“‘NeuroTribes,’ by Steve Silberman”

“Over his many years at the Children’s Clinic in Vienna, Hans Asperger studied more than 200 children he would ultimately treat for what he called autistische Psychopathen (autistic psychopathy)… When he finally shared his findings with the world, the only reason he focused on his higher-­functioning patients, Silberman contends, was a chilling function of the era: The ­Nazis, on a mad campaign to purge the land of the “feebleminded,” were euthanizing institutionalized children with abandon. In so doing, Asper­ger accidentally gave the impression that autism was a rarefied condition among young gen­iuses, not the common syndrome he knew it to be. His paper on the subject, published in 1944, remained unavailable in English for decades, and his records were “buried with the ashes of his clinic,” which was bombed the same year.
Meanwhile, in the United States, a brilliant, energetic child psychiatrist named Leo Kanner was developing a radically different picture of autism, one that stipulated the condition was uncommon and unique, affecting only young children (anyone older was schizophrenic, psychotic — anything else) and, though biological in origin, somehow activated by cold and withholding parents. “By blaming parents for inadvertently causing their children’s autism,” Silberman writes, “Kanner made his syndrome a source of shame and stigma for families worldwide…because Kanner’s needle-­narrow definition of autism prevailed for so long, the public labored under the misapprehension that there was a sudden “epidemic” of autism when the DSM-III-R, published in 1987 (and just as critically, the DSM-IV in 1994), finally expanded the definition to include those who had slipped through the sieve for ­decades.”
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