Other Known Aliases – High-functioning autism
Definition – This syndrome is part of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) classification in DSM-V, but still is a distinct entity in the WHO International Classification of Disease. It is characterized by persistent impairment in reciprocal social communication and social interaction with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
Clinical Significance – Children diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, or high-functioning ASD, have varying degree of social and/or behavioral impairments. It is on the lower end of the ASD spectrum and these children often have normal to higher level of measured intelligence at school, but struggle with social interactions, following specific directions, and meeting deadlines, which then negatively impact their progression through school. Early identification by school and medical staff can mitigate these deficiencies and help these children flourish in their formative years.
History – Named after Johann Friedrich Karl Asperger (1906-1980), who was an Austrian pediatrician and received his medical doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1931. He published extensively on behavioral disorders in children and termed the phrase “autistic psychopathy” in 1944 based on earlier work by Russian neurologist Grunya Sukhareva. His work garnered little contemporary acclaim and it wasn’t until Lorna Wing, an English researched, proposed the condition as Asperger’s syndrome in 1981. This caused a resurgence in translating Asperger’s work in the early 1990’s and inclusion in the DSM-IV in 1994. As a result of this increased fervor into his work, it was also discovered that Asperger was a eugenicist during the Nazi campaign, believed that “in the majority of the cases the positive aspects of autism do not outweigh the negative ones”, and even sent children from his center to the Spiegelgrund clinic, which participated in euthanasia program of the Nazi regime.
Personal Side Note – I have been struggling recently on whether to include eponyms that were named after individuals that achieved historical and medical notoriety through abhorrent means. I had originally planned NOT to give any of these individuals further recognition on the podcast, but I feel I would be doing a disservice to the patients that were affected by these individuals. As a result, I will publish this disclaimer on these episodes and a statement that this eponym will no longer be used on the blog or podcast after the ep-pain-nym segment and ask that you do the same.
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- Asperger JK. Die “Autistischen Psychopathen” im Kindesalter. Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten. 1944;117(1):132–135
- Wing L. Asperger’s syndrome: a clinical account. Psychological medicine. 1981; 11(1):115-29. [pubmed]
- Frith, Uta (January 1992). “‘Autistic psychopathy’ in childhood”. Autism and Asperger syndrome (First ed.). NewYork: Cambridge University Press. pp. 37–92. ISBN978-0521386081.
- Sheffer, Edith (2018). Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna. W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN978-0-393-60964-6.
- Skull, Andrew (December 13, 2018). “De-Nazifying the “DSM”: On “Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna””. Los Angeles Review of Books.