Hello again, everyone.
Last night, we spent the first half of the class exploring the historical context of two autism pioneers–Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner. We began by viewing two film excerpts: first, a clip from The Imitation Game; and second, a segment from the World War Two documentary Architecture of Doom. The former is a biopic about Alan Turing, who worked for the British government during World War Two, breaking the infamous Enigma code. The film clearly takes the fashionable line of portraying Turing as an autistic savant. The second film provided at least a few details on Action T-4, the Nazi effort to eliminate neurodiverse people from Germany and the other countries it occupied. I asked you to think about the connections between these two pieces, and here’s what you came up with:
In the following discussion, we explored a few of these connections, highlighting how Action T-4 would have targeted Turing; and how the British government, which exploited Turing for his talent, was largely responsible for his suicide shortly after the war (Turing was homosexual and forced to take hormone therapy). From here, we discussed how the events of the Holocaust shaped the two dominant views of autism in the twentieth century. Most of the details of this discussion are included in this handout. Silberman argues that Asperger presented the clients in his Children’s Clinic as “little professors” to protect them from T-4 purges, paying lip service to the Nazi ideology while keeping hundreds of neurodivergent children alive. Kanner and the psychiatric researchers in the U.S., however, distanced themselves from Asperger’s more genetic understanding of the disorder (anything smacking of eugenics was discouraged after the war), focusing on the socio-emotional lives of his patients.
After the break, we concentrated on the midterm exam, which will focus on a short story by the young adult author Chris Crutcher. The story, “Telephone Man”, features an early autistic narrator. We read and discussed the story in literature circles. Remember, you need to email your completed essay to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 6:00 pm next Monday, October 17.