Lonely, isolated, unwanted, mocked, shunned, rejected, denigrated, despised, ostracized, misunderstood and friendless: stringing together so many negative adjectives may seem a little bit exaggerated – but that’s exactly the point I am trying to make. My recent book, Asperger’s Children: Psychodynamics, Aetiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment shows how Asperger’s children have exactly these kinds of negatively ‘exaggerated’ perceptions and feelings. Adjectives like these have been applied to these children many times over the years. This is the way they most frequently describe and experience themselves. Their inner experience of the social world can with few exceptions be summarized in three words – untrustworthy, unjust and unfair.
Recent figures estimate that approximately 1% of the population in the United Kingdom has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is almost twelve times higher than estimates made in the 1970s. According to the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, individuals with autism experience communication difficulties alongside repetitive and restrictive behaviours and sensory hypo/hyper reactivity. Those of us who parent and work with children with autism, however, know this is only part of the story.
I consider that the treatment of an autistic child is an opportunity to observe and investigate the origins of verbal symbols and the creation of language, as well as the way the logic of thought is constructed.
As Maria Rhode wrote,
“The publication of this book with its accompanying DVD is an important event. Karnac Books have made it possible for us to witness what David Rosenfeld’s treatment of Benjamin, a young boy with a diagnosis of autism, was actually like. We can see for ourselves what was done, what was said; we can follow the steps by which Benjamin moved from being a child without language, in a state of perpetual, panic-stricken screaming and flailing about, to being a “real kid” with friendships, doing well at an ordinary school. Witnessing this transformation is a profoundly moving experience. So is hearing the testimony of Benjamin’s parents, who had been told repeatedly that there was no future for their son. It was their wish that his therapy should be more widely known about, in the hope that professionals could learn from it so that other families’ lives might be transformed as theirs had been through “Dr. David’s” intervention. Everyone concerned with children with autism is in their debt.”
The new contribution of this book to the field of child analysis is to demonstrate, as shown in the DVD, that with early diagnosis, before the age of four, and a family that cooperates closely with the psychoanalyst, it is possible to avoid the chronification of primitive autistic mechanisms. The key is early detection and to avoid chronification of autistic-type defence mechanisms. I hope to influence young psychoanalysts and psychotherapists to have hope, since I consider this a book that transmits hope for the treatment of severely ill children. Improvement and cures are possible. I hope that these theoretical concepts and the accompanying film will help to keep many young psychoanalysts from losing hope.
Another motivation that moved me to write this book and to film the treatment is my own curiosity. Without curiosity you cannot be a psychoanalyst. As colleagues at the Tavistock Clinic Centre wrote:
“Was it scientific curiosity or craziness to set out and make a video of every session of therapy with a young boy with autism, not knowing what would happen?”
As Benjamin’s grasp of language developed, he made use of the Pinocchio story, which provided characters suitable for identification. In the film I show a theory of technique based on theoretical concepts of Freud, Henri Wallon and Merleau-Ponty concerning the child’s sensory relations with the world. For example, after making Benjamin feel sensory contact with water it was only a long time afterward that it was possible for him to connect this sensory contact to the verbal symbol ‘water’. A good theoretical base is a necessary guide for treating the mental world of severely disturbed patients.
David Rosenfeld, Buenos Aires
Author of The Creation of the Self and Language: Primitive Sensory Relations of the Child with the Outside World (+ DVD). London: Karnac Books, 2012; and The Body Speaks: Body Image Delusions and Hypochondria, London: Karnac Books, 2014.