Friday, September 05, 2008

An Asperger encounter

I have just come back from a disability studies conference where I was presenting.
I decided to stay an extra day in the accommodation so I would not be so tired, to catch the train tomorrow, and since there was no meal or anything provided I decided to use the kitchen, to make myself a pot noodle, to stave off my hunger for the evening.

There were a couple of other delegates who were staying overnight too, and they were asking the usual questions, what was my research about, where did I come from etc.

Anyway there was guy who was staying there, by the name of Volker Schönwiese from Innsbruck University who said he came from Austria. So naturally I asked him if he had heard of Hans Asperger. Not only had he heard of him, he had been sent to his clinic as a 10 year old child

He was a wheelchair user, and when he was younger his family wanted him integrated into the mainstream school, but the authorities were resisting it, so he was sent to Dr Asperger for a consultation. Apparently Dr Asperger did all sorts of tests including an IQ test, and wrote up a report saying that children with Polyarthritis were extraordinarily gifted and he should be given all the facilities he needed to go to a mainstream school.

It was a white lie of course because there was no scientific evidence to support that notion, but it illustrates something of the character of the man back then, that he would write something like that into an official report to ensure that a disabled child got the same schooling as everyone else, and not the second rate schooling he might have got if he were sent away to a special school.

He said that Dr Asperger was a pleasant and very kind man. Sometimes it is a small world, and now I have met someone who met with Hans Asperger.

I have included a link to a pdf of Professor Schönwiese's presentation which may be of interest to people in the wider disability world.


Socrates said...

The more I hear about the attitude and behaviour of mainstream autism researchers, the more Asperger's humanity is thrown into relief. I use to think Rigsby Tantric and his colleagues were our friends and advocates. Now, I'm beginning to fear them.

Casdok said...

Lovely to hear that Dr Asperger was pleasant and very kind man!

Evonne said...

Fascinating! Quite the privilege.

shiva said...

Wow, very interesting. Where was the conference?

I spent the weekend at a disability arts festival, which i will post about when less knackered. Met Nabil Shaban, among others.

So... Asperger lied about "high intelligence" being linked to a particular impairment, in order to get a kid with that impairment into a decent school. What light does that cast on the whole "Asperger's is a different syndrome from the "rest of" autism because of the difference in IQ" argument?

laurentius rex said...

The conference was in Lancaster.

For some it is arts, I don't subscribe to the notion of disability arts really, I believe in art and that is it.

Anyway it says something about the way in which impairments are socially constructed and the Realpolitik of that particular era when segregation and lowered expectation was the norm. The "aspergian" notion of us being better than the rest is in reality a defence mechanism, a counter thrust to the equally inaccurate opposite notion, a useful tool in a tight corner when faced by the schoolyard bully, but not one to be relied upon in the greater scheme of things.

shiva said...

I'm thinking more in terms of "Asperger and Kanner studied basically the same range of kids, but Asperger described their intelligence as higher because he was trying to be helpful/nice to them, whereas Kanner described them more "negatively" (by his standards), because he was less "nice"... therefore there is actually no meaningful distinction between the supposed 2 types of autism... ?

laurentius rex said...

I think that is absolutely the case, considering the environment that Asperger was working under, it was essential to emphasise the positive aspects of the children under his care else they would have ended up in the T4 programme.

If one reads Kanner properly one realises that this myth of Kanner autism being a low intelligence more severe form of autism is a myth.

I think, and have said as much in my DVD that they were both studying different samples of what was essentially the same population, but seperated by culture and history, which determined the way in which the two papers were written up in isolation from each other.

I don't know anything about the motivations of Kanner other than that he did get caught up somewhat in the psychodynamic theries in the Bettelheim era, so I cannot say, but it does seem that Asperger was a very humane man at least. The reason why Lorna Wing named the syndrome was to gain wider recognition of someone who she felt was being left out, it was not to create a seperate syndrome at all and Lorna has so far as I know never been too pleased at the way in which certain researchers like Fred Volkmar took the concept and ran with it turning it into a seperate DSM category of diagnosis.

Of course it has now become highly politicised as a tool for some to try and diminish the advocacy movement by saying we are not the real Kanner autists, being totally unaware of whom the real Kanner autists were, never mind what the diagnostic categories have come up with since.

Most of the commentators simply have not studied this to any real extent nor are familiar with the trends in research and thinking, but as Gray said in his elegy, "where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise"