Dr. Asperger Himself

Hans Asperger was a pediatrician and psychologist in Nazi-occupied Austria. His specialty was a group of high-functioning autistic children whom he called “little professors.” They had, he observed, certain traits in common. Among those were a brilliant mind, an extraordinary vocabulary, and a lack of social skills. They could become obsessed with the workings of physical objects but were flummoxed by the workings of human society.

 The Nazi machine, with its notion of the “ideal man,” had no use for such oddballs and slated those children for destruction. Because of their high intelligence and their ability to focus on details that other people missed, Dr. Asperger insisted that they had a value of their own. “Not everything abnormal must be defective,” he wrote. “Autistic people have their place in the social community and fulfill their role well, perhaps better than anyone else could.”

 There are people who say Dr. Asperger himself must have been a Nazi because he lived in their place and time and played ball with them. But he didn’t play ball with them. He merely convinced them that his “little professors,” with their special skills, could be especially useful in such areas as codes and engineering. He convinced them to the extent that the children’s lives were spared.

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