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Piontelli, A. (1993). Autism and Prenatal Studies. Psychoanal. Inq., 13(1):123-133.

(1993). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 13(1):123-133

Autism and Prenatal Studies

Alessandra Piontelli, M.D.

Ellen Stockdale's paper is a moving yet chilling account of terrible mental sufferings. When listening to some of our analysands from the other side of the couch or when observing the behavior of some of our child patients within the playroom, we perhaps seldom fully realize the all-pervasive extent of their pain. Particularly when working with very disturbed, so-called autistic or psychotic young children, it is often difficult to empathize fully with their sufferings as shown by their nonverbal behavior.

It is principally the account of the events and the emotions of Ellen Stockdale's early years that I find amazingly absent in this otherwise fascinating and complex paper. We know nothing of her family, its components, or the atmosphere filling it. We are just told that her life was seemingly “normal” til about the age of 28. From her account her pathology emerges as having little or no roots in her past. Yet we know that much of the pathology to be found in later life has in fact its roots in an often remote past.

As Hanna Segal has written, “We know that the fixation points of psychoses lie in the earliest months of infancy. Furthermore, we know that in psychological illness regression occurs, not to a phase of development that was in itself normal, but to one in which pathological disturbances were present, creating blocks to development and constituting fixation points (1964p. 54).


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