Psychoanalysis Helps Kids With Autism
Researchers Say Psychoanalysis Should Be Part of Treatment for Children With Autism
Jan. 25, 2008 -- From the strict dairy-free and wheat-free diet that actress Jenny McCarthy
details in her best-selling book, Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in
Healing Autism, to mercury detoxification and other types of speech and
behavior therapies, there is little that parents of children with autistic
spectrum disorders will not try to help reach their children.
And psychoanalysis may be a valuable addition to the mix, researchers said
at the annual meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association in New York
The CDC estimates that one in 150 individuals has autism, a disorder that
begins in early childhood and is marked by developmental delays and lagging
social and communication skills.
Autism is part of a larger group of disorders that is referred to as autism spectrum disorders. The
symptoms of autism can range
from very mild to quite severe. Children who are diagnosed with autism often
see numerous specialists several times a week for various types of speech and
Psychoanalysts see autistic children four times a week, typically with a
parent in the room. They also counsel parents once a week separately to keep
them abreast of progress. In a nutshell, the analyst serves as a sensitive
translator who attempts to decode what the child is thinking, feeling, and
"A major piece is to make sense of what the child is trying to
communicate, translate it to the mother, and give her the confidence that she
can do it, too," explains Susan P. Sherkow, MD, a New York City
psychoanalyst who works with autistic children and their families.
"The therapist focuses on the behavior, mood, or emotion of the child
and then translates it to the child and waits for a sign that the child feels
understood, such as a furtive glance. And from there, the therapist enters the
child's world," she explains. Sometimes, this translation is putting the
child's actions into words such as saying "you are picking up a
"Psychoanalysis should be part of the package because unless you have a
really gifted specialist, you are not going to get at the meaning of what these
children are trying to convey," she says.
Another therapy known as applied behavior analysis (ABA) is aimed at
supporting the behaviors that you want in the child and extinguishing those you
don't, while psychoanalysis works at trying to understand the child.
Is Autism Reversible?
Sherkow and others believe that autism may be reversible with early
intervention -- including psychoanalysis. The theory is that the brain is more
malleable than previously believed and can be reconfigured with proper
To that end, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is now urging
pediatricians to screen every child for autism twice by age 2. Some early red
flags include: not turning when a parent calls the baby's name; not turning to
look when the parent says, "Look at that" and not pointing themselves
to show parents an interesting object or event; a lack of back-and-forth
babbling; smiling late; and failure to make eye contact with people.