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Asperger's Children

The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna


Edith Sheffer (Author)

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A ground-breaking exploration of the chilling history behind an increasingly common diagnosis.

In 1930s and 1940s Vienna, child psychiatrist Hans Asperger sought to define autism as a diagnostic category, treating those children he deemed capable of participating fully in society. Depicted as compassionate and devoted, Asperger was in fact deeply influenced by Nazi psychiatry. Although he offered care to children he deemed promising, he prescribed harsh institutionalisation and even transfer to one of the Reich’s killing centres, for children with greater disabilities.

With sensitivity and passion, Edith Sheffer reveals the heart-breaking voices and experiences of many of these children, whilst illuminating a Nazi regime obsessed with sorting the population into categories, cataloguing people by race, heredity, politics, religion, sexuality, criminality and biological defects—labels that became the basis of either rehabilitation or persecution and extermination.


“With insightful, meticulous historical research Sheffer uncovers how, under Hitler’s regime, the profession of psychiatry became the eyes and ears of the Third Reich. This important book should be read by anyone interested in psychology, psychiatry or medicine, so that we learn from history and do not repeat its terrifying mistakes.” — Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University; author of Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty