Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued
Felicity remembered that the Psychology Department at the university he had attended had some obsolete equipment which was not being used. He visited the department and obtained the loan of an old galvanic skin resistance (GSR) device to see if Quirk’s idea had any merit. He thought he could measure changes in the sweat on her hand (actually in the amount of electrolytic activity in the sweat cells) as a way of keeping track of her changing levels of anxiety. Sally accepted the electrode rings on the index and ring fingers of her right hand, and Felicity began to monitor her GSR while she was watching the slides during her next session.
She was now sitting still instead of relaxing, looking at pictorial slides instead of imagining the scenes and being monitored by means of the GSR instead of monitoring her own subjective state. And it seemed to Felicity that the method was working. During the first two sessions, every time he showed her a new slide, the GSR device recorded a fairly sharp drop in skin resistance – that is, her palms were sweating a little more. Then, as she kept looking at the same slide, the GSR showed a steady rise (i.e., less sweat) until it had recovered to its former ‘base line’ level. He would then change the slide, and the GSR reaction would repeat itself. He thought: “Good, since the GSR is reacting as I’d expect with each new anxiety stimulus, it must be monitoring correctly the state going on within her.”
But then came the third GSR-monitored session. At first, the same reaction occurred to each new slide. Then the pattern changed. There was no drop in the skin resistance [i.e., no increase in anxiety] with each new slide. Instead, the GSR continued to rise slowly at each slide change, and it continued to rise while she looked at the slide. Felicity thought Sally must have gone to sleep. But, no, her eyes were open and she was scanning the picture in front of her. He thought she must have adopted her usual defensive approach of ‘fogging out’ or muting her response to everything around her. But she seemed to be focusing on the pictures and scanning them rather than staring vacantly at them. He thought she must be increasing her tolerance to or ‘getting used to’ watching slides and so was not reacting with anxiety to each new one. In successive sessions, he tried pictures which he thought ‘ought’ to be more upsetting for her. The increases in the GSR with each new slide only became greater. Besides, she was reaching levels of skin resistance which seemed to Felicity’s limited experience to be much too high to be her ordinary base line levels. He was not unhappy that she seemed to be getting ‘more comfortable’. He just did not know what to make of what he was seeing. She ‘ought’ not to be desensitizing that well since she was not relaxing and since she was passively looking at scenes rather than actively picturing them.

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