Background to my interest in teaching children with autism


Guilt is a terrible judgement of one’s self, which evokes strong arousal of negative feelings. It underlies much of what passes as depression, and it evokes its own sense of anxiousness. It is learned from early, perfectly normal and necessary, parental rebukes and criticism which, however, tend to be magnified in the child’s mind partly because of its helpless and dependent state in its relationship to its parents. The function or job of guilt tends to be to prevent the expression of self-gratifying feelings, most commonly anger. It is the primitive way in which the child gains control over its anger and other personal feelings in the service of maintaining the relationships which are so necessary to its survival – since the child believes such feelings may drive a wedge between itself and its parenting ones.

Martha’s case is interesting particularly because of the way in which she was able to image her ‘green devil’. For everyone, guilt is a kind of devil which demeans the person and makes him or her feel ugly and unworthy of love or caring. It really only varies in size and colour. For some, guilt is ‘puke green’ and it represents an evil which can only escape as bilious vomit. For others, it is ‘piss yellow’ or ‘shit brown’ and it represents evil which can only be dispelled as body waste. For still others, it is red and it can only be released as anger and violence. But for nearly everybody it cannot be released or removed by actions or by surgery. It can only be healed by some process in which the person can come to terms with the images of his childhood, leaving them behind him as innocuous dreams.

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