Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued

A Ground Mound

Lonnie was also encountered in the correctional system. He was in his mid-teens. He and his brother were terribly close. Of the pair, the older brother was the leader, and Lonnie played the role of a rather timid follower. He never said ‘no’ to anyone, especially his brother. He loved his brother dearly but was also somewhat afraid of him.

One day, the older brother suggested to Lonnie that they go hunting. Without anyone else’s knowledge, they slung their rifles and went out to the woods. In a small clearing in the woods, the brother sat down and started to clean his gun. Lonnie was looking into the woods when, suddenly, he was startled with fear at the report of a gunshot right behind him. He spun around to find his much-loved brother lying on the ground writhing in pain from an accidental self-inflicted wound in the leg.

Lonnie was panic-stricken. He didn’t know what to do. He could feel in sympathy an exaggerated degree of the pain his brother was suffering. This created even more confusing distress within him. He could think of only one thing through his panic – a movie title: They shoot horses, don’t they. He aimed his rifle and shot his brother.

He was in greater panic still seeing his brother lying still and dead. He was in a worse state of confusion. He dug a shallow pit, buried his brother in it under a heap of soil, and rushed home to hide his own gun and to get busy as if he had been doing something alone all day.

This sad tale, almost better than any other, illustrates the root of most violence. It is fear. The learned drive of fear, like any other drive or motive, cumulates with other drives to add to the intensity of each. In Lonnie’s case, fear of being angry or even assertive had been a life-long pattern. Fear of his brother may have increased his fear in his brother’s company. In this incident, fear from the startling effect of the loud noise when his brother’s gun accidentally went off undoubtedly added to this. Seeing his much loved brother suffering must certainly have added even more fear. The sympathetic pain he felt probably increased his arousal even further. Now his brain was in a whirl with fear so that he could not think clearly, and that probably increased his fear even more. The upsetting event involved the violent discharge of a gun, and left his confused mind to react to his extremity of fear in an associated and devastating way.

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