Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued

However, most restraint comes from within, rather than at the hands of another. And most frequently, the source of internal restraint is a product of introversion. The way in which it grows comes from the fact that introverted people are not as active and restless as others. This means that, as children, they found it easier than the average child to halt or impede an action upon command or instruction. As a result, they do not do many of the things which might result in direct experiences with the world. And they rely heavily on words (verbal instructions) to mediate their experience. Both introversion and words are sticky and restraining.

Moreover, introverted people are inclined to take life very seriously. The average child discovers that situations and reactions of those around them differ and change from time to time and place to place. Introverted children are likely to take adult instructions, information and ‘words’ much too seriously. This, coupled with the importance they are likely to attach to the normal ‘good boy’ stage of moral reasoning development (during which they are likely to be rewarded amply with praise), fits them to adapt particularly readily to verbal instructions. Adults tend to interact using verbal instructions, and therefore they tend to interact particularly easily with these children, and to approve of their verbal facility and compliance. Thus introverted children tend to develop a rule-governed, dependent, dependable, reasonable and verbally-mediated approach to daily living. And, of course, this approach tends to earn them ‘good boy’ Brownie points from the adult world, especially from teachers to whom they relate well.

But the increased verbal-mental activity impedes action – thought and action tend to be reciprocally incompatible. And two other factors also tend to perpetuate inactivity and cautious avoidance of anticipated harm. One is the ‘good boy’ (level of) morality which they carry into adulthood. The other is a conditioned avoidance of situations where they come to believe there is danger. This results in the development of phobias, in which the fear is increased as a habit by the mild relief experienced in each avoidance of the situation. These two factors also serve to perpetuate inactivity and cautious avoidance. The plethora of thought produced by their inactivity, and their dependent unwillingness to make simple decisions, creates confusion and intensifies obsessive preoccupations in them which may effectively make them unable to address issues or complete tasks.

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