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Hans Asperger: How He Changed the Future of Autism Diagnosis

written by: Michelle Burton • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 9/14/2010

Hans Asperger is credited with compiling the precise characteristics and behaviors exhibited by individuals with Asperger's syndrome and autism. As a result, children with these disorders are not treated as mental patients, but rather unique individuals with a unique, but treatable, condition.

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    Who is Hans Asperger?

    Hans Asperger was born more than a century ago just outside Vienna, Austria. The oldest of three boys, Asperger was born into a farming family, but those around him knew early on that Asperger was different. Asperger had a special interest in quoting the Austrian national poet Franz Grillparzer (and himself), and he was quiet, reticent, and clumsy. These characteristics are common to individuals with Asperger’s syndrome.

    It has not been determined whether or not Asperger had the personality disorder he is credited with pinpointing and coining. What has been determined is that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome have specific talents that can lead to successful employment and life-long relationships. In fact, many might be considered brilliant. So consider this, Hans Asperger was a doctor, a medical officer, Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Vienna, author of more than 300 publications, well-versed in the classics, art, history, and literature, and gifted in the use of German language. Asperger was also a husband and father of five.

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    Asperger and Autistic Personality Disorder

    In 1944, Dr. Hans Asperger noticed that many of the children who were referred to his office by other facilities exhibited many of the same behaviors and personality characteristics. According to author and clinical psychologist Dr. Tony Attwood, by the mid-1940s, the psychological study of childhood in America and Europe had become a recognized and growing area of science with significant advances in descriptions, theoretical models, and assessment instruments. Despite this, Dr. Asperger could not find a description or explanation for the behavior he witnessed in so many of his young patients.

    Asperger did not fear his patients, nor did he see them as schizophrenic. He was intrigued by them. As a result, Asperger suggested the term Autistischen Psychopathen im Kindesalter. This term describes the patient's personality rather than a mental illness. This meant that autistic personality disorder would not be pegged a “mental condition" that must be treated with multiple medications, but rather a “natural continuum of abilities that merge into the normal range." In short, as a result of Asperger’s research and observations, individuals with autistic personality disorder or Asperger’s syndrome are viewed as having a life-long and stable personality type without the disintegration and fragmentation that occurs with schizophrenia.

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    Asperger and Autism Diagnosis

    Hans Asperger’s observations and research have been described as remarkable. Without them, today’s medical professionals might not have a solid set of difficulties and abilities that are common to autistic children. In addition, Asperger was the first to note that the parents appeared to have some of the same personality characteristics as their child. This gave rise to the notion that autistic personality disorder can be due to genetic or neurological factors rather than psychological or environmental factors.

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    Asperger’s Notes: Diagnosing Autistic Personality Disorder

    Hans Asperger could identify the following characteristics in children as young as two to three years of age.

    • Delayed social maturity and social reasoning
    • Unusual social abilities at any stage of development
    • Difficulty making friends
    • Verbal and non-verbal communication impairments, especially conversational aspects of language
    • Pedantic language
    • Unusual prosody that affects tone, pitch, and rhythm of speech
    • Advanced grammar and vocabulary, but the inability to have a typical age-appropriate conversation
    • Impaired communication and control of emotions
    • The tendency to intellectualize feelings
    • Empathy is not mature as one would expect, considering the patient’s intellectual abilities
    • Egocentric preoccupation with a specific topic of interest that dominate thoughts and time
    • Difficulty maintaining attention in class
    • Specific learning problems
    • Assistance with self-help and organizational skills
    • Clumsiness in terms of gait and coordination
    • Sensitivity to sounds, aromas, textures, and touch

    Today, the average age for a diagnosis of a child with Asperger’s or other autistic spectrum disorder is between 8 and 11 years.

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    References

    1. The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London and Philadelphia, 2007

    2. National University Library System: http://www.springerlink.com.ezproxy.nu.edu/content/n00w0xl46510v681/

    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

    Volume 37, Number 10, 2020-2021, DOI: 10.1007/s10803-007-0382-4

    Did Hans Asperger (1906–1980) have Asperger Syndrome?

    Viktoria Lyons and Michael Fitzgerald

    3. National University Library System: http://www.springerlink.com.ezproxy.nu.edu/content/m55051670u35066p/

    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

    Volume 37, Number 10, 2022-2023, DOI: 10.1007/s10803-007-0383-3

    Letter to the Editor

    Asperger (1906–1980) and Kanner (1894–1981), the two pioneers of autism,Viktoria Lyons and Michael Fitzgerald

    4. National University Library System: Britannica Online Academic Edition http://search.eb.com/eb/article-9474473