Autism as a disruption of affective contact: The forgotten role of George Frankl

Filippo Muratori, Valeria Bizzari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The simultaneous description of autism by Asperger in Vienna and Kanner in Baltimore is usually considered a strange coincidence. Here we propose that the Jewish psychiatrist Georg Frankl, who worked with both Asperger and Kanner, had more than a marginal role in the early history of autism. While Hans Asperger did not recognize the talent of his superior Georg Frankl, Leo Kanner immediately recognized his merits and acumen when Georg Frankl arrived at the Johns Hopkins as a refugee. This proposal is supported by the retrieval of an unpublished Frankl’s manuscript on autism which is here analysed and that deserves credit for anticipating some of the contemporary visions of autism. The manuscript deepens the distinction between ‘affective language’ and ‘word language’ that George Frankl had already developed in his previous papers in 1933 and 1943. While in neurotypical subjects the everyday language is an integration of affective and word language, autistic children register a break between them and, according to Frankl, this break is at the core of autism and can have a wide range of expression and tentatives of compensation. It is also proposed that the centrality of disturbances in affective language can be in agreement with a vision of autism as a neurodevelopmental disorder that interferes with the current notions of intersubjectivity, intercorporeality and interaffectivity. Frankl’s perspective about autism can still be considered innovative today for other reasons. He proposed that autism could cover a spectrum of conditions; that it is a state of mind that is not necessarily abnormal; that it is a neurobiological condition that needs to be understood by others before of being modified. Finally the conceptualization of autism as a disturbance of affective language is in agreement with the DSM-5 which has created a sociocommunicative domain that comprises only deficits in non-verbal communication (that is affective language), putting the verbal language (that is word language) as a specificator outside the diagnostic criteria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-132
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Neuropsychiatry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Affective contact
  • Affective language
  • Autism
  • Georg Frankl
  • Word language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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