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Nardi, M. (2017). Trying to Breathe When There is No More Oxygen. Psychoanalysis and Autism. Ital. Psychoanal. Annu., 11:137-147.

(2017). The Italian Psychoanalytic Annual, 11:137-147

Trying to Breathe When There is No More Oxygen. Psychoanalysis and Autism Language Translation

Massimo Nardi

The autistic experience poses a question of how close we can come to knowability, interrogating the initial formation of the Self, the proto-mental, the a-symbolic, the pre-emotional, and the genesis of the processes of empathy.

Taking account of how arduous it can be to attempt an exploration in these environments, I will try to do so by means of some fragments from a twelve-year treatment with a boy who entered adolescence during his analysis. In particular, I shall use countertransferential experiences in response to the offers of a relationship which Lauro made to me during analysis. The psychoanalytic treatment of Lauro's autism involved my trying to know something of his ineffable character through the constant effort of re-attuning myself to him. In this article, I have chosen to examine some of the most frequently recurring aspects, which recurred over the years, presenting themselves in a variety of forms: the ritual and circular quality of the boy's movements and posture, his relationship with darkness, the unknown, and the non-human environment.

Clinical Focus

Lauro was born from a brief relationship which his mother had had with a man who agreed to acknowledge him only many years later. When I saw him for the first time at the age of four he had little sphincter control and presented anomalies of language. His mother told me that he had not spoken at all until he was three. What could be heard coming out of his mouth was a whistling mixed with rough hints of words and phrases with little connection between them. He had not yet met his father and did not play with other children. There were always small mechanical toys in his hands and he presented with ritualised movements, as can frequently be observed in patients with disturbances on the autistic spectrum. He had been breast-fed for more than a year; the breast and body of his mother were the only things with which he seemed to have any rapport. His mother told how from the earliest years of her son's development, «He used to sleep with me. I put him on the breast and he stayed like that all night. At night he never wanted anything, he was passive, even now he's still attached to me, especially to my earlobe».

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