Historian Edith Sheffer's intensely fascinating new book, Asperger's Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna, turns the focus onto Hans Asperger himself in a clearly landmark English-language biography. Sheffer prodigiously researches the shape of Asperger's mind and career as it appears in historical records ... Sheffer brings to this typical picture exactly the kind of calm deliberation that does it the most justice; she's aware throughout of the personal variables involved ... The book sketches in Asperger's life in swift, evocative installments that bring him rapidly to the ideological crucible of his life ... Sheffer does a quietly excellent job of capturing the criminal schizophrenia that infused the thinking of Asperger's Nazi peers and Asperger himself ... It's unnerving, necessary reading.
She is at her best when she unpacks how the Third Reich created what she calls a 'diagnosis regime' by labeling anyone who disagreed in any way with Nazi aims, achievements, or ideology as being fundamentally ill ... Sheffer’s account of the 'program of systematic child killing' that grew out of this mind-set is chilling ... Sheffer’s pivot from describing deadly Nazi conceptions of community to Asperger’s complicity with the Reich’s killing machine is less effective ... a more nuanced approach would have further examined the other, conflicting evidence that Asperger was able to save the lives of some disabled children who had been marked for death. It is this evidence, after all, that was pointed to when Asperger was hailed as a hero ... Sheffer is a careful and nuanced researcher, which made her clumsy effort to 'destabilize' our notions of autism feel all the more out of place ... I wish Sheffer had trusted her readers enough to let us know about her personal connection to this story at the outset of her book instead of inserting it as a concluding aside, where it became an unsettling coda to her ardent effort to undermine our notions of autism and its origins.
...as Edith Sheffer, an American historian who happens to have an autistic son, now sets out with impeccable research, Asperger, far from being a great man, knowingly participated in the pseudo-medical eugenics programme that murdered disabled children in Nazi-controlled Vienna ... Sheffer’s Asperger’s Children...is the first book to dig into the depths of his complicity — and to explain how his political and medical opinions combined to produce such a depraved outcome ... For this reader, the father of a 22-year-old with Down’s syndrome, the most distressing passages in Sheffer’s book are the description of the fate of children with this condition, roughly 10% of those done away with in Spiegelgrund’s Pavilion 15 ... As Sheffer suggests at the end of her searing, wonderfully written book, the least that can be done to honour the memory of those children killed in his name is to excise it from popular use.