Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued

A Uniform Unicorn

Before leaving this topic, it may be appropriate to note that there are cases where the ‘gains’ from the symptoms appear to be valued so highly by the person that no therapeutic movement can be achieved. Karl was just such a person. He had developed such an impenetrable view of his life that it approached delusion. But he was essentially very severely obsessive-compulsive.

Karl was encountered in the correctional system. He had been charged and convicted of arson. His offence had involved standing in front of a hospital which had refused him admission, soaking his arms with lighter fluid and setting himself on fire. And this was ‘arson’!? The justice system has some really hilarious ways of reacting to people’s actions. It punishes some, and rewards others (lawyers) for being accomplices in crime. And its standard sexist, or more accurately genderist, propensities have even led it to incarcerate men for laughing – the charge is called mans-laughter.

Karl saw himself as thoroughly joyless, bereft of all emotion and at the mercy of the world of human beings. He had a particular skill in playing the game of chess, which led him to conclude that he was very intelligent. And, having no feelings but only brains, presumably modelled after a character from Star Trek, he decided he was a non-human being in human form, displaced from somewhere else in the universe and abandoned here. Without the human resources to survive in human society, he was destined to live at the mercy of humans, depending on them for sustenance, but scorned and used by them for their sadistic joy in torturing him. What a ‘model’ of the world and of life! It certainly ‘set him up’ as a victim. It made it impossible for him to work to support himself, and it made it necessary for him, in his view, to live on social assistance and at the mercy of the ‘professionals’ on whom he depended. It explained for him why people reacted angrily towards him and rejected him. It made it seem natural that he would have to beg for any kindness. And it justified for him the intense rage he felt toward all those lousy professionals. Indeed, he repeatedly breathed out threats about how he was going to blow up, maim, kill and otherwise brutalize the people and places he believed had assigned themselves the tasks of torturing and mistreating him.

So restricted was his life that he considered the sentence he served in the correctional centre to be, and later to have been, the best time in his life. But even although he enjoyed his incarceration time more than any other he could recall, that didn’t mean he would forego any of his symptomatic gains while there. A wide variety of interventions was used to see whether he could achieve any therapeutic gains. There were no changes at all. If anything, his depression and anxiety measures worsened with each new treatment. He was constantly in crisis, and he would not yield to try out anything offered to help. He suffered constantly. Of course, as a non-human, he had no feelings according to him.

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