Hans Asperger

Hans Asperger

Hans Asperger (Feb. 18, 1906-October 21, 1980) was the Austrian psyciatrist and pediatrician after whom Asperger’s Syndrome is named.

Asperger conducted studies in Vienna during World War II on exceptionally gifted, yet withdrawn children. He published the first definition of Asperger’s Syndrome in 1944.  In four boys, he identified a pattern of behavior 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.” Asperger called children with AS “little professors” because of their ability to talk about their favorite subject in great detail.

Ironically, as a child Hans Asperger may have shown symptoms of the condition named after him.  He was described as a remote and lonely child, who had difficulty making friends. He was talented in language, in particular he was interested in the German poet Franz Grillparzer whose poetry he would frequently quote to his uninterested classmates.

Asperger died in 1980 before his identification of this pattern of behaviour became widely recognized because his work was mostly in German and little-translated. The first person to use the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” in a paper was British researcher Lorna Wing in her 1981 paper, Asperger’s syndrome: a clinical account, which challenged the previously accepted model of autism presented by Leo Kanner in 1943.  Kanner’s work had been translated into English sooner following World War II creating a strong stereotype for autism long before Asperger’s work was translated and widely distributed.  One of the key differentiators in Asperger’s opinion of high-functioning autistic children was that upon becoming adults, Aspergians had the capability to become overachieving adults and invaluable contributors to society.