Responsible Observatorio Autismo. European Psychoanalytical Federation
A little while ago we received the good news that Theo, who as we know from the documentary is fascinated by computers and water above all things, has been able to fulfill his dream of swimming like turtles; having successfully completed his first diving course. Valéry Gay Corajoud, his mother, could not be here with us today but awaits news from this event; she is now accompanying Théo in his second subaquatic incursión.
This past April, on the occasion of the celebrations organized by La main à l’oreille on the International day of autism, Théo spoke with ease (1), along with his brother, about their difficult journey in search of a fraternal bond, interrupted from the moment the two year old boy fell into what Owen Reskind calls a “black well” and Donna Williams the Great Black Nothing, both authors being autistic.
In the documentary Le monde de Théo the young man is presented by his mother. More precisely, she invites us to enter his world, involving us in his joys, his worries, the anxieties experienced in the course of the tenacious battle to move forward, overcoming multiple adversities. Through the generous dedication of our friends in the big web of exchanges of the LaMaO, we can say Théo is a part of our world.
This documentary is a lovely testimony to the enigma represented by autism and to the attempts to decipher it arising from the desire to discover Théo’s singularity, diametrically opposed to a desire for normality (2). From the beginning, the little boy revealed signs of fragility to his family but one day, following a domestic accident, he broke the moorings that bound him to others, immersing himself in the most terrible isolation. He fell little by little into a somber silence. Valéry looked for help and went from one place to another visiting specialists. She participated in forums, She also found herself alone, even threatened for refusing to follow the guidelines she was given, receiving predictions of an even direr future. But Valéry had made a decision, she was not driven by the desire to convert Théo into a normal boy, but by that of establishing contact with him, of understanding him, of creating a bridge, a bond.
Any sign was held to be good. Théo being deprived of speech, his tantrums, moans, shouts and murmurs allowed Valéry to translate the signs of her son into a language that spoke to her of his state and drew her nearer to his intimate experience of desolation and anxiety. Convinced of how much she and his siblings were necessary to Théo, they were able to offer their support without condemning uncomfortable, exaggerated, even violent expressions, never forcing him to find other more convenient, more reasonable ones.
This determination paid off and one day Théo clearly expressed his desire to speak, first through the invention of his own language; later, speaking French and gradually achieving an elegant and cultivated style.
The family ties were built day by day, following no method or program, with each person remaining docile and awake to the contingencies; the only way to capture any findings, to celebrate the dialogue taking shape and becoming richer every passing day through a shared pleasure in language.
Valéry emphasizes many aspects, all of them of great interest to people who are or intend to be connected to autistic people.
I will focus on some of these aspects which I find essential: firstly, the need for the adult to understand the tremendous internal debate maintained by the autistic boy or girl, in trying to comply with expectations of progress, harshly reproaching him or herself for not being able to fulfill them, as when someone suggests they stop asking every night before going to bed about the length of the movie they have just watched. The day Théo seemed to have achieved this, Valéry found him standing, shivering in his room, at midnight, telling himself over and over that he must not repeat his question.
Secondly, Valéry offers a veritable lesson on the functioning of rituals or stereotypies, so necessary for the tracing of an artifice of space and time accessible to their constant experience of chaos. She highlights three types of rituals: the budding ritual, product of a discovery that helps the child operate with more ease; the tranquilizing ritual, incorporated as a comfortable, familiar routine and finally, the ritual that isolates, having lost its reassuring function and causing anxiety through repetition, appearing as a senseless obligation, no more than an imperative.
Thirdly, Valéry has been able to understand that every vital change adopts a particular temporal form, oscillating between regression and progression, until Théo is can secure new path, an unprecedented experience.
But without a doubt, the fundamental aspect contained in the lesson offered by Valéry contradicts common sense, while at the same time revealing the degree of persistent and decided reflection of a strong spirit: communication with an autist cannot be centered on affections, on “empathy”. Dialogue with an autistic person demands a different level of dedication from those who accompany him, it requires an availability detached from any prefixed course, as determined by one’s own wishes or ideas. Furthermore, the greatest care must be observed in the treatment of the body, accounting for the experience of invasion, of disappearance, that too much proximity can arouse (3).
To be attentive and respond adequately -unthinkingly- to the defenseless subject, is the definition of the act. The teachings of Cecilia Hoffman’s posthumous book, entitled Construyendo mundos. El Caso Dídac (4) (Building worlds. Didac’s case), revolve around this act. She understood that true early assistance does not consist in stimulating (making someone want to do something) but in offering help in the precise moment to the defenseless one, to the one exiled from language, so as to sustain the act that humanizes, retrieving his desire.
In the apparently indifferent encounter between two children within the setting of an Early Care facility, the small girl has left some toy keys on the table. The boy picks them up and takes them with him to his session, during which he sets them aside. Nevertheless, when it is time to end the session he seizes them as if holding a trophy and exhibits them before the girl who awaits the restitution of the object in silence and expectation, in the waiting room where they coincide a. The parents of both children witness the scene tensely. Cecilia becomes aware of the situation and begins to mentally devise a negotiation, but somebody snatches the keys from Didac’s hand and puts them in the girl’s hands. A tremendous howl shows that for the boy it is not a simple rivalry at stake. While Cecilia hurried to look for another set of keys, she could heard the desperate cry of the deprived boy, who had lost in a moment both object and body. Both were restored to him with the speed of lightning. A boy of few words, he was able to express with relief and coming back to life, a “Thank you!” that inaugurated a fertile exchange with the world for Didac.
A good encounter, the opportune answer, depend on having learned to detach oneself form identity, narcissism, an expectation of acknowledgement. Such a degree of abnegation receives its reward. Théo has built his world thanks to the daily support of his generous family. He now brings about the creation of micro-societies, Internet micro-worlds. We, the micro-world organized by TEAdir Euzkadi and the Lacanian School for Psychoanalysis, hope to form part of one of them. We send our greetings to Théo from Tabakalera, in Donosti, next to the Cantabric sea and wish him great progresses in his incursions in the submarine world.
Intervention on the occasion of the presentation of the documentary on June 9, 2017.
3-Temple Grandin ha desarrollado este aspecto en su libro Si me tocan, desaparezco. Y Naoki Higashida en La razón por la que salto
4-C. Hoffman. Construyendo mundos. El Caso Dídac Autismo, atención precoz y psicoanálisis. RBA. Barcelona 2017
Translation: Soledad Székely