In a Psychology Today article published earlier today, John Elder Robison, published a story regarding downright despicable revelations about Hans Asperger.
“I had some doubts about Asperger’s kindness already. Several years ago, in my role on government autism committees, I listened to allegations of all the ‘new things’ that were appearing in autistic kids. In response, I asked the folks at NIH’s Office of Autism Research Coordination where I might find the original writings of both Kanner and Asperger. When I read them, I was struck by Asperger’s cold tone. At the time I thought, ‘This guy was no friend of my kind.’ I’d heard Kanner thought we belonged in institutions, but his writing felt gentler. People pooh-poohed that, saying Asperger was just talking as a conservative German in the 1930s. Others said he had to be careful because of the Nazis looking over his shoulder.”
Asperger, as you probably know (or could easily guess), is the man for whom “Asperger’s Syndrome” is named. There has been much speculation Hans Asperger fudged the abilities of autistic children, in order to save them from the Nazis. He has long been considered a kindly savior of autistic children, while most people believe Leo Kanner (one of Asperger’s contemporaries) thought we needed to be institutionalized. There are many who insist Asperger wasn’t a member of the Nazi party, but as Robison has written, it seems Asperger identified as a candidate for the Nazi Doctor’s Association on a job application. It seems that Asperger may not have been the altruistic doctor portrayed in secondhand stories from World War II.
As Robison suggests, everyone can read both Neurotribes and A Different Key to make their own conclusions. I’d also suggest doing your own research before coming to conclusions of your own. However, having read Robison’s article, it makes me ponder… when is the autism community going to give up on utilizing the label of Asperger’s?
The people I’ve encountered who use the Asperger’s label – especially those who refer to themselves or their kid as “aspie” – tend to fall on the side of elitism and are desperately holding onto that diagnosis – which no longer applies, nor should it – usually as a way to separate themselves from their autistic peers. What’s so terrible about being autistic that they can’t accept their authentic neurology? The same goes for parents who insist their child has Asperger’s Syndrome and refuses to refer to their child as “autistic” under any circumstances. Why are they so afraid of the autism diagnosis? Yet another reason we need to work to get rid of the negative stigma autism holds.
While I do not advocate person-first language, with regard to being autistic, I do respect the individual’s right to identify their own neurology. If someone chooses to be identified as someone “with autism” as opposed to being autistic, I may disagree with their choice, but I won’t fight them on it. I won’t fight someone who chooses to identify as having Asperger’s and I won’t individually call someone out for referring to themselves as “an aspie”… but I will definitely stick to personal beliefs on the matter.
As I’ve written in my post on functional levels, I believe Asperger’s Syndrome was absorbed into the general DSM for autism with good reason:
…we’re all autistic and there shouldn’t be these imaginary levels dividing us. All autistic individuals need – and deserve – access to the same supports and services as others on the spectrum, some just require them in different ways or for shorter amounts of time. Does that mean they should be overlooked? No.
So let’s move past these divisive forms, levels, or flavors… let’s accept that we’re autistic and work together to secure supports & services for those who need it.
And now that more damning information is coming to light about Hans Asperger, I have to ask: isn’t it time to retire that label and move toward accepting yourself/your child as autistic?