Edith Sheffer argues in Asperger’s Children that, regardless of the science, and regardless of whether autism is one condition or several, it remains steeped in the cultural values of its Nazi origins, and in the idea of a model personality: obedient, animated by collective bonds, socially competent, robust in mind and body. Rooted in years of meticulous archival research, Sheffer’s book has already had an impact on activists who have called for the burial of Asperger’s syndrome along with statues honouring racists. But that’s too easy. Her book does not offer a univocal message. It explores the various ways in which, over time, cultural ideals shape ‘scientific’ diagnoses, and vice versa. It’s about the way words like Gemüt create models, and the way these models help create ‘defects’. It’s about conscious and unconscious complicity, in-the-moment improvisation, and the moral grey areas where so much human action takes place.

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