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Autism and Self-Defiling Phenomena



by R. L. Cima

Cal State Fullerton – Counseling 536 – Department:  Counseling/Psychology.

Submitted:  December 1982

The term autism comes from the Greek autos, meaning oneself, and ismos, meaning characteristic of.  It has been translated as morbid concentration.  A Swiss psychiatrist, Paul Eugen Bleuler, was the first to use the word autistic as an adjective to describe his patients’ “psychotic image of their being.” (Ritvo, 1976, pg. 8).  At the time this phenomenon was called Childhood Schizophrenia, Symbiotic Psychosis, and Atypical Ego Development.

The algolagnic (hurt luster) presents a rather unique set of symptoms and is perhaps why Keirsey refers to the ISFP as “the most misunderstood of all types.”  In no other set of symptoms are the subjective interpretations of others so critical to determine pathology.  The idea of someone doing something harmful to their own well-being assumes the observer knows and understands what the well-being is for the person observed.

Reviewing the investigated literature, the over-riding concern is to understand symptomology using the various familiar models and theories.  The attempt here is to report phenomenological behavior and to search for the commonality of behaviors in autism, vagrancy, fetishism and masochism.  As the literature was somewhat sketchy as to etiology, except for autism, it will become obvious this writer’s ideas have filled in the gaps. These ideas will be noted.

In Dr. Leo Kanner’s book, Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact (1943), he first used the word as a noun, referring to this phenomenon as Early Infantile Autism.  From that beginning, when autism was first described as a medical disturbance, all literature has taken its lead.  Based on eleven observed cases he summarized: “The outstanding pathognomonic, fundamental disorder is the children’s inability to relate themselves in the ordinary way to people and situations from the beginning of life” (Kanner, 1943, pg. 5). There is, he would note, from the beginning, an extreme autistic aloneness.

To begin to describe the symptoms of autism, it was noticed in virtually every publication investigated these symptoms were termed “bizarre.”  Doubleday Dictionary (l975) defines bizarre as “exceedingly odd,” with synonyms that include “fantastic,” “outlandish,” “grotesque,” and “freakish.”  Indeed, as seen by an objective observer, these overt behaviors, or lack of proper overt behaviors, could be viewed as strange and alien.  Moreover, from this writer‘s analysis, there are certain symptoms that can easily be construed as talent rather than symptoms, and these views will be given.

The parents of autistic children commonly summarize their concerns by noting their children are “self-sufficient,” “like in a shell,” “happiest when left alone,” “acting as if people weren’t there,” “perfectly oblivious to everything about them,” “giving the impression of silent wisdom,” (Kanner, l943, pg. 18).  Additionally, they note the apparent non-affection of their child, and more precisely, the aversive reaction these children seemingly have to being picked up or cuddled. 

In The Autistic Child (1977) by Ivar Lovaas, he reports about a particular autistic child: “His parents became aware that he was different at 3 months, when he seemed to avoid social interaction or contact with adults or other children and was content to remain alone for long periods of time. He would respond to others by screaming and crying. He seemed insensitive to pain. . .”  The summary of symptoms follows:

1.  Extreme Autistic Aloneness.  Without exception, all cases reported these children’s predilection for privacy.  Any disturbance could be met with resistance and/or screaming and crying, and in some cases, tantrums.  Quite often, when alone, these children will engage in head-banging and other self-destructive behavior that, when mediated, meets with the same resistance.

2.  Insistence on the Preservation of SamenessThis symptom had vague explanations and descriptions, but it appears any environmental change of routine can be very upsetting to these children.  In one case in Your Child is Asleep (1969), the author reports when confronted with the living room where a single small table had been removed, a child maintained a severe tantrum until the table was replaced.  A drive to the doctor’s office must occur along the same route; a new visitor to the household will be met with fear and apprehension above predicted norms.

3.  Child Appears Unoriented (not disoriented).  These children appear detached and disinterested in events about them and may occupy themselves for hours with repetitious activities involving the manipulation of an object or part of his own body (Des Laurers & Carlson, 1969, pgs. 25-27). They may engage in wall scratching, twirling an object, and ritualistic bizarre hand movements.  While doing so they were described by several authors as independent, self-sufficient and self-absorbed.

