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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Changing the Name of Asperger's Syndrome

In The Politics of Autism, I write about the dangers of eugenics and euthanasia.

In A Different Key, John Donvan and Caren Zucker found that Dr. Hans Asperger worked with Nazis in Austria.  We are now learning more details. 

Edith Sheffer, author of Asperger's Children, spoke to NPR's Michel Martin:
I came to this research because my son was diagnosed with autism and Asperger's syndrome. That's one of the reasons it's so complicated because the diagnostic criteria are overlapping. And like any parent, I read what I could about the diagnosis. And the blurbs that I found in parent manuals or online or on his Wikipedia page, as you said, described him in these heroic terms. My very first file that I looked at in the archives, however, was his district Nazi Party file that was reporting on his political reliability. And there were about 20 documents, and they're commenting on his support for the regime's racial hygiene measures, for his support for sterilization policy, racial policy. There was a document written by an SS officer saying that while Asperger was in a position to expose activities that were happening, he chose not to. So really, from the very first file. And to me, it's very surprising that this history has not come out yet.
There are a few reasons why I think we should get rid of the name. One has to do with medical ethics. Eponymous diagnoses are granted to honor individuals who are describing a condition for the first time and to commend their work as human beings. And in my opinion, Asperger merits neither. The second reason to rename the diagnosis is that it no longer exists as an official diagnosis according to the American Psychiatric Association. In 2013, it was reclassified as autism spectrum disorder. And so today, you can't receive a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome in the United States. It remains an official diagnosis in other countries that go by the World Health Organization's standard, but even that is being reclassified because it's seen as indistinct from other criteria for autism.