The Enigmatic Legacy of Hans Asperger: Unraveling the Threads of Neurodiversity and Controversy

In this article, we delve into the life and research of Hans Asperger, a pivotal figure in the understanding of neurodiversity and psychology. We explore the historical context of his work, including his unfortunate association with the Nazi regime, and its impact on the perception of Asperger’s Syndrome. Furthermore, we examine the evolving diagnosis landscape and suggest alternatives for individuals previously diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.


Overview of Research

Hans Asperger’s research focused on children who displayed unique cognitive and behavioural patterns. In the 1940s, he observed a group of children whom he identified as having “autistic psychopathy” or “autistic psychopathic personalities.” Asperger recognized their social difficulties, intense interests, and exceptional abilities. His seminal work, published in 1944, shed light on a distinct group within the broader spectrum of autism, which later came to be known as Asperger’s Syndrome.

Contribution to the Understanding of Neurodiversity and Psychology

Asperger’s work was groundbreaking, providing crucial insights into the realm of neurodiversity. He emphasized the idea that neurological differences, such as those found in individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, should be embraced rather than pathologized. Asperger’s research contributed to the recognition of diverse cognitive styles and challenged the prevailing notion of normality in psychology.

Context of Research and Influences

Asperger’s work unfolded during a tumultuous period in history, as Nazi Germany’s grip tightened. It is important to note that Asperger’s association with the Nazi regime has caused significant controversy and scrutiny. While some argue that he actively collaborated with the regime, others propose that he may have been forced into compromising situations. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, the influence of Freud and his colleagues can be seen in Asperger’s work, particularly regarding the psychoanalytic perspectives on autism prevalent at the time.

The Nazi-Era and the Tragic Incident

It has recently come to light that, tragically, during the Nazi era, Asperger was involved in a program that handed over children to the Nazi authorities. This collaboration tarnished his name and had severe consequences for those children. It is conceivable that if Asperger had genuinely been a Nazi sympathizer, the children under his care would have been subjected to the Nazi’s child research program. However, the extent of Asperger’s involvement remains a subject of debate, and it is plausible that he may have been coerced into unspeakable actions for what he perceived as the greater good.

Asperger’s Syndrome: An Ideal Diagnosis

For many individuals, an Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis was seen as an ideal classification. It allowed for recognition and understanding of their unique strengths and challenges. Asperger’s Syndrome encompassed individuals with high intelligence and preserved language skills, whose primary struggle lay in social interactions. The diagnosis fostered a sense of identity and community among those affected, enabling tailored support and interventions.

Impact of Nazi Collaboration and the Shift to Autism Spectrum

The revelation of Asperger’s involvement with the Nazi regime had profound consequences for the perception of Asperger’s Syndrome. The stigma associated with his name necessitated a reconsideration of the diagnosis. Consequently, in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” was subsumed under the umbrella term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD). This rebranding aimed to dissociate the diagnosis from its problematic historical associations.

Finding an Appropriate Diagnosis

As the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” has been phased out, it is important to find an appropriate replacement that adequately reflects the experiences of individuals previously diagnosed with it. While “High Functioning Autism” has been used, it may still be lengthy and lack precision. Alternative suggestions include “Autism Level 1” or “Autism without Intellectual Disability.” The focus should be on finding a diagnosis that honours the individual’s unique profile while ensuring inclusivity and understanding.

A Way Forward: Embracing Neurodiversity

Moving forward, it is essential to acknowledge the complex legacy of Hans Asperger while separating his contributions to understanding neurodiversity from his association with the Nazi regime. The focus should shift towards embracing the concept of neurodiversity, recognizing and celebrating the diverse ways in which the human brain functions. By fostering inclusivity, and understanding, and providing tailored support, society can pave the way for a more accepting future for individuals across the entire autism spectrum.


In summary, the research of Hans Asperger provided a crucial foundation for understanding the unique characteristics and strengths of individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome. However, his association with the Nazi regime has cast a shadow over his work. The subsequent rebranding of Asperger’s Syndrome as part of the broader Autism Spectrum reflects the need to dissociate the diagnosis from its troubled history. Moving forward, it is imperative to adopt diagnoses that promote inclusivity and celebrate the richness of neurodiversity.