Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

An Immutable Imitation
While Felicity’s unnatural curiosity was not satisfied with the unknown sequel to Susan’s story, it was destined to be glutted on the sequel to Shirley’s. Shirley was admitted to the Unit because of a strange complication in her relationship with her psychiatrist. Her psychiatrist made her sick. Even if Shirley was in her dormitory so that she could not see anything going on anywhere else on the ward, the instant her psychiatrist walked through a door onto the ward, Shirley would begin to retch wretchedly, vomiting up anything which happened to be in her stomach. Since the psychiatrist could not properly avoid going to the ward in the service of curing this particular patient, it seemed a superior idea to transfer Shirley to another unit. Since Shirley’s diagnosis was schizophrenia which had not responded favourably to anything during her twenty years of residence in the hospital, and since her accessory symptoms seemed interesting, Felicity’s unit was nominated as the one to be granted the privilege of Shirley’s care.
Shirley was a skinny woman in her early fifties. She had the grey look of a nun lost in a trance, vacantly seeking a world whose image she had lost and in which she no longer had any faith. The history showed that she had been raised a devout Catholic. During her mid-teens, she had become pregnant on two occasions and, feeling deeply guilty, had brutal abortions both times – which left her feeling even more profoundly guilty. When she got married and had a son, her son was found to have a congenital heart defect. It was thought that she believed that this was punishment for her adolescent sins. It was assumed that the load of guilt she had experienced from this misfortune had proved too much for her weak or brittle ego so that she had regressed into schizophrenia.
Felicity did not want to make Shirley sick. He reasoned that the core of Shirley’s schizophrenia and of her weak stomach must be autonomic nervous system arousal associated with her guilt – maximized in the presence of the psychiatrist to whom she had divulged her history. He thought it would be wise to reduce the arousal of her autonomic nervous system. At that time, the means available to him were through general de-arousal with anxiety-relief conditioning (it had no effect on any of her symptoms, although it did calm her down a bit) and through specific de-arousal with Wolpe’s reciprocal inhibition therapy (RIT).

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