• Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet you act like there was some sort of rightness in the universe by which it may be judged. Terry Pratchett
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Awareness

Figured I’d write something for “autism awareness month”.

Content warning: Third Reich; murder of disabled children.

Putting in a cut out of kindness. I wish my brain had cut tags sometimes.


Autism was first formally studied in Nazi Vienna. (Previous categorizations of the neurodivergence had it as a variant on schizophrenia.)

Hans Asperger, the primary researcher, was under great pressure to supply the Nazis with children deemed appropriately defective to test the machinations of murder. (The disabled were after all among the first fed into the death machines, as “useless eaters”, and nonverbal autistic children made the grade.) He tried to argue that in at least some cases the talents granted by an autistic mind – the pattern evaluation, the focused interests – could counterbalance the difficulties in social interaction, dexterity, and so on. He suggested that some of the children could serve the Reich well as codebreakers, even as he allowed that the less obviously gifted could be sent to die.

His research was largely lost, at least in English, until the 1980s.

Several of the Jewish members of his team escaped to the United States and continued to work with autistic patients. The man who helped them out, Leo Kanner, had a much narrower perspective on autism than Asperger had, focusing on severely impaired cases and young children and disregarding both the range of Asperger’s patients (ranging from needing permanent care to a Nobel literature laureate and an astronomy professor who corrected some of Newton’s math because it just bothered him when he noticed it as a student) and the consideration of it as a lifelong state rather than a childish psychosis induced by “refrigerator parents”.

Be aware of this, when you are aware of autism.

But when I am aware of this, I think of the story of one of Asperger’s patients, a little girl who was largely nonverbal – her only word was “mama”. She was, from what I read, a sweet, loving child, full of affection and kindness.

The Nazis stashed her brain in a jar after they killed her.

She haunts me. The memory of her story ambushes me at random, inopportune moments. This little girl, this sweet child, this ghost echoes at the edges of my attention.

I wonder how many of the allistics in the world have ghosts like this, heard a story and have that story keep coming back, reminding, bleeding, stored away as an example of an abnormal condition in some murderers’ basement. I wonder how many of them would find it strange, atypical, abnormal, deviant to be haunted by a little girl dead since long before I was born, a sweet child who probably said “Mama?” in confusion when they killed her.

I wonder if my sweet child who communicates in happy grunts with strangers would have been “normal” enough to survive. I wonder how to protect that child from the world that wants an awareness that does not acknowledge humanity, that puts pressure on the right to exist.

A sixth of Asperger’s immediate patients were murdered, and at least his recorded words suggest he thought it was for the best that they were, that their deficiencies were too much to be borne by society.

Stories are hard and brutal and as someone on the spectrum I have always felt that they were more real than I was ever able to be, than I was ever allowed to be. That little girl – and I cannot fucking find her name again and that is bothering me – that little girl became a story, a horror story, a tragedy, and she breaks me every time she haunts my mind.

I wish we didn’t have to turn into stories to become real.

Mama?
Mama?

….

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