Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued
Another student nurse accepted the assignment. Felicity was unable to determine whether the student’s willingness came from a fascination with the method bred of contact with the other student, or came instead from a private morbid fascination with the grotesque. Regardless of her reasons, he was grateful for her willingness to help. He preferred to preoccupy himself with his own private morbid imaginings about what strange perceptual events might occur during the periods of inhibition of Spring’s self-percept (or self-image) during the mirror gazing activity.
The rules were spelled out for Spring and the student. Spring was to sit for blocks of two hours at a time staring at her face in the mirror, focusing on her nose (the centre of a face) without looking away even for an instant. Of course, whenever she had to, she could blink her eyes. Meanwhile, the student would encourage her to keep staring at herself in the mirror, and would time and record anything that Spring reported. Spring was asked to report from time to time what she was noticing, and particularly if what she saw changed in any way. She said she was willing to try this experiment if Felicity thought it would help, but she thought Felicity was himself cracking up.
The student’s records showed that ‘changes’ occurred according to about the same time schedule as that reported during Sharon’s sessions. But the ‘inhibition intervals’ were much more dramatic than those experienced by Sharon. Spring did report major changes in what she saw at the times designated as ‘inhibition intervals’. To Felicity’s relief, the first session’s ‘changes’ were rather bland. Spring reported only that she could no longer see her face, or that she could only see an outline of her face devoid of any features. But this benign response was not to continue.
In following sessions, the aberrations of her appearance which she reported during the ‘inhibition intervals’ far outstripped those which resided naturally in her face. Her eyes and mouth were seen to take each other’s place. Her nose resembled her two ears glued to each other with nothing between. The contours of her face became liquid and flowing, as if seen in motion in grossly distorting mirrors. Her hairline started just below her nose and her chin protruded, upside down, above it. Then some of the images she saw defied description. Her natural appearance was not quite as deformed as these images might suggest. And it is an immense tribute to her incredible courage that Spring was willing and able to face staring at herself in the mirror for such long blocks of time. Her willingness to continue looking at such incredible distortions of her already detested features must have required courage almost beyond belief.
Spring and her student sat through twenty of these two-hour mirror-gazing sessions. It will not be claimed here that at the end of that time Spring was a raving beauty. But three things did happen which warrant comment.

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