The particular behaviors of twirling and rocking appears consistently throughout the literature. Spinning in place, walking in a circle, and twirling a toy is very common for autistic children:

“She rocked from foot to foot in her crib so incessantly she wore out several mattresses.  She also spun bar stools and toy wheels, twirled her hair and the strings of her blanket, closely examined minute pieces of lint and dirt, giggled, laughed, and clapped her hands inappropriately and rubbed her own skin, ground her teeth, and looked out of the sides of her eyes” (Lovaas, l977, pg. 80).

Additionally, there seems to be a high degree of fascination with mechanical devices (vacuums, stoves, light switches, faucets), particularly the sounds they emanate as witnessed by an autistic boy of 8 who had a pre-occupation with washing machines.  It seems, upon close observation, he would mimic the sounds of the washing machine, imitating each cycle, taking approximately the proper time for each cycle to finish. (Coffey & Wiener 1967, pg. 20)

As an opinion, what is called “unoriented” by authors may be quite oriented to these children.  A fascination with all their senses, as well be shown, is a common trait.

4.  Eating Difficulties and Peculiar Eating Habits.  While autistic children are described as generally healthy, and particularly beautiful (Des Laurels & Carlson, l969, pg. 30), ingestion is a problem.  It is often reported eating skills develop late and there are often no signs of hunger.  Also, autistic children sometimes refuse to chew and are insistent on certain meals. One girl reportedly refused to ingest anything but milk for the first 6 years of life (Rimland, 1962, pg. 8). Another case spoke of the insistence of one 4-year-old boy to only eat squares of chocolates, and not round pieces (Rimland, l962, pg. 10).  Also, Lovaas (1977) reports a 2-year-old boy who refused to eat objects of certain colors; he would not put anything red in his mouth.  Smelling and licking of objects and people is common.

5.  Physical Ability
Autistic children, when picked up as infants can become either stiff and unpleasant, or lump and listless.  Gross motor skills are not good, and these children may appear clumsy in gait.  However, very often they exhibit a high degree of fine muscle coordination and are quite adept at twirling, spinning, and picking up small objects (DeLaursers & Carlson, l969, pg. 26).  In fact, manual dexterity is said to be extremely well developed by some authors.  Ritvo (l976) reports of a 17-month-old boy who could quite easily catch and throw a ball with either hand.  Tinbergen & Tinbergen (1972) state that autistics have a distortion of motility that can include hyperkinesis, catatonia, and bizarre postures (pg. 8).  Regarding this symptom, there seems to be little follow-up or investigation as to its utility in treatment, with tracking over time non-existent.

6.  Speech
Of all the behaviors of autistics, how they communicate, or don’t communicate, is perhaps the most intriguing, and the most confusing and unusual.  It is reported by several authors speech is non-existent in about 50% of reported cases, with communication taking place by pointing or grunting, or by moving the observer’s hand or body to the desired object.  Indeed, many autistic children are first diagnosed as deaf or dumb or even blind:

“Linda was first suspected to be deaf and blind. She showed no startle response to a loud clap behind her yet would react to the sound of the opening of a gum wrapper.  She would stare at the light on the ceiling or at a point on the wall, and not look at people who approached her, but would look right through them, even when they attempted to distract her” (Lovaas, 1977, pg. 50). 

In the cases where speech does occur, it is said to be quite peculiar, and has four distinct characteristics: a) affirmation by repetition of questions (absence of yes), b) pronominal reversal (absence of I), c) delayed Echolalia, d) Irrelevant and Metaphorical use of language.

a)  Affirmation by Repetition of Question (absence of “yes”).  If asked the question do you want a drink, an autistic child may respond in the affirmative by stating “do you want a drink.”  Several authors make a distinction between this and echolalia, deducing this response as a “yes” to a question rather than simply an echo.

b) Pronominal Reversal (absence of “I”).  When asking for something, or referring to himself, the autistic child is quite likely to use second or third personal pronouns, most often singular, i.e., “you want a piece of candy,” instead of “I want a piece of candy.”  It should also be noted it is very common for speech to be in a monotone, high pitched voice, without use of pronouns, modifying words, or articles. (Coffey & Huber, 1967, pg. 20.)

c) Delayed Echolalia.  As illustrated by the boy who could quite easily mimic the sounds of the cycles of a washing machine, these children possess an ability to remember phrases of speech or sounds, long after they first heard them.  In Psychological Experiments with Acute Children by B. Hermelin and N. 0’Connor (l970), there is much evidence autistics have excellent rote memories.  It was found in their experiments comparing autistic, mongoloid, and normal children, autistics did as well as normal children and did better at rote memory exercises with a list of nonsense words (pg. 18).

d) Irrelevant and Metaphorical Use of Language.  A stimulating, if not poetic, example that caught this writer’s attention that sums up this symptom (or ability!) is seen by a 6-year-old girl who said, “Real is real, touch the ground or wall…dreaming is when you sleep — and imagination is when you are awake” (Coffey & Weiner, 1967, pg. 35).  These children may know “brush and comb,” “shoes and socks,” or “mommy and daddy,” but may have difficulty in labeling the single object, and may interchange the nouns, or more likely use them both when referring to one.  “Bumped the head” was used by one boy when he sought comfort for any type of injury (Rimland, 1963, pg. 48).  One mother reports she once intervened with her 3-year-old son when he was about to do something inappropriate and told him “Don’t throw the (stuffed toy) dog off the balcony.”  For months he would repeat the phrase “don’t throw the dog off the balcony” verbatim whenever he meant “no” (Rim1and, 1962, pg. 50).

Speech, to summarize, may begin early or late, or not at all.  Quite often, as evidenced in A Child Called Noah (Josh Greenfie1d, 1972), a book in diary form by the father of an autistic child, speech may begin, and then, by the age of 3 or 4, disappear.  Speech is said to be of the “peculiar non-communicative kind” (Rimland, 1962, pg. 15), a rather peculiar statement.

To digress, rather than symptomatic, many behaviors expressed can be seen as abilities or talents.  Bizarre to be sure in many cases, nonetheless when described as what they do, as opposed to what they don’t do, or do “bizarrely,” treatment possibilities seem to exist. This will be explored later. 

Much of the literature is contradictory.  In Hermelin and O’Connor’s work (1970) which compared autistic, mongoloid, and normal children, their results were:  

1) Autism is not a marked distinct aloofness from other people.  Autistics respond less frequently and for a shorter period to a whole range of stimuli;

2) Relatively fast adaptation to Iight at the cortical level;

3) Unresponsive to verbal and non-verbal auditory stimuli;

4) Autistics show more activity which is non-stimulus directed and are less able to use visual information in perceptual motor tasks (pg. 350).

Finally, while not described as a symptom, there is a rather remarkable behavior most autistic children seem to possess – marked musical ability.  One of Kanner’s (1943) original cases did in fact become a composer.  In Parents and Children in Autism (Marian K. DeMayer, 1979) it is noted, “observations have been made that autistic children may have some normal or supernormal music abilities” (pg. 141).  Rimland (1964) has also stated special musical abilities are “nearly universal” in autistic children with 15% carrying tunes unusually well, and 15% having unusually well-developed rhythm (pg. 75).  Ritvo (1976) concurred, noting their “excellent memories and music abilities” (pg. 44).  

Indeed, Ritvo describes a boy of 17 months who spontaneously repeated in full an aria from Don Giovanni.  Between 18-36 months he sang “a remarkable repertoire of music, consisting of symphonies by Mozart and Haydn, songs by Schubert and Brahms, selections from Carmen, a Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto, and diversified well known songs” (pg. 80).  Ritvo also described an autistic child who would reorganize a set of blocks with pictures and numbers in precisely the same disorganized pattern days apart, with careful attention to where each block was to be placed, its angle, and where each number and picture belonged.  There are many instances of children completing jigsaw puzzles as readily as when the picture is face down, as face up.

Reeve – 2 years 3 months
Normal pregnancy, C-section.  He has frequent ear and respiratory problems, colic, and allergies.  No evidence of neurological disease and no indication of brain damage.  No family history of psychological disorders.  Developmental milestones within normal limits.  His parents became aware he was different at 3 months.  He avoided social interaction with adults and children, remaining alone for hours on end.  He seemed insensitive to pain.  His mother reports he sat up on the operating table during hernia surgery (26 months) and only a few days after the operation attempted to walk up the stairs of his home.  He engaged extensively in self-stimulating activities such as gazing at his hands, at lights, or off into space. He chanted continuously, ran in small circles, rocked frequently in his crib, on the floor, and particularly next to a vacuum cleaner.  He compulsively lined up papers and toys in particular patterns.  He showed some destructive behavior consisting of head banging concentrated on sharp corners of furniture (Lovaas, 1977, pg. 66).

Timmy – 8 years old
“When disturbed he was an extreme head-banger.”  His pediatrician once reported when he went to his home to treat the boy for an earache, Timmy’s terror of the pain caused him to ram his head into a wall.  Though he seemed to show no pain reaction, if accidently hurt even slightly in some other area of his body, “Timmy would fall quite apart and act as though he was mortally wounded” (Coffey & Weiner, l967, pg. 33).

Bobby – (as an adult in an institution)
Born in l940 to a professionally trained father and a mother who later completed a teacher‘s education, Bobby has been mute since birth.  He is insensitive to pain and has not cried since infancy.  He developed no conversational speech but acquired a reading ability of 2000 words, mostly nouns referring to specific objects.  To express his needs, he grunts and points.  He has made no significant progress in any direction since his teens.  Bobby’s sex drive is low, and he does not distinguish between men and women.  He understands the watch and calendar, but money means nothing to him.  He writes words to show their patterns and similarities but not to convey meaning, though he can fill in a single missing word in a sentence (DeMayer, l977, pg. 111).

Mr. A – (Recovered or cured autistic adult)
Now in his fourth decade of life, Mr. A illustrates how poor emotional control and inability to read the nuances of social situations override the influence of superior intelligence.  He has difficulty holding a job, and has a continuing problem starting and maintaining friendships.  In describing his social problems Mr. A states, “I lack intuitive capacity. . . which makes it difficult to perceive the subtleties that other people find easy. . . I tried to learn what different kinds of situations called for.”  Mr. A went on to complain the adult autistic who is recovered receives help from no one, and complained autistic healers are biased towards those who are institutionalized.  Demeter, 1979, pg. 150)

1.  Age – Most authors describe autism as beginning at birth (Kanner, 1943) (Churchill, Alpein, DeMayer, 1971) (Lovaas, 1977).  Hermelin & 0’Connor state the onset occurs before two. They diagnose these symptoms occurring in 8-year-olds and older as childhood schizophrenia. Those within the 3-5 range are difficult to diagnose, but symptoms are probably a result of a brain disease (1970).

2.  Sex –  More prevalent among boys.  Estimates range from 2.5 to 4.3 to l ratio of boys to girls

3.  Incidence – Autism is estimated to occur in ranges of 4.1 per l0,000, 4 per 9000, and 4.3 per 10,000.  There is also a greater incidence among first borns (Hermelin & 0’Connor, 1970).

4.  IQ – There is some disagreement here, but only in reference to “spikes.” It is accepted most autistic children are of subnormal intelligence (Kanner, 1943).  I.Q. can occur at all levels, though bias is towards the lower levels (60 or less) with 70% being below 55 (Hermelin & 0’Connor, 1970, pg. 4).  The spikes referred to account for some normal and exceptional abilities most autistic children possess such as fine motor skills, rote memory, pattern arrangement, and musical ability.

5.  Family & Socio-economic Background – Kanner (1943) first noted autistic children came from families of middle or upper socio-economic status, and the parents were of above average intelligence, noting this phenomenon differs from all other known psychiatric disorders in childhood.  He also describes parents as obsessive, intellectual, and cold (pg. 51).  Further, the parents were often described as humorless, detached, and highly or excessively rational and objective.  “Most of the parents declare outright that they are not comfortable in the presence of people; they prefer reading, writing, painting, music, or thinking.  They are, overall, polite and dignified people who are impressed by seriousness and disdainful of anything that smocks of frivolity” (Churchill, Alpine, DeMayer, 1971, pg. 75). “Parents have a single-minded dedication to purpose and are prone to conscientiousness” (Kanner, 1949, Pg. 421).

Des Laursers and Carlson (1959) provided their explanation for the occurrence of the high-intellectual and educational background of the parents of autistic children, suggesting, “There may be a spurious correlation due to the frequency that autistic children are frequently misdiagnosed the first time as mentally defective, brain-damaged, deaf-mute, or childhood schizophrenics.  It is reasonable to assume only those with financial means could afford the costs involved for second and third procedures.  Occurrence may be high in the Jewish community because of their well-known psychological sophistication and facilities.”  It is noted these reports, for the most part, were intuitive summations on the part of the authors.  No testing or studies to support these conclusions were found.

6.  EEG – Abnormal EEG‘s occurs in 50% of tested cases.  However, abnormalities are not associated with seizures or detectable neