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A breath of Asperger

Some say there is a little bit of autism in all of us. That is incorrect, although indeed the autism spectrum is wide, and not everyone on the spectrum qualifies for an autism diagnosis. But this statement is often made, and it inadvertently downplays the experience of—and challenges associated with—autism.

But if we take the statement literally, then there may just be some truth to it. Let me explain why there is at least a little bit of Asperger in all of us!


This thought experiment starts with a breath.

The average resting respiratory rate for an adult is 12–18 breaths per minute,[1]Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology | Access Medicine which is an average of 15 breaths per minute. The resting respiratory rate does vary throughout our lives, going from 30–40 breaths per minute at birth down to 12–18 breaths per minute as adults, and back to 12–28 breaths per minute above the age of 65. We obviously also breathe faster while we are active.

Suppose then that we breathe 20 times per minute on average throughout our lifetime.

Hans Asperger lived for 74-years plus 9 months, which equals about 39.28 million minutes. That means he would have taken approximately 785.68 million breaths during his lifetime!*

This number may be higher depending on how much sex Hans would have had, or indeed any other activities that involve heavy panting (roleplaying dogs with heatstrokes, for instance).

A photograph of Hans Asperger with a young patient at the University Pediatric Clinic in Vienna, circa 1940.
Hans breathing onto a child in 1940.


Each breath contains approximately 2.4 × 10²² molecules,[2]The Last Word | New Scientist so that means he would have breathed out about 1.8856416 × 10³¹ molecules during his lifetime.

If you are having challenges understanding what that number means, perhaps it helps if I say the number in English. Hans Asperger breathed out approximately 18 nonillion 856 octillion 416 septillion molecules in his lifetime. I guess that didn’t make it any clearer. But it’s a yuge number. Tremendous! The best of numbers, really. The crème de la calculatory crème.


Moving on then, there are about 1.09 × 10⁴⁴ air molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere.[3]How many molecules of air are in the atmosphere? | The Weather Prediction If we divide the total number of air molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere by the number of air molecules good ol’ Hans breathed our during his lifetime, we find that he breathed out 1 air molecule for every 5.515 × 10¹² (5.5+ trillion) air molecules in the atmosphere.

Also, not that it matters for the argument I am constructing here, but you would need over 5.5 trillion Hans Aspergers to breathe for almost 75 years for those over 11 trillion lungs to pump enough air to make up the Earth’s atmosphere. Research from 2009 by Greg Holland et al. indicates that the atmosphere and oceans must have come from something other than volcanic gases as was previously thought, but possibly from a late bombardment of gas and water-rich materials similar to comets.[4]Earth’s atmosphere came from outer space, scientists find[5]Meteorite Kr in Earth’s Mantle Suggests a Late Accretionary Source for the Atmosphere Thankfully, God didn’t think to include Hans Aspergers in the mechanism for planetary formation and habitability, although the idea of Aspergeorite impacts providing the planet with gas(perger) makes me chuckle.

“Look papa, it’s a falling star!”

Dad laughs hysterically, and then abruptly stops.

“No, son, that’s a falling Hans.”

Man, I love Hanstronomy. It speaks so much to the imagination.


Considering we breathe in about 2.4 × 10²² molecules of air with each breath, when we divide that number by the ratio of respiratory Hans molecules in the atmosphere (dividing by 5.515 × 10¹²), we find that with each breath, there is a pretty good chance we breathe in about 4.35 billion air molecules that Hans Asperger breathed out. That just happens to be exactly one sagan of Asperger!

So indeed, there is a little bit of Asperger in all of us. So long as we breathe, a bit of Asperger always ends up sneaking into our lungs.

An illustrated portrait of Hans Asperger when he was older.

There is also a little bit of Hitler in each breath, but let’s not ruin the mood now. As if the allegations of Asperger’s involvement with the Nazis wasn’t enough.[6]New study investigates whether Hans Asperger actively assisted the Nazi euthanasia program[7]Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and “race hygiene” in Nazi-era Vienna

Just as with the article on which the calculations in this post are based, the conclusion presented here is based on several assumptions, including that there has been a good mixing of Asperger’s molecules with the rest of the atmosphere, that he didn’t recycle some of his own molecules, and that there is no loss from the atmosphere due to later users, combustion, nitrogen, fixation, etc.[8]The Last Word | New Scientist

Astronomy, Breathing, Carl Sagan, Hans Asperger, Humor, Imagination, Mathematics, Meteorology, Physiology, Respiratory rate

Martin Silvertant

Martin Silvertant

Co-founder of Embrace ASD, autism researcher, writer, ironically silver award-winning graphic designer, and type designer. I am also autistic, and I fight dodecahedragons during sleep onset.

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