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Rhode, M. (2016). Some comments on ‘Autistic processes’ by Frances Tustin. J. Child Psychother., 42(1):69-81.

(2016). Journal of Child Psychotherapy, 42(1):69-81

Some comments on ‘Autistic processes’ by Frances Tustin

Maria Rhode

Autistic processes’, Frances Tustin tells us, is the revised version of a paper that she presented in March 1969 at what was then still called the ACP Study Weekend. Three years previously the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry had published her description of her little autistic patient John (Tustin, 1966): something one cannot imagine happening today. Tustin describes the two publications as companion papers that should be ‘read in conjunction with each other’. Both concern what she calls the ‘hole’ type of depression, but ‘Autistic processes’ delineates ‘primitive processes which become excessive in order to protect against its catastrophic effects’. This statement foreshadows her later formulation that children with autism made use of self-protective strategies in order to deal with catastrophic, and sometimes psychotic, anxieties; a view that found expression in the title of her last book: The Protective Shell in Children and Adults (Tustin, 1990a). She preferred the term ‘self-protective strategy’ to ‘defence mechanism’, partly because the concept of defence arose out of Freud’s work with neurotic patients who were concerned with psychic conflict and whose ego was so much more developed than that of the children Tustin treated. Nevertheless, David, the patient whom she describes in ‘Autistic processes’, deployed his strategies as a way of coping with catastrophic experience: that is, for defensive reasons.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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