Asperger’s Children by Edith Sheffer review – the origins of autism in Nazi Vienna


This post is by Ian Thomson from Books | The Guardian


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In popular legend, Asperger was an Oskar Schindler figure who shielded his charges from euthanasia. The truth is more uncomfortable

In nursing homes across the Third Reich, children diagnosed with “autistic spectrum disorder” (as it might be termed today) were systematically murdered. Caring for these “useless mouths” drained the Aryan state. It was best they died by lethal injection (the so-called “nursing cure”). Not all Nazi attempts to cleanse society medically resulted in murder. In Vienna during the Anschluss, Austrian paediatrician Hans Asperger had begun to view autism as a developmental condition rather than a form of “idiocy” to be eradicated. The juveniles in his care exhibited strange behavioural traits such as hand- flapping and other forms of “stimming” (repetitive body movements) that required unorthodox teaching methods commensurate with their “psychopathy”. In popular legend, Asperger was an Oskar Schindler figure who shielded his charges from euthanasia.

At the same time ...