My encounter with Noah and its effects

 

Véronique Cornet

Le Courtil

 

His parents locate the beginning of Noah’s difficulties when he was nine months old, his mother had to return to work and entrusted him to her mother’s daily care. He began suffering terrible bouts of anxiety accompanied by inconsolable tears. Thereafter, every frustration led to self-harming episodes which were later followed by aggressions to others. From the age of two and a half years, Noah has received paedopsychiatric care for adjustment disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and severe autism with hetero and auto-aggression.

Two years and a half ago, Noah, an eight year old boy, was admitted to Le Courtil.

The gaze

 

Straight away from the first meeting, Noah bears witness to the weight that the gaze as object petit a holds for him. He presents himself to the Other with his arm before his eyes. The fact that it is exactly this part of his forearm that hides his eyes which he bites in self-mutilation, brings to mind that if the gaze is not separated, he extracts it there, on his forearm.

 

During his first week’s trial at Le Courtil, when a gaze would cross his own, he would scream. Afterwards, Noah alternated between staring persistently into our eyes and wrenching off the glasses of those who wore them. In a those early days at the day Center, in a workshop where I was drawing with a biro at his table, he seized the biro, sketched a few lines and threw it at me aiming precisely, as if to introduce it in my eye. For the first weeks, the entrances or departures of children or participants were immediately followed by Noah knocking down all the objects within his reach and in the same movement, loudly pushing over tables and chairs, screaming.

 

The first time Noah and I walked about the day Center’s courtyard, he stopped abruptly as we passed a windowpane that reflected our image, he laughed, hopped jubilantly, looked at me and then pulled me by the hand to continue our tour. This happened a few times. At the “Video” workshop, Noah appropriated the device I held in my hand and took control of the part that displays what is being filmed. If I let go of the camera, he would replace my hand so that we both held it. In this way, he observed what happened in the room, via the little screen, directing it from bottom to top and from left to right. He then made a doll move in front of the screen to watch her move in and out of its frame. Afterwards, he consented to my filming him so he could watch himself on the screen afterwards.

 

Something was construed as the workshops progressed. His gaze now rests frequently upon the objects that frame the world (camera, telephone, tablet, windows, mirrors) and moves on to search in reality what appears on the screen. When he doesn’t use the screen, Noah has found a way to frame his vision by adopting a sideways glance, as if he were seeing both the edge of his eye and the object of his gaze.

 

I put forward the hypothesis that the screen has enabled a separation between Noah and what he sees, of which he previously defended himself through an extraction on his own body (mutilation) or by violently throwing objects. Where he couldn’t subjectify space or his body, Noah invented a device to ensure an interstice between himself and objects, between himself and others. Noah daily pursues the task of structuring space, regularly pointing his finger at the sky, the ceiling, the walls, and then at his own body. Little by little, we have seen Noah develop a taste for tidying up, he now sets about ordering every thing in perfect alignment.

 

 

The voice

 

Noah is an autist who does not seem to be persecuted by words. We can address him, ask him a question to which he will respond with a nod. Along the same lines, if we are next to him, discussing between colleagues, he will listen to us, stare fixedly and show no signs of anxiety. His gaze goes from one to the other, following the words.

 

In the beginning at Le Courtil, he would cry out if there was too much talking. Being in the habit of humming, I soon found out that it would stop Noah’s cries. The sound of my wordless modulated voice helped him bear the sudden screams, the untimely noises or inarticulate words of the other children. If I didn’t hum, Noah’s distress would surface, causing him to hide his gaze with his arm, to scream and/or knock over a piece of furniture, or to attack our bodies.

 

The music workshop interests Noah very much. He skillfully plays the djembe with us but is particularly interested in the cables that connect the amplifier to the instruments and microphones. He was initially interested in disconnecting them and then in organizing in his way the itinerary of the sounds produced and in binding his body and mine. Then Noah undertook something new with the microphone. He was very interested in putting it in my mouth, in having me sing into it. He then experimented taking it in his own hands and as of then, he spends the workshop doing playback with perfect pantomime. He both sings (dancing at the same time) and speaks (with discursive gestures). From time to time, to his big surprise a word comes out of his mouth. So, he covers his eyes with his arm, releases his anxiety and is then able to smile contentedly, perhaps relieved that this stray word is not so terrible after all.

 

As work progresses, a few words have appeared, especially those indicating disapproval: “Don’t want, no”, “No, not!”, or “Afraid!”. When we walk along, Noah makes sounds in a language that mimes words and their pantomime. Lately, little bits of phrases emerge from time to time, such as the subtle “all’s fine” with which he addresses us when he passes by.

 

 

Orality

 

During meals, Noah sits at the table and can eat under certain conditions. Two years and a half ago, having an empty plate before him was intolerable. He would throw it away or make it fall to the floor. But if I asked if I could serve him, enumerating the possibilities, he would nod his agreement indicating what he wanted (he didn’t say yes to everything I proposed, having his own tastes) and he would then eat quietly. When he was done, he would shift his plate one centimeter and if I didn’t remove it, he would make it fall. As time went by I didn’t need to remove it completely, moving it a little further was enough. Eventually this became unnecessary, when he is done with his meal Noah lightly pushes his dish away without overturning it.

 

Early on, if I had to stand up from the table we shared with others, he would throw his plate in the air. I can now stand up and move about to take care of the others, on condition that I tell him first and let him know that I will return to my place. He then nods and is able to continue eating. If, on the other hand, the child next to him stops eating or turns away from the food, their plate will end on the floor. As if the plate ought to remain attached to the person who is eating. The object on its own, with no link to a person, becomes a surplus object.

 

 

The body

 

On Noah’s first week at the Day Center, he would stay very close to me, leaning his body upon mine. In his moments of anxiety, he would burst into a fit of violence in the pulsional mode: when he didn’t knock furniture down, he would hurt himself by biting his arm or confound his body with somebody else’s (pressing against me) until he aggressed them (pulling their hair) or would wrap himself in our clothes (pulling on them until he tore them off).

 

At such times, I would start to dance and he would dance with me. Our bodies could then separate and move together in accord. With no a priori relation between one body and the other, dancing establishes a rapport that institutes order, conveys the law of movement and the course to approaching another person. In a way, dancing to the rhythm of the music introduces an amount of symbolic order and the bodies are taken by writing, as by a discourse articulating one body to the Other.

 

Noah likes dancing. I spent the first months of our work together setting my movements to rhythm and Noah found a certain pleasure in submitting his body to the trials of dancing. Following the rhythm and inscribing his body in a movement identical and simultaneous to mine, he was a captive to the imaginary. But beyond that, it is my impression that dancing regulates something within him, organizing the jouissance in his body. As if symbolically inscribing a trajectory of the body, like a form of writing. His rhythmic gait retains traces of it in everyday life.

 

Noah can circulate in the world in a manner that is slightly more appeased. His relation to others has become more civilized and the aggressions towards himself, others and objects have decreased radically. He can now play ball, play on the swings and even rely on his relation with another child to venture on a slide or inside an inflatable castle. This year, Noah was able to begin progressive schooling.

 

 

Translation: Soledad Szekely

Revision: Florencia Fernandez Coria Shanahan

was able to begin progressive schooling.