Change the name of Asperger’s syndrome

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The Austrian doctor after whom Asperger syndrome is named was an active participant in the Nazi regime, assisting in the Third Reich’s so called euthanasia programme and supporting the concept of racial hygiene by deeming certain children unworthy to live, according to a study by a medical historian.

Herwig Czech, from Vienna’s Medical University, has made the claim in an academic paper published in the open access journal Molecular Autism, following eight years of research into the paediatrician Hans Asperger.

Asperger is hailed as a pioneer in the field of child psychiatry and paediatrics, particularly for his groundbreaking contribution to the understanding of Asperger syndrome and the autism spectrum.

But by unearthing previously untouched documents from state archives, including Asperger’s personnel files and patient case records, Czech has revealed a scientist who allied himself so closely with the Nazi ideology that he frequently referred children to the Am Spiegelgrund clinic, which was set up as a collecting point for children who failed to conform to the regime’s criteria of “worthy to live”.

Nearly 800 children died at the clinic between 1940 and 1945, many of whom were murdered under the notorious child “euthanasia” scheme.

In a joint statement, the editors of Molecular Autism – Simon Baron-Cohen, Ami Klin, Steve Silberman and Joseph Buxbaum – said they welcomed the fact that Czech’s “meticulous research” had finally thrown light on decades of scepticism about Asperger’s claims that he had taken a caring approach to his patients.

“The degree of Asperger’s involvement in the targeting of Vienna’s most vulnerable children has remained an open and vexing question in autism research for a long time,” they wrote in a joint statement.

At the time the term Asperger syndrome was first coined in London in 1981, by Dr Lorna Wing, they added, “She and we as scientists and clinicians, as well as the broader autism community, were unaware of Hans Asperger’s close alliance with, and support of, the Nazi programme of compulsory sterilisation and euthanasia.”

Although he was the first to recognise it, I do not believe that Hans Asperger deserves to be remembered when someone is diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, the people who live with this condition shouldn’t have to live with his name being on their medical reports and so I beg of the World Health Organisation to rename this condition.


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