The Vermont Cynic

Asperger’s shocking truth


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Dr. Hans Asperger is a godsend for anyone with Asperger’s Syndrome for giving the disorder a name and allowing people to get the help they need.

Unfortunately, Asperger’s work has also been marred by apparent connections to Nazism.

Rumors have swirled for years that Asperger was a Nazi sympathizer.

First, he lived in Austria and worked at the University of Vienna when Germany annexed the country in 1938 and turned the university into a place to study how to achieve their twisted racial vision.

However, before this happened, Asperger was studying children teachers thought were not bright.

Instead of deeming them less intelligent, like their teachers did, Asperger took the time to figure out what was going on.

He found these children had certain disabilities, but also many abilities.

He concluded that the disabilities these children showed were inseparable from their abilities.

Without the disabilities, they wouldn’t be as bright as they are in certain subjects.

Accusations of Nazi sympathies are not without merit, however. He signed papers with “Heil Hitler,” frequently referenced high-functioning children in his talks, signed a paper that sent a young disabled girl to her death and served on a board that decided which children with disabilities lived and which died.

Yet there is plenty of information to refute these claims. First and foremost, Asperger never joined the Nazi Party, according to Steve Silberman in a Jan. 20 NPR article.

Nearly everyone else in his department did, but he never did so.

If he was a sympathizer, why wouldn’t he join the party? That would be the easiest way for him to stay out of trouble and out of sight – but he didn’t.

Second, signing things “Heil Hitler” was likely a ploy to make it seem like he was on the Nazis’ side.

If he wanted to stay out of the camps to continue his research, he needed to act like he was a Hitler supporter.

The reason he only talked about high-functioning children was probably because of a Nazi rule that lower functioning children would be put to death had just gone into effect, and he wanted to protect those children.

Why would he spend all of his time trying to figure out what was going on with these kids, only for them to be killed?

That Asperger served on a board to decide which children lived and died is undoubtedly horrible.

However, he may have used this position to save children that otherwise would have been killed.

Even though that was a terrible thing for Asperger to have done, he may have saved many children’s lives in the process.

Signing the order that sent a girl to her death was awful and despicable, no doubt, but that does not make him a Nazi sympathizer; it makes him a person who had to make a horrific decision to save other children.

Most importantly, it doesn’t matter whether you believe Asperger was a Nazi or not – his research is what is important.

It was Asperger who found that autism was a spectrum, and that with the right support in place, people with this disability can live great lives.

It needs to be recognized that not everything is clear cut.

Dr. Asperger wasn’t completely evil or completely good– no one is. 

Certain things that he did were bad- working for the Nazi party, whether he wanted to or not, was definitely one of those things.

But he also gave a name to a disorder so people they can get the support they need.

Though we need to recognize that Asperger worked with and under a despicable regime, we also need to focus on the benefits of what he studied.

We can take the information we learned from these studies to better society and the people in it now.

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Asperger’s shocking truth