Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued

            If Felicity’s original hypothesis was correct, then the active agent in Alton’s make up was neither a Ritalin‑deficiency nor an abnormal short-circuiting of electrical activity in the brain.  Instead, it was his phobia for dirt.  This fact had impressed itself on Felicity quite often during their contacts.  Alton had slipped toward sleep with each mention of a subject related to dirt, except, of course, while he was taking the Ritalin.  Perhaps if Alton’s phobia for dirt could be eliminated, the need to keep him awake with the Ritalin would be obviated.  That would mean ridding him of his fear.  Alton had been tried on tranquillizers while he was seeing the referring psychiatrist.  They had no effect at all on his sleepiness or on his homosexual symptoms.  However, there is a method of psychotherapy which is the standard and conventional treatment of choice to get rid of phobias, namely, systematic desensitization or reciprocal inhibition therapy (RIT).  Felicity suggested to Alton that they might use this method to provide the required treatment, if he wished.       

            The names of the psychotherapy method almost scared Alton to death.  However, after a condensed explanation of what was involved, and a brief recovery period, Alton rallied and agreed to try this treatment.  Since he might now be destined to forego his homosexuality for good, he resolved to have a last fling, and he stopped taking his Ritalin when he and Felicity began the new treatment.  Of course, his homosexual compulsions returned in  florid fashion -‑ that means they came back in spades.

            Felicity started the systematic desensitization by training Alton in the art of very deep muscle relaxation.  By the second session, Alton’s body twitched repeatedly while he was relaxing (you know, the way yours sometimes does as you’re about to go to sleep) — the sign of Stage 2, deepening relaxation.  During the third session, Alton started to lose touch with where his body parts were — evidence that he was reaching Stage 3 of deep muscle relaxation.  The reason for this loss of sensation of body parts is that, as the muscles become deeply relaxed, they stop sending any tension‑derived kinaesthetic muscle-awareness sensations to the brain to tell it what the body parts are doing.  They’re relaxed and doing nothing.  This level of relaxation having been achieved, the main treatment was started during the fourth session.     

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