Jean- Jacques Manicourt
Inside Le Courtil, a transverse service mobilizes the awakening to language. One goes there to put a particular interest to work, centered in an object of knowledge. This service is called L’Éveil (Awakening) and it is addressed to many children and adolescents coming from different Day Centers and Residences.
I work in L’Éveil, a small structure that receives young subjects interested in learning. I attend these youngsters — including autistic children and adolescents (for we know they are not insensible to learning)— One by One. This device differs from the practices in a regular life group. The One by One (which obviously does not exclude the case by case) is not self-evident. I had to invent a way of circulating, a way of punctuating the workshop without recurring to the plural practice.
I observed in many of these autistic youngsters a propensity to follow me as soon as they see me (in the strict sense, as soon as they see me when they are not expecting me). They hurriedly put on their shoes and jacket (when they do not pick up my overcoat) and come with me along the way that will take them from their life group to the Éveil. Sometimes, to keep advancing, these autistic youngsters borrow from me some impossible dance step or a ‘tinkling’ word. So that a step, a coat, a word, suffice for the shouting to stop and make circulation possible. They take it from me as copyists, in the sense Dona Williams gives us as one of the possible incarnations of the double. I quote: “As a child I defined ‘friend’ as ‘someone who allows you to copy him or her to the point that you become that person’”. Without directly concentrating on her, I was united to that being, fused with the voice, the style and the rythm of his movements’”.
¿What position to adopt in relation to the autistic child?
Why such promptitude to follow me? Is it because I, naturally, occupy the position of the Butler? A Butler in the style of Eugène Allen played by Forest Whitaker in the film of the same title?
Of course, there is no pejorative dimension in the word Butler here. “The Butler” is discrete: a quality the Master appreciates; he takes care of things, which excludes him from the Master’ discourse. The “Butler” has no saying in education, which keeps him away from the impossible that education involves. The “Butler” is always available and does not express his own wishes or asks too many questions; his own demands are left aside. And, above all, the “Butler” is no technician: a priori, he does not know. His is a good position close to the double.
A colleague, after reading the above, makes me get down to earth — we forget that novellesque figure attending to the matters of the house, observing that these young children who run to follow me around, do it because they are certain they will find, week after week, their objects— in the present case, their double, this “friend” with the qualities of a “Butler”. And I would add: the promise of a place where there is less or little enunciation; she did not contradict me on this point.
L’ÉVEIL, a place of scarce enunciation
As it happens these youngsters must confront, at school, demands that are difficult for them or because in their life groups, a little too much is said and their object does not suffice to establish a border. In this sense L’Éveil is perhaps a promise for them; a promise of less imperatives. There is that computer that no one must take from them, that they use on the side of the double (characters of animation, for example, or of the object that gives them an edge, a frame: camera, selfies, etc.). And that rather silent mediator who intervenes little, and does so only in the dimension of the sign, leaving out any strong enunciation, or an excess of willingness, insistance, etc.
The cries of Youssef
Youssef is one of those kids that run to follow me. An eight year old, with no support of a double, he screams. A double is, for example, his own reflection, or a character of animation, whose voice or mouvements he copies.
Youssef always screams in the same way, without the least variation; Youssef screams when he goes from one place to another, he screams when he sees his plate empty, and even when it is full, he even screams when he has food in his mouth. Youssef’s total self is in that scream. Non stop Youssef screams in the space between the sign and its representation; this cry is not a whim. Youssef cannot comprehend the interval between the word and the thing; he cannot bear the void that opens up between telling him to go to lunch or to the swing and the action itself. To him “eating” means the food in his mouth, “swing” the action of swinging once he is there installed.
The function of the double as border
So that the screaming —almost permanent when he was first commended to our responsibility— can cease, Youssef sustains himself on a double, the shape that for him this autistic border takes, a kind of frontier that protects him from a chaotic and threatening world. It can be his own reflection in the mirror, or the TV screen, or even an intervenant whose dance steps he imitates in the music workshop (as a copyist) or a singer whose voice he mimics.
However, when Youssef makes One with his double, he laughs, but with a laughter that is of the same order as the scream. A laughter that he repeats endlessly, as his mother tells us. If Youssef finds himself alone with the object or with the double, then there is an excess of life: the double agitates him, it does not pacify him. It is then helpful to accompany that double talking to him in a certain way —without intensity or desire— of what he knows about the object, or about anything at all.
A small vignette
Yousseff plays dressing and undressing characters —it is an Internet game. At first, he rejoyces in the exercise: he jumps all around, he caresses his sex and laughs without stop. There is something like a folding up of the double over his own body —the double he is interested in is usually a moving double. There is a stop just to say “itches”, as a reply to my comment, half exclamation and half interrogation, of what was actually not meant as a question about “touching the zizi”.
In the opposite direction, the moment the object takes distance from the double, then the laughter stops and Youssef can relate to the other as follows: When Youssef puts a rapper cap on his doll, I say “Yeah” rapper style. Youssef exchanges a gaze and imitates the rapper’s gesture. Laughter stops to give way to play. When Youssef turns the character bald, he looks at me again and puts his hands on his head.
Our work is in its preliminaries —around the question of the double and laughter, the object and the scream. The same happens with my listening to the mother who suffers with these forms of automutilation.
With the mother
The day Youssef first arrived, I had an interview with his mother. Youssef was screaming. The mother admitted that in between his screaming and his laughter, she did not know what to do.
Youssef accompanies me with a continuous scream. In my office, he notes that my jacket is on a chair. He puts it on and the screaming stops suddenly. After that I accompany him to the door; his Mum is waiting for us and notices the jacket the kid is wearing. I explain to her that when he is so re-clothed with the garment taken from another, Youssef stops screaming and can then listen to music, dance, etc. She has noticed that herself, but is quite uneasy with the fact that sometimes her son puts on girls’ clothes (he wears her own dresses). Since she seems to trust me, I take the opportunity to tell her that, in my humble opinion, it is not so much the genre of the garment that pacifies her son, but the fact that what he takes from the other is oversize and covers him well. It is a kind of clothing that provides him with a body. Some weeks later, I was told that during a wedding celebration to which Youssef’s parents were invited, he took, with her enthusiastic compliance, the bride’s veil. Thus attired, Youssef ceased to scream and danced with the bride for a while. Secondary benefit, the parents were able to enjoy the party.
Let’s hope that this work with the objects and their doubles prospers to reach greater complexity to the point of making a social bond possible (as in the wedding party). A bond that can tranquilize both the mother and her son Youssef.
Traducción: Amalia Rodríguez Monroy