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Autism or Asperger’s?

Autistic people's preferred symbol over the puzzle piece
Autistic people prefer the infinite logo for identification over the puzzle piece

Nick Hughes

Opinion Editor

Autism is a genetic developmental disorder that affects a lot of people in the world. I am one of those people and I would like to weigh in on a debate that has taken hold in the autistic community. The debate is whether the diagnosis of Aspberger’s should or should not be used. Not specifically the diagnosis, but the word Asperger’s. 

Asperger’s was taken out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in the DSM-5. According to the Autism Society, “The DSM-5 redefined autism. Its predecessor, the DSM-IV-TR, included five Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDDs): Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, Rett’s Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).”

Initially, when this happened, I did not care at all, but also at the time I was not very good at caring about the impact of words. It was an issue that I dealt with and I did not really care about the term it was defined as. Since then, I have become more aware of social issues and grew a lot of empathy for other autistic people in the world. Still, at that point, I was not considering the Asperger’s exclusion to be a big deal. I have done a lot of research on it lately, and I found some published records that made me wary of using the term Asperger’s. Hans Asperger was a scientist in Austria during World War Two (WWII).

As a lot of people should know, Austria was taken by Nazi Germany during WWII. Asperger ran a clinic where he researched autism and other similar mental issues. He came to conclusions that eventually led to the creation of the Asperger’s diagnosis. What makes me uncomfortable about using Asperger’s like a label, is that there is that Nazi connection. There is little information about what exactly happened due to a bombing during the war. Asperger lived a good life after WWII and died in 1980, a recent report from the BBC company revealed that Hans Asperger cooperated with the Nazi’s. This is damning evidence to me and it makes it really makes it hard for me to use the phrase Asperger’s. 

As some of my readers may know, I have no love for Nazi’s and I will once again, condemn the entirety of the Nazi ideal. They are evil and neo-nazis are just as bad and deserve to be labeled a terrorist organization. That is not the point here though. The BBC article reported Asperger’s contributed to the Nazi machine. I have a hard time using Asperger’s like a label.

There is a debate on Autistic Twitter that Asperger’s should be allowed to be used and my thoughts about this are torn. The Nazi connection makes me uncomfortable, but I refuse to belittle anyone for using Asperger’s like a label.

Hans Asperger’s may not have had a choice but to cooperate with the Nazi’s or else he would have been killed. I find some sympathy there, but I have a really hard time juggling this information. He conducted groundbreaking research on autism, but it was done in the name of the Nazi’s. I feel that if a Nazi, considering the Nazi ideals, were to consider an autistic person they would see them as less than human. Nazi influences really have shaken my perception of Autism and the man who was the bearer of the Asperger’s name.

There is a hashtag on Twitter that says All Autistics. I love that there is a community forming on Twitter for Autistic people to be themselves. Twitter presents a unique opportunity for Autistic people. We are able to talk and, for the most part, not be told how to be Autistic. That is a theme I have noticed as well in Facebook and other social media platforms. Autism is feared by a great number of people these days. I hate that this is a trend. 

I am concerned that there are a lot of groups and individuals that seem to think they know what is best for autistic people. I, being an autistic person, resent being told I do not understand what being autistic is about and I find it rude, at the very least, to be told that I cannot know what is best for me and my mental health. 

Asperger’s may have some sketchy influences but if someone wants to use Asperger’s, let them. What does that hurt? The easiest answer is the autism community. It is hard to justify, in my eyes, the use of Asperger’s. If an autistic person wants to use it though, I wish them luck. I hope this article finds enough people to get the conversation started.

 Words carry an impact and I believe that using Asperger’s phrasing makes it okay to tolerate hate. A lot will say that is a huge jump in logic, but I stand firm in this conviction. 

I do not think Asperger’s should be used. The people, like myself, that were diagnosed with Asperger’s all have to face a hard decision on whether they use the phrase or not. I cannot and will not tolerate any Nazi influence and the thought that my diagnosis was a result of Nazi exploitation makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. I may switch my stance later today, or maybe tomorrow. I have no idea, but what I am sure of is that this debate will continue to rage until the end of time.