Hans Asperger and His Patients
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Although Hans Asperger’s name has been used to describe a much-discussed syndrome, relatively little is known about his work or his person. Unlike Leo Kanner’s description of early infantile autism (1943), Asperger’s thesis for postdoctoral lecture qualifications on boys with autistic psychopathy (1944) remained unknown to the international readership until Wing’s seminal paper in 1981 and Frith’s translation of his original text in 1991. This may be partly due to the fact that Asperger missed or even rejected the possibility of going beyond a qualitative, phenomenological description towards a more systematic approach of conceptualizing defining features. He was not interested in conducting large studies but preferred the act of observation as a means to gain insight into the “underlying laws that govern life” (Asperger-Felder, 2000). Apart from the four cases Asperger outlined in his 1944 thesis, no information is available on the nearly 400 patients with autistic psychopathy he once said he saw during the course of his professional career. In general, few empirical studies exist on the later social adaptation of individuals with the syndrome. Ironically, especially in Austria, Asperger’s home country, awareness of Asperger syndrome (AS) has only just re-developed. A large number of affected children, and even more adults, still go undiagnosed or receive a series of misdiagnoses until they finally obtain the correct diagnosis, which is often highly frustrating for individuals with AS and their parents alike. This chapter aims to give some background information on the person, Hans Asperger, and the most important milestones of his life and career. A short section presents the literature on outcome and prognosis of individuals
with AS or similar disorders (which may be identical to AS but have various other labels). Third, some selected results of a follow-up study of former patients of Hans Asperger and of his followers in Austria are outlined.