History and First Descriptions of Autism: Asperger Versus Kanner Revisited


When reading Michael Fitzgerald’s chapter entitled ‘Autism: Asperger’s Syndrome—History and First Descriptions’ in ‘Asperger’s Disorder’ edited by Rausch, Johnson and Casanova, a while ago, one of us was struck by his contention that Kanner was guilty of plagiarism as well as non-attribution of Asperger’s 1938 paper ‘Das psychisch abnorme kind’ (Fitzgerald in Asperger’s disorder. Informa Healthcare, New York, 2008) published in a Vienna weekly. Steve Silberman has discovered evidence that Kanner rescued Asperger’s chief diagnostician from the Nazis in 1944 so must have been aware of Asperger’s work and conclusions. Fitzgerald was on the right track but it appears that Kanner may have plagiarised Asperger’s ideas rather than his 1938 paper.

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    It cannot be denied that Kanner played the vital role in establishing autism in the diagnostic canon, and that a number of his clinical descriptions of 'classic autism' in children remain valid today (Feinstein 2010). But, given Silberman’s findings, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Kanner played the role of establishing autism with the benefit of Asperger’s work.


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Author Contributions

LH identified the topic and contributed to the drafting of the letter. NC drafted the letter. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nick Chown.

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Chown, N., Hughes, L. History and First Descriptions of Autism: Asperger Versus Kanner Revisited. J Autism Dev Disord 46, 2270–2272 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-016-2746-0

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  • Academic ethics
  • Asperger
  • Autism
  • Kanner