Background to my interest in teaching children with autism


            Felicity had never had much of a -‑ what’s it called when you can’t remember things?  Oh yes — a memory.  If he could only remember them, there were many occasions which could be used to illustrate the impressive extent of his infirmity.  On this occasion, Felicity had forgotten that Alton had stopped taking the Ritalin.  Consequently, he was surprised to note that, when he asked the now relaxed Alton to “Picture yourself standing ten feet from a dusty window sill looking at a thick layer of dust on the window sill,” instantly Alton’s breathing shifted from silent to sonorous breathing, and he was sound asleep.  After a few seconds Felicity recovered his memory along with his presence of mind and, ever so quietly, he said, “Stop thinking of that picture and relax.”  Almost instantly, Alton’s breathing shifted back to silent breathing and he was awake.  To confirm that this phenomenon was destined to happen, he made several related types of dirt stimulus presentations.  Each time he was greeted with the same reaction of a shift to sonorous breathing as a sign of the onset of sleep.     It was clear that no desensitization (unlearning or taking away the fear of dirt) was going to take place if Alton went to  sleep during each dirt-related presentation.  And there was no reason to suppose that he would not.  Still, Felicity is something of a slow learner — after all, he had purchased three Fords.  Consequently, undaunted at first by Alton’s sleep reaction to dirt presentations, Felicity continued for three sessions trying vainly to catch a few moments of alertness during his dirt presentations. However, he finally got the message, and he concluded this approach was not getting them anywhere.  He had to find a way to talk about dirt to Alton which would not anaesthetize him.

            Being unwilling to force Alton back on the Ritalin on a daily basis, Felicity instead asked Alton to deliver over his supply of Ritalin to be dispensed by Felicity as needed.  Alton was asked to appear for his now weekly appointments at least twenty minutes early.  His 10 milligrams of Ritalin were administered to him in the waiting room, so that the anti‑sleep effect was in place by the time of the appointment.  The weekly single doses of Ritalin did not serve to suppress the reported homosexual compulsions, and Alton continued to pursue his gay contacts.  But the Ritalin did prevent sleep during the desensitization sessions.  Now Alton was able to relax and, when asked to picture dirt situations, breathing did not shift to sonorous breathing, nor did he go to sleep.     

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