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Truckle, B. (2002). Autism and Personality: Findings from the Tavistock Autism Workshop A. Alvarez and S. Reid (eds) London: Routledge, 1999 244 pp., £17.99. J. Child Psychother., 28(1):100-103.

(2002). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 28(1):100-103

Autism and Personality: Findings from the Tavistock Autism Workshop A. Alvarez and S. Reid (eds) London: Routledge, 1999 244 pp., £17.99

Review by:
Brian Truckle

There is hope, even if not for us, Kafka reportedly once remarked. This book, long and eagerly awaited, is about the vicissitudes of hope in a puzzling, perhaps bizarre, area of human experience: autism. It does not disappoint. For those readers who follow a classic organic/biological model in thinking about autism, however, its contents may well be shocking and alarming.

It challenges the widely held view that psychotherapy, and in particular psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has nothing to offer to children and adolescents suffering from autistic spectrum disorders. The authors describe the clinical work and research undertaken by the Autism Workshop at the Tavistock Clinic London, both by themselves and by colleagues, over the last fifteen years, to help children and adolescents with autism and their families using psychoanalytic methods. The book is a sample of the experience gleaned from the workshop setting (Rustin, 1991).

The whole process has clearly been a major undertaking: the organization of the setting, the gathering of interested staff and students, the assessment of each individual family and child, the individual and group supervision, and the formulation of ideas, clinical, technical and theoretical. All these tasks are in service of the aim of considering how far psychoanalytical thinking and treatment can give meaning to the bizarre, fragmented and rigid behaviour of autistic children (p. 24).

The amount of effort, of course, must be reviewed in relation to the enormity of the assumptions and claims for the work. These are, first, that psychoanalytic psychotherapy and, in particular, the use of the countertransference as an important tool can effect a ‘major reversal of the [autistic] process’ in some children, and significantly improve the quality of life for other children and their families.

The aim of the work is to seek understanding as meaning for parents, family and child where there has been chaos, fragmentation and no-feeling (in the child) and despair (in the parents and family). But, they suggest, one of the limiting factors will be the personality of each child.

The book is divided into two main sections: the first deals with the theoretical and clinical/technical issues, the second with individual case studies of children and adolescents treated under the programme. The definition of autism follows Hobson (1993) and Trevarthen et al.

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