Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

A Simply Simple Simplicity
In Felicity’s opinion, Sabrina did not seem like ‘a schizophrenic’. The referring psychiatrist said she had a schizophrenic illness, simple type. Certainly, she was a simple person who seemed sort of helpless, indecisive, unmotivated and dependent. But Felicity imagined he had met quite a few women in their early forties like Sabrina. Of course, on at least a couple of occasions, in the community where he lived, Felicity had failed to recognize psychosis or to anticipate that people he met were destined to be certified as mentally ill on the very day on which he met and interacted with them. But, then, we already know how sharp Felicity is.
At least in Sabrina’s case, Felicity had the good sense, not seeing ‘anything wrong with’ her, to get a series of psychological tests administered to her. The test results were generally consistent with those from the Rorschach, and the Rorschach yielded evidences of a psychotic degree of deterioration of functioning and of difficulty in perceiving and communicating the way most others do. However, the only specific ‘active’ symptom in the Rorschach was a general lack of differentiation in Sabrina’s emotional responses. Felicity had no idea at all what that might mean, nor any idea, regardless of what it might mean, what to do about it or about her.
He puzzled for a long time about Sabrina’s condition. He kept trying to reformulate for himself the idea of emotional responses which were undifferentiated. He thought he had read something which seemed to sound like that, but he couldn’t recall where. His thoughts were always scattered, and one day it occurred to him that what he was trying to think of had something to do with what psychologists call phenomenology – which is different from what psychiatrists call phenomenology. He found a book of his on phenomenology (not phrenology) and browsed through it. Wham! There it was. In an article by Snygg, he saw the basic postulate that: “Phenomenological differentiation is consistent with control of behaviour.”
Felicity had no idea at all what the word phenomenological referred to in that context, and only a faint idea about how psychologists use the term differentiation. To make it easier for himself, he changed the words around to suit himself. He formulated the hopefully equivalent statement that: perceptual discrimination is consistent with control of behaviour. He hoped that ‘behaviour’ included emotional responses, and that ‘control’ included the idea of differentiation.
On the strength of this clear-thinking analysis, Felicity tore a number of pictures out of magazines he was about to throw out and arranged them in an order, from the simplest to the most complex. Starting with the simplest picture and working down the series, and using only one picture in each twenty-minute session, Felicity asked Sabrina to describe in detail what she saw in each picture. The first one happened to be a picture of a plate on which was a tomato with a stem and one leaf. Sabrina began by saying it was a juicy tomato. Felicity asked her where she saw the ‘juicy’. She said she didn’t. She was asked to stick with what she saw. Each time she gave a concrete or factual item, Felicity congratulated her. The pictures became more complex, but each took about the same amount of time as Sabrina became more adept at the task.

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