Dissertations – Hans Asperger and the Ward for Therapeutic Pedagogy of the Viennese University’s Children’s Clinic

Ina Friedmann: Hans Asperger and the Ward for Therapeutic Pedagogy (Heilpädagogische Abteilung) of the Viennese University’s Children’s Clinic. Concepts and continuities in the institutional treatment of children categorized as ‘maladjusted’ between 1911 and 1977.

MUW-FO-S-004464-0082

Patients at the Ward for Therapeutic Pedagogy, 1920s (Josephinum, Sammlungen und Geschichte der Medizin, MedUni Wien, Sign. MUW-FO-S-004464-0082)

The Ward for Therapeutic Pedagogy of the Viennese University’s Children’s Clinic was a central institution from its opening in 1911 onwards concerning diagnosis and treatment of children and youth, who were labeled ‘difficult’, ‘maladjusted’ or to be in ‘need of education’. Science and institutional care were converging and interacting with socially widespread opinions. The Ward was founded under participation of pediatrician Erwin Lazar (1877-1932), who headed it until his death. He was succeeded by Valerie Bruck (1894-1963), who had been working at the Ward since 1923 and then led it until 1935. In this year, Hans Asperger (1906-1980), best known for describing the Asperger Syndrome, replaced her and stayed in this position until 1957, when Paul Kuszen (*1920) took over until 1985. It was especially Asperger who influenced not only the treatment of so-called ‘difficult’ children by decades of work in therapeutic pedagogy, but also had an impact on how those children and youth were perceived in the public as well as social and medical institutions. Already shortly after the opening of the Ward a close cooperation with the Youth Welfare Office, Juvenile Court, schools, children’s and correctional education homes and similar institutions was established, but also parents soon made use of the possibility of having children examined there.

The reasons for acceptance to the Ward were manifold and besides school and educational problems of any kind also included petty crimes, enuresis, masturbation, (sexual) violence, ‘vagrancy’ and ‘neglect’, but also epilepsy, speech disorders or the clarification of fits. The personnel of the Ward consisted of doctors, nurses, but also pedagogues and, from the 1920s onwards also of a psychologist. This correlated with Lazar’s conception of therapeutic pedagogy, who postulated the equal concurrence of pediatrics, pedagogy, psychology and psychiatry with the task to liberate children of their alleged ‘behavioral problems’ by the means of individually applied pedagogical-therapeutic methods.

This thesis focuses on the concepts which were used in the diagnosis, or rather judgment, therapy and further treatment of the patients. It tries to establish which scientific opinions on ‘social abnormity’ were dominating in the research period of 1911 to 1977, and if and how they changed. Therefore, the medical records of the Ward of the first half of the 20th century are the foundation of the thesis, allowing insight into the institutional treatment of children who were judged as ‘abnormal’ and ‘deviant’. Thus, it is also possible to contribute to the history of ‘institutionalized childhood’ in Austria.

Ina Friedmann is writing her thesis at the University of Vienna and is currently working at the University of Innsbruck.

 

  1. April 27th, 2016

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