Austrian paediatrician, medical professor and medical theorist, Hans Asperger was born in Vienna in February 1906. He was responsible for writing the first definition of Asperger Syndrome in 1944. However, it wasn’t until after his death in October 1980 that the condition he had identified four decades earlier was officially recognised and named after him.
He worked largely unnoticed throughout his lifetime – despite writing some 300 academic publications during his long career and identifying a condition that he named ‘autistic psychopathy’. It wasn’t until 1981, when British researcher Lorna Wing proposed the condition should be identified as ‘Asperger Syndrome’, that his identification of this behavioural pattern was widely recognised in the medical world.
Asperger had been raised on a farm and despite being the oldest of three sons, he was said to be a lonely, remote boy who found it difficult to make friends. At school, he showed a talent for languages and he also loved Austrian dramatist and poet Franz Grillparzer’s work, quoting it to his largely disinterested classmates. It is also reported that he quoted himself, or referred to himself in the third person.
Asperger was academically gifted and went on to study medicine at the University of Vienna. He practiced at Vienna University Children’s Hospital, earning his medical degree in 1931 and in 1932 he was appointed director of the special education section of the children’s clinic.
During his studies, he identified a pattern of behaviour and traits among children that he named ‘autistic psychopathy’. The name was based on the words autism, meaning ‘self’, and psychopathy, meaning ‘personality’. He used the description to describe a pattern of behaviour that centred on the children having:
- A limited ability to form friendships
- A lack of empathy
- One-sided conversations
- An intense absorption in a special interest and
- Clumsy movements
He called the children he had identified the ‘little professors’ because they were also able to talk in great detail about their favourite subject. Ironically, these behavioural patterns that he recognised described his own childhood, when he apparently exhibited some features of Asperger Syndrome himself, such as his difficulty in making friends and his fascination with Franz Grillparzer.
In 1944, he published his landmark paper, describing a range of symptoms on the autism spectrum. He then secured a permanent post at the University of Vienna and went on to be appointed chair of paediatrics – a position he held for 20 years. In 1977, he became professor emeritus. He died three years later, at the age of 74.
A year after Asperger’s death, Lorna Wing’s paper, ‘Asperger’s Syndrome: A Clinical Account’, proposed the condition be officially recognised. Academics have suggested his work may have gone largely unnoticed prior to this because it was written solely in German and there had never been a suitable translation that brought it to the attention of the wider medical profession.
His work gained further recognition after his original 1944 paper was translated and the condition Asperger Syndrome was included in the 1993 International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems and also in the 1994 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Asperger Syndrome, like other autism profiles, is a lifelong condition that affects how people interact with others and perceive the world around them. People with Asperger Syndrome are affected in different ways, but they may have difficulties in understanding and processing language. Some have described a feeling of anxiety because the world seems ‘overwhelming’ and they struggle to build a rapport with other people.
Before they realise their child is on the autism spectrum, some parents may mistakenly think they are being ‘naughty’ and misbehaving. Diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome is carried out by a multi-disciplinary diagnostic team, which commonly includes a psychiatrist, a speech and language therapist, a psychologist and a paediatrician.
Children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder may find it difficult to fall asleep at night and may also awaken repeatedly. This can result in tiredness during the day, learning problems and behavioural issues, including hyperactivity, inattentiveness and aggression. It can impact on other family members’ sleep as well.
Medical experts advise adapting the environment to make the sleeping area at night as comfortable as possible. A popular option is Kinderkey’s Bearhugzzz SpaceSaver bed, which provides a soft yet safe and strong environment for sleeping, playing and relaxation – it is suitable for both vulnerable children and adults. Please contact us for further details of our Bearhugzzz safe sleeping solution.