Through the lens of an Incomplete Attachment. I have described that the autistic child is experiencing dissociated states. What does this mean? From my perspective, the child has many parts of himself that have not become integrated as a whole. These aspects of the self have not been validated and recognized by “an other” so the child, in turn, can not use and see himself. Thus the different parts of this child become dissociated and can not work together to the benefit of the child. We can say that this child does not have the ability to go from one part of himself to another. The child also can not go within himself to retrieve these dissociated parts.
How can I recognize dissociation in an autistic child? Dissociation is easy to recognize. We all have aspects of dissociation, but it is more substantially seen in Autism Spectrum Disorders. The following are examples of dissociation:
1) reduced sense of pain – the child may burn himself, but not demonstrate any outward behaviors that say, “I am hurting.” The pain is there and he feels it, but he is split off from his ability to claim it and name the feeling.
2) Exceptional savant skills – such as extraordinary ability to remember days of the week of birthdays and dates associated with events, ability to do mathematical calculations that others can only do with the help of a calculator or great musical and artistic abilities. These abilities seem to coexist with what appears to be sever disabilities. Most people observing such a mixture of behaviors would be confused and conclude that there must be something “wrong” with a person who on the one hand has great musical ability or artistic ability, but can not talk. I would say this is an example of dissociation in that the emotions are split off from the intellect of the person.
3) Can not shift thinking from one subject to another – this is an example of not being able to go from one part of the self to another. The individual is demonstrating on the outside of himself what is occurring on the inside of him. In other words, his inability to go from one part of himself to another.
4) the child can think through mathematical problems, but can not think through and understand social interactions – the child has access to his intellect, but no access to the emotional parts of himself. The emotional side is harder to access if you have never had an attachment. It is through an attachment that one feels understood and seen and in turn can talk and have access to the emotional parts of one's self.
These are only a few examples of what I think about when observing the autistic person through the lens of dissociation and an Incomplete Attachment. When one thinks about autism from this perspective than one can have hope that the child can develop into an integrated person. The work with the person with autism is to help him to become more conscious of the split off parts. This includes helping him to name his feelings along with the development of a trusting relationship with another person. As he becomes more conscious of himself his dissociated parts will begin to work together.