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Tustin, F. (1991). Revised Understandings of Psychogenic Autism. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 72:585-591.

(1991). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 72:585-591

Revised Understandings of Psychogenic Autism

Frances Tustin


The author suggests that, in the light of observational findings from babies, it is no longer tenable to postulate a normal autistic phase in infancy, and to view pathological autism as a halt at, or a regression to, such a phase. This has been a commonly held psychoanalytic view concerning the aetiology of autism, and she has subscribed to it. In this paper, the author presents a revision of these views, in that she now reserves the term autism to refer solely to pathological conditions. Her present view is that autism is a system of protective, but alienating auto-sensual aberrations which have developed to deal with an infantile trauma of seeming to be wrenched away from a mothering person's body. She suggests that in an unduly fused nursing situation, mother and child had felt undifferentiated from each other. Thus, the infant had

taken it for granted that the mother's body was a permanent part of 'its' body. It was an unbearable shock when this was found to be not so. The author suggests that autistic reactions to this shock are the source of the autistic child's many deficits. Based on clinical material presented in her other books and papers, she has attempted to describe and conceptualize the protective auto-sensual reactive aberrations which develop to deal with this traumatic awareness of bodily separateness.

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