of California, uses her personal experience as the mother of an autistic child to explore the roots of Asperger's diagnosis. In doing so she offers us a unique perspective that combines academic rigor and personal sensitivity.

Vienna and Psychiatry in the 30s and 40s

Vienna, at the time Hans Asperger was developing his theories, was a center of cultural and scientific innovation. However, the city was also a place of great political and social tensions. After the First World War, Vienna faced an economic crisis and increasing social inequality. The eugenics movement gained ground by proposing "scientific" solutions to improve the population.

In this context, child psychiatry became a tool for identifying and separating children considered "problematic". Asperger's curative pedagogy was part of a system that aimed to conform children to Nazi ideals of productivity and social conformity.

The Work of Hans Asperger

Hans Asperger was known for his detailed and personalized approach to caring for children. He believed that many children, if properly guided, could overcome their difficulties and integrate into society. However, his classification of "autistic psychopathy" was also used to justify the exclusion and elimination of those who did not fit his "recoverable" criteria.

Asperger and his colleagues observed children in controlled environments, noting every detail of their behavior. These studies were the basis of their decisions about who could be "saved" and who should be transferred to Spiegelgrund, an internment camp for children with alleged mental handicaps. This selection process was profoundly influenced by the eugenic ideology of the time.

Collaboration with the Nazi Regime

Sheffer documents how Asperger and his colleagues actively collaborated with Nazi authorities. Although Asperger was not a member of the Nazi Party, he operated within a system that aimed to purify the Aryan race through the elimination of individuals deemed unfit. His role in moving the children to the Spiegelgrund, where many were killed, is a dark and indelible stain on his legacy.

Asperger justified these actions by stating that children with severe disabilities could not be integrated into society and that their elimination was necessary for the good of the community. However, these justifications were often based on prejudices and arbitrary criteria, reflecting the cruel realities of psychiatry.

Rediscovery and spread of Asperger syndrome

In the 80s the Asperger diagnosis was rediscovered by British psychiatrist Lorna Wing, who promoted it as a distinct category within the autism spectrum. This rediscovery led to greater awareness and acceptance of neurodiverse differences, but also raised questions about the origins and implications of this diagnosis.

Sheffer highlights how Asperger syndrome, while helpful to many, has roots in a historical period marked by oppressive ideologies. The diagnosis reflected the values ​​and priorities of Nazi society, which sought to conform individuals to an ideal of Aryan perfection.

Ethical and Moral Implications

Sheffer's book raises important ethical and moral questions regarding the complicity of doctors in the genocidal policies of the Third Reich. Asperger's story demonstrates how medical diagnoses can be used to justify inhumane practices invites critical reflection on how psychiatric theories are influenced by the political and social ideologies of their time.

Sheffer invites readers to consider the implications of modern psychiatric diagnoses and to reflect on how these may be shaped by forces outside of science. Asperger's story is a powerful warning about the need to carefully examine medical practices and consider their ethical and moral implications.

"Asperger's Children" by Edith Sheffer is a fundamental work for understanding the historical origins of the diagnosis of autism and the ethical implications of psychiatric practices. The book highlights the contradictions of Hans Asperger's work and the context in which his theories developed. Through a detailed analysis of historical documents, Sheffer raises important questions about how medical diagnoses can be influenced by political and social ideologies.

Asperger's story invites us to reflect critically on the origins of psychiatric theories and their impact on society. Diagnoses, as Sheffer demonstrates, are not neutral, but are shaped by the values ​​and beliefs of their time. This book is a powerful warning about the need to carefully examine medical practices and consider their ethical and moral implications.

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