A retrospective analysis of the clinical case records of ‘autistic psychopaths’ diagnosed by Hans Asperger and his team at the University Children's Hospital, Vienna

Kathrin Hippler, Christian Klicpera

Abstract

To date, it is questionable whether the diagnostic criteria for Asperger syndrome (AS) as stated by ICD–10 or DSM–IV still reflect Asperger's original account of ‘autistic psychopathy’ (AP) from the 1940s. The present study examined 74 clinical case records of children with AP diagnosed by Hans Asperger and his team at the Viennese Children's Clinic and Asperger's private practice between 1950 and 1986. The characteristic features of the children are outlined, including reasons for referral, parental background, behavioural problems, cognitive functioning, communication and interests. Results show that the patients of Asperger described in our study represent a subgroup of children with very high intellectual functioning, specific circumscribed interests and talents but impaired social, communication and motor skills. Sixty–eight percent of the sample met ICD–10 criteria for AS, while 25% fulfilled the diagnostic criteria for autism. Implications for the diagnosis of AS are discussed.