Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

An Incomplete Perfection
In some ways, Susan’s case is utterly unsatisfying. Susan was a round-faced, doe-eyed woman in her early thirties. Like most of the other patients, she was admitted to the Behaviour Therapy Unit with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. But Susan posed a unique problem. Far from being mute, she would talk almost incessantly. The problem was that she had a full, five-response repertoire:
(1) she would cry, (2) she would say: “Doctor, it all started when I had TB,” (3) she would say: “Doctor, I’ve been thinking about committing suicide,” (4) she would say: “I don’t know what’s wrong,” and (5) she would say: “I don’t know why nobody will listen to me.” That last mark is a period. The order in which these five discrete responses were given was random — unrelated to events going on around her. Nothing would alter the pre-set course of her conversation, neither cajoling, nor authoritative demand, nor sympathetic listening, nor anything else that was tried.
Felicity was stumped. Each test administered was responded to with some sampling of the above five utterances. He could get no history. His subtle psychotherapeutic efforts were to no avail. Finally, all else having failed, in sheer desperation and as a last resort, he sat down to think. It seemed to his limited grasp of life that Susan was trying to avoid something – that the restriction of her response repertoire had to serve some defensive or avoidant purpose. Since he could not divine what she might be trying to avoid, he concluded that the only course open to him was to get her to ‘avoid avoidance’. But how could he do that?

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