Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

A Re-Mented De-Mented
Another opportunity was already waiting for him. Sally had been admitted to the Behaviour Therapy Unit in a florid schizophrenic condition. She was doing all the right things. She was obviously hallucinating – she talked to thin air, seeing and hearing things nobody else could see or hear. She was withdrawn, isolating herself from others and staying near walls or in corners. When she did talk to other people she used words in strange ways so that one could not be sure what she was talking about. When she spoke, her voice had a monotonous tone, except when she became excited while talking to the air.
During their first interaction, Felicity noticed that Sally pulled back from any close contact with him. She spoke of her panic when she had recently been in a crowded elevator. Felicity’s mouse-trap mind concluded that there was a claustrophobic element in Sally’s make up. Fortunately, Felicity had read a book once. It was by Fisher and Cleveland, and it talked about how some schizophrenic patients felt their body boundary was ‘permeable’. This scholarly background helped Felicity to grasp what he was being told when Sally’s psychiatrist patiently informed Felicity that the problem in the elevator and in face-to-face contact was not really one involving claustrophobia. Rather, Felicity was told, the problem was that Sally was terrified that, if she happened to have any physical contact with another person, some exchange of skin or flesh might occur so that she might acquire some part of the other person and be left with this grafted-on part, losing some part of herself, forever. Felicity almost understood that the prospect of such an event might be a trifle upsetting.
Nevertheless, not knowing what to do about this anxiety about the permeability of the body’s boundary, Felicity (being Felicity) decided to adopt his own first misunderstanding of the case, and to treat Sally as though she were in fact claustrophobic. He never did grasp the dull-witted nature of this choice.

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