Autistic functioning and language development

Tamm Lessa de Sá, Carlos (2015) Autistic functioning and language development. PhD thesis, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Full text available

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This thesis is a retrospective qualitative study based on psychotherapy sessions with children presenting autistic features who use language in atypical ways. The aim was to understand, through the transferential relationship, what psychological context in terms of anxieties and defences prevents the child from using language efficiently. Hypotheses concerning children‘s use of language in the context of their emotional oscillation and evolution during the course of treatment were noted and checked against subsequent developments. They were also triangulated with the outcome of a grounded theory analysis. The grounded theory analysis led to the emergence of higher-level themes that were compared within and across cases and allowed factors surrounding the children‘s use of language to be conceptualized. The grounded theory method was used in parallel with the usual process of evaluation of the dynamics of each session and patient used by psychoanalysts a posteriori and which is part of the researcher‘s background. This procedure was enhanced by the use of Bion‘s Grid, here in a version adapted to the aims of the research. This approach is discussed in detail in the Methodology chapter. The psychoanalytic theoretical background that supported the research was mainly based on the tradition of Object-Relations Theory, particularly the evolution of Kleinian thinking represented by Bion‘s works, and as far as autism is concerned, by Frances Tustin and Donald Meltzer‘s formulations. Concerning the subject of language development, Meltzer‘s explorations on the necessary conditions for its development and the philosopher Wittgenstein‘s investigations on the social function of language were the main influences of this work. The evolution of the children‘s use of language in parallel with their emotional development in the context of their psychotherapies was analyzed and some hypotheses about the oscillations in their emotional and mental functioning were made. The oscillation in the children‘s emotional state, language use and thinking processes was also studied in terms of a general fluctuation between different mental states that was considered to be present in different degrees and quality in mental life and more strongly when there are limitations in communication skills and social interaction. A few excerpts from notes on adolescent and adult cases with autistic features were included in the Discussion Chapters to briefly illustrate this aspect.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: Thesis submitted to the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in association with the University of East London for the degree of PhD in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy (Child and Adolescent)
Uncontrolled Keywords: PhD in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy: Child and Adolescent
Subjects: Communication (incl. disorders of) > Autism
Communication (incl. disorders of) > Language
Department/People: Children, Young Adult and Family Services

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