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Hans Asperger : Facing the Facts

Hans Asperger and the Syndrome Named After Him

Who was Hans Asperger? His name is famous since one of the autism spectrum disorders is named after him, but what else does history teach about this great physician? Perhaps the quickest facts that sum up his life deal with his lifetime spent in Vienna where he worked as a paediatric physician at the University Children’s Hospital.

Considered a pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome – as it relates to the umbrella of disorders under which it falls, autism – was officially defined in 1944. Dr. Asperger worked with four test subjects who exhibited similar symptomatic psychopathic behaviour.  He notated that they had an apparent unwillingness to interact with others and actually befriend peers, suffered from an insufficient ability to empathize with others, tended to be clumsier than other children their age, yet excelled academically in subjects that captured their interest.

He was known to refer to them repeatedly as his little professors. What sets apart Hans Asperger from contemporary physicians dealing with autism is his optimism. While his professional peers had only the direst outlooks for those individuals diagnosed in childhood with the condition, Dr. Asperger considered them uniquely able to put their special interest or talent to good use.

As other physicians sought to recommend institutionalization to parents who were unable to deal with children so different from their peers, Dr. Asperger opened the very first school for autistic children. Sadly, his early efforts were lost when the school and much of his written research burned during a bombing raid toward the end of Word War II.

Some suggest that the hospital was to help children who might have exhibited the same latent form of the disease which researchers now believe may have plagued him as a child. Although highly functioning, he might very well measure on the autism scale himself, based on some early records that describe him as a withdrawn child with an early penchant for language.

Success of his theories and recognition of his findings occurred posthumously in 1981 when his writings were translated and served another researcher to take on Leo Kanner and his rather negative slant on autism and the outlooks for individuals suffering from any form of the disorder.

A scant 10 years later his works exploded on the North American medical scene and since then he is one of the most revered autism disorder researchers recognized by families of sufferers and physicians alike, even naming a form of the disorder after him.

Now internationally recognized as denoting a highly functioning form of autism, Asperger’s Syndrome is a diagnosis that sets a child on the path to getting the highly specialized help required so as to enable her or him to lead a full and happy life. It is known that one of Dr. Asperger’s patients went on to correct a mistake made in Newton’s calculations of astronomy, while another won a Nobel Prize in literature.

The differences he made in these lives when the individuals were still children are most likely contributory to their later adult success.

Facing the Facts of Asperger’s Syndrome

Whether you are a parent of a young child only recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, or the parent of a child who seems to be struggling with the symptoms of the condition on a daily basis, facing the facts of Asperger’s Syndrome is a crucial exercise for anyone who is a caretaker to an individual affected with the condition. It does not matter how the person is, how long they have lived with the diagnosis, and what the strength of the symptoms might be, the fact that this is an incurable condition that some consider a disability while others simply find it a matter of being differently able does mot make life with it any easier.

Making matters worse for the caregiver are the many misconceptions about the condition which of course cause some people you and your child will interact with to act in wholly inappropriate ways. Much like some people will speak slowly and pedantically to someone who speaks a foreign language, they also adopt annoying and downright offensive mannerism when interacting with a child diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Facing the facts of the condition will help you clear up some commonly held misconceptions and also enable you to hang on to your cool, should you begin to take a lot of offense at what you and your child are enduring.

Perhaps the most important fact about Asperger’s Syndrome is the lack of mental retardation. It is uncertain where this misconception comes from, but a good many people assume that the condition is synonymous with a lowered IQ, which simply is not medically accurate. Granted, children with Asperger’s Syndrome do show a shorter attention span and find may have a harder time concentrating in the classroom, but they also have the power to learn vast amounts of information by rote and often have a much larger vocabulary than their peers.

Another fact that needs to be drilled into a good many people is the notion that someone suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome is not normally reclusive but more or less resorts to this kind of behaviour as a coping mechanism to escape taunts and bullying. Too often it is assumed that leaving the child alone is the best course of action, when dealing with the bully is instead the better way of handling the problem. Children with Asperger’s Syndrome are just as eager to have a vibrant social life as those considered “normal” but because of the social backlash they experience when their symptoms expose their condition, this is sometimes not as easy.

When caregivers and parents face the facts head on, are willing to advocate for their kids in the school setting and in any other setting, and also find ways of educating teachers, family members, and parents of peers, the effect is stunning. A little bit of education goes a long way and soon the inappropriate reactions to the child’s Asperger’s Syndrome go by the wayside. Since you have nothing to lose but everything to gain, you will be wise to implement an aggressive education program that makes it possible for your child to have meaningful interactions with others.