A developmental-lifespan perspective
Kevin P. Stoddart
He was reported to be a very difficult toddler, paying heed to neither his
indulgent mother nor his strict father. He was said to be unable to cope
with the ordinary demands of everyday life. The mother believed that it
was because of his clumsiness and impracticality that he had more diffi-
culties than other children. For instance, it was still necessary to dress
him, since, by himself, he would dawdle endlessly and also make a lot of
mistakes. He had learnt to eat by himself only recently and was still a
messy eater… Before he entered school everyone was convinced that he
would learn particularly well, since he was always making clever remarks
and original observations. Moreover, he had by himself learned to count
to twenty as well as picking up the names of various letters. At school
however, he failed miserably. (Asperger 1944/1991, p.59)
This was Hans Asperger's description of Ernst, a 7½-year-old boy seen in his clinic in Vienna. In his 1944 paper, Asperger reported on Ernst and other children who suffered from “autistic psychopathy”. His descriptions and analysis provide us with one of the first views of these children, their intriguing profile of skills, and puzzling deficits.
In terms of expressive characteristics, Asperger observed the abnormal eye gaze and “paucity of facial and gestural expression”. Just as he noted the limiting relational aspects of a fleeting gaze, Asperger felt the language of these children also impaired their ability to communicate nuance and relate to others. He characterized their language as feeling “unnatural” and being spoken “as if into empty space”. He termed the pragmatic deficits in communication, “contact-creating expressive functions”.