Ari Ne'eman Profile picture
Apr 19, 2018 23 tweets 5 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
Some thoughts on today's paper in @MolecularAutism regarding Hans Asperger's complicity in Nazi crimes against people with disabilities. (Thread)…
The paper makes a fairly compelling case that Hans Asperger was complicit in the Nazi eugenics project, using a wealth of documentary evidence that the author is to be commended for compiling. (1)
The paper has some flaws - for example, it criticizes @stevesilberman's NeuroTribes for not including this info on Asperger, when the author is very aware that the reason for this is that he declined to make his research available to Silberman. But overall, it's very solid. (2)
There are some who may look with distress on the news that Asperger - for whom a considerable portion of the autism spectrum was named for almost two decades - was a Nazi. Some may feel this hurts the neurodiversity movement. I strongly disagree. (3)
First, it has been many years since the bulk of the autistic community identified under the Asperger's or "Aspie" diagnosis. Today, Autistic identity is more closely associated with the word "autism" alone. (4)
The word "Asperger's" was useful for a time to help remedy the harmful effects of Leo Kanner's overly narrow and restrictive definition of autism - but in that, it has served its purpose. Autism today is understood as broader than Kanner's definition. (5)
Had this revelation emerged a decade ago, when Asperger's was still a closely held identity and a tool to broaden the public's understanding of autism, we would've been in for a far more difficult time. (6)
But today, we are largely beyond that - and our community should be mature enough to move beyond lionizing clinicians and to find our heroes within the ranks of the #ActuallyAutistic. (7)
Second, the DSM-5 combined Asperger's into a larger autism diagnosis in part because it had both outlived its clinical usefulness and its separation had become actively harmful. (8)
I served as an adviser to the DSM-5 Neurodevelopmental Workgroup, which made that decision, and pushed for a unified autism diagnosis. There were several good reasons for that. (9)
Steven Kapp, my autistic collaborator in that work within ASAN, and I both agreed with the research that showed that Asperger's, PDD-NOS and Autistic Disorder were being used inconsistently, without any clear and consistent distinguishing features. (10)
The diagnosis you got had more to do with the doctor you went to and at what stage in your life you were then any actual traits or features you might have. Some people got all three at different points. (11)
In addition, the separation was being used as a political tool to attack Autistic people with opinions. Anyone who disagreed with a prominent "autism parent" voice was accused of "just having Asperger's", even if that wasn't their diagnosis. (12)
This was (and is) especially ironic given that some of those same "autism parent" groups were willing to use incidence numbers that included Asperger's and PDD-NOS to claim an "autism epidemic" - but tried to discredit Autistic people they disagreed with w the dx. (13)
Perhaps most importantly, Asperger's and PDD-NOS were often being used to deny autistic children and adults access to services, for having the 'wrong' diagnosis. We wrote a policy brief outlining this that helped inform the DSM-5 change:… (14)
With that context, it's important not to overestimate the impact of this disclosure on our modern understanding of autism. The work of the last thirty years is not dependent on the virtue of a long dead Austrian physician. (15)
Similarly, we should not allow the way in which Asperger's Syndrome, during the life of that diagnosis, was useful in that progress to blind us to Asperger's complicity. (16)
Some might say that Asperger was under pressure - this is no doubt true - or that collaboration was not optional under the 1940s Nazi regime. This does a disservice to the brave people who acted to save Jews, disabled people and others targeted, at great risk to themselves. (17)
Those people were the exception, rather than the norm, not just because of their bravery but because of the systemic anti-Semitism and contempt for disabled life that pervaded German, Austrian and European culture at the time. (18)
Czech, despite some flaws, documents that Asperger was part of that culture and tried to whitewash his reputation after the war, to great success. (19)
Ultimately, there are some decisions whose moral consequences define us, well after we are gone and to the exclusion of all else. The decision to collaborate with the Nazi death machine is one of them. (20)
Like all human beings, those who did so were nuanced, complex people who had their own reasons for what they did - but their moral failure in that critical moment still defines them first and foremost as collaborators with the most evil regime the world has ever known. (21)
In short, we should pay Asperger no further honors - just as we should not allow this long overdue understanding of history to turn back the clock on the progress that Autistic people - the Nazi's victims - have won over the last several decades. (22)

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More from @aneeman

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This is a terrifying assault on people with disabilities, especially disabled people of color. It makes use of legal tools born of xenophobia and eugenic fear-mongering. #CripTheVote
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This Vox piece from @singlepayertom and @_Middleman says #MedicareForAll should mean zero cost-sharing. Medicare doesn't work that way - Medicaid does.…
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