Background to my interest in teaching children with autism


A Loving Hostility

It was easier for Ian. In his early thirties, still not having had a relationship lasting more than a month, he was referred to Felicity for treatment for his anger at the world of people around him. Ian was also afraid of loving others. However, even although he too saw the world as a vile place with everybody out to take advantage of him, he was conscious that the basic problem was his own unwillingness to let go and to trust others. He received a series of systematic desensitization (RIT) sessions in which he was taught to relax and then asked to picture scenes in his mind. The scenes had him talking to other people, and then expressing positive feelings about nature, then about a third party and then about the person with whom he was talking. Finally he was asked to picture himself expressing loving feelings to the other. In addition, he undertook some assertive training to foster expression of his feelings to others. Before his thirty sessions were completed, he was courting a lady. He was married a year later. He asked Felicity to ‘stand up with him’ at his wedding, as if needing encouragement at the final point of making a commitment.

Across the years, Felicity has treated quite a number of Igors and Imogenes who felt hostility or hatred toward most of the people they knew. Each complained that there was nobody out there to whom they could relate or who cared about them. With some of them, Felicity set out to ‘cut off the waxy cork’ of fear about loving by desensitizing or de-training the anxiety they felt about their own ‘love’ feelings. With some, he tried to ‘drill little holes’ in the bottom of the ‘love test tube’ to ‘let off little bits of loving feelings’ (not strong enough to evoke inhibitive fear) by means of emotional responses training (equivalent to assertive training). With some, he asked them voluntarily to ‘remove the cork of not trusting’ for just a few moments at a time so that they could express happy or caring feelings briefly, coping with their feelings and taking the chance they might feel anxious or fearful.  As the fear of closeness or loving feelings was reduced, the need for the distancing defenses evaporated. Now the ‘reverse alchemy’ of the ‘love test tube’ could reverse itself and become ‘true alchemy’. Instead of being bothered by how he or she inferred the other was feeling, the ‘new’ person began to notice (mainly) his or her own feelings. Freed from the anxiety or fear ‘cork’, the original form of the ‘love’ feelings was reinstated, and the person’s experience became one of ‘I love’, and not ‘Does he or she love?’ Of course, most of us would think that this idea sounds wrong. It’s also important that the other loves us back, or it’s ‘no good’ loving another. Actually, this almost universal attitude is probably wrong. It is just fear talking or, if you prefer, it is the evidence of our fear about loving another.

In each case, as treatment progressed, Felicity always thought he could ‘feel’ the person’s growing freedom, trust and ‘yummy’ warmth. At this point it seemed as though the walls of the person’s world opened up and Mister or Miss Right emerged from the woodwork. The miracle which made others ‘available’ to them seemed to be that suddenly they were emotionally ‘available’ to others.

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