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ASPERGER'S SYNDROME HISTORY

It is likely that Asperger's Syndrome has been around a very, very long time before any publication was made describing it or before it was given any official title or name. In 1926, Eva Sucharewa, a Russian neurological scientific assistant, wrote a paper referring to the "Schizoid Personality of Childhood" in an account of 6 boys and their behavioural habits, which very strongly resembled the findings that Hans Asperger would later make, in both detail and content.

Had Ssuchewera's study been translated into English in 1926, the condition that millions of other people across the world have would nowadays be called Sucharewa's Syndrome, rather than Asperger's Syndrome. I think Asperger's Syndrome is easier to pronounce though! Like Asperger's findings eighteen years later, her findings attracted no attention or interest in the English speaking world at the time. This was opportunity number one missed.

Leo Kanner, who never once met or mentioned Hans Asperger in any of his writings or speeches, even though Asperger mentioned him and his findings in a 1979 publication, mentioned Eva Sucharewa's findings, briefly, in a 1971 publication, but he didn't delve any deeper or make them known more widely in the English speaking world. This was opportunity number two missed.

There is no evidence that Hans Asperger, an Austrian paediatrician, was aware of the writings of Ssucharewa when he published his first paper on the condition which was to be named after him, in February 1944, only a few months after Leo Kanner's publication. Hans Asperger studied medicine in Austria and specialised in Paediatrics. His findings had been made over the previous few years, like Kanner's had, and seemingly concerned the behaviour of four boys, who were between the ages of 6 and 11. However, Dr. Günter Krämer, of Zürich, who knew Hans Asperger well, stated after Asperger's death that his findings were "based on investigations of more than 400 children". Perhaps they were, but only the cases of those particular four were published.

Whatever the number of subjects, Asperger identified a pattern of behaviour 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".

Hans Asperger called children with AS, "little professors" because of their ability to talk about their favourite subject in great detail. He followed one child, Fritz V., into adulthood. Fritz V. became a professor of astronomy and solved an error in Newton's work, which he had originally noticed as a child. Hans Asperger noticed that many of his subjects found it difficult to interact in a socially correct way and stated that much of their behaviour was "Odd" or "Unusual".

The subjects did not engage in many of the "bizarre" body movements like those of the children that Kanner dealt with. In Asperger's subjects, no abnormality was seen until they were about 3 years of age.


Hans Asperger employed an empathetic and gifted Nurse and Teacher named Sister Viktorine, or Viktorine Zak, as she was called. They opened a school for children with AS in October 1944 which developed programes for children with AS, involving music, speech therapy, play and exercise. However, the school only lasted for four months. It was destroyed during an allied air raid towards the end of 1944. Sister Viktorine was killed, and as a result, much of Hans Asperger's work was lost. This event severely delayed any understanding of Autistic spectrum conditions in the western world. As a result, no interest was shown in Asperger's findings in the English speaking world, where they would be totally ignored and disregarded in the English speaking world throughout his lifetime.

All you Aspies out there can blame World War II for that. That was opportunity number three missed. It was justice the Nazis were defeated, but I wish the allies had dropped their bombs elsewhere during that air raid, or at least would have missed the clinic.

Asperger's later observations, made after the war, were published in Austria and written in the German language. Kanner's findings were published in English. If Asperger had emigrated to the United States when World War II started in September 1939, his condition would have been recognised probably in the 1950's or 1960's.

Due to Kanner's findings being translated in English, from the 1950's and early 1960's onwards, they became universally recognised. The National Autistic Society was formed in 1962 in Britain, by parents of 12 Autistic children to help the parents and families of those with Kanner's Syndrome or classic Autism.

The stereotype of Autism in popular opinion became firmly fixed. Children who had it sat in the corner of a room, couldn't talk, were engrossed in their own world, rocked, watched objects spinning constantly and were of low intelligence but sometimes had savant abilities out of step with their low intelligence, though their severe communication difficulties will have largely led to this idea.

Hans Asperger, who some people believe demonstrated several traits of the conditions which would later be named after him, died in Vienna on Tuesday 21st October 1980, at the age of 74.

I don't know who was the first person to be diagnosed with AS in Britain or when they were diagnosed but in the same year as Leo Kanner's death, at the age of 86, on Saturday 4th April 1981, the set of behavioural symptoms observed by Asperger observed back in 1944 received a mention in a paper published by Lorna Wing. This mention was the beginning of the condition being recognised in the United Kingdom, and I suppose in the rest of the English-speaking world as well.

As no doubt you will have noticed by now, Kanner and Asperger's findings were published within a year of each other (1943 and 1944) and they died within six months of each other.


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