History | Children's health | Health

The Autism Spectrum Was Invented To Stop Nazis From Killing Kids

For many people worldwide, autism is a diagnosis that comes early and has long-term ramifications. The neurological disorder is estimated to affect nearly 25 million worldwide, and worst of all, people aren't even 100% sure of what exactly causes it. It was a long-held belief for some time that vaccines were responsible, but this was ultimately disproven, leaving the jury still out.

Nursing Times

The other biggest factor of the disorder is that the symptoms of it are not universal. Anybody who's aware of the subject has likely heard of the concept of the "autism spectrum," which designates that some people who suffer from autism shows visibly fewer signs and symptoms of the disorder than others, who will sometimes have very severe symptoms. Small-scale symptoms can be as simple as repetitive behavior or being unable to pick up social cues, while severe sufferers might be unable to speak or maintain full cognitive function.


Did you know where this concept of an "autism spectrum" comes from though? It's probably not surprising that it originates with Hans Asperger, the researcher who Asperger's Syndrome is named after. What IS surprising though, is that it was something he came up with to protect autistic children from the Nazis...

Asperger gave the first public talk on autism in 1938, speaking to a crowd full of representatives from the Nazi party. While he wanted to educate, he was mostly afraid for his patients: autistic children who were all in danger of being transported to extermination camps. In the spirit of this, he chose to focus on his "most promising" patients.

The Spectator

"That is where the idea of so-called high-functioning versus low-functioning autistic people comes from really — it comes from Asperger's attempt to save the lives of the children in his clinic," says science writer Steve Silberman.

Silberman also mentions that the need for the classification has passed, as there's quite a bit more to the conditions faced by those who suffer from autism than just being sorted into one or two distinct categories, but still acknowledges that Asperger's work was immensely important in understanding and diagnosing the disorder.

Not only that, but it may have saved hundreds of patients from being killed by the Nazis.

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Did you know the true origin story behind the autism spectrum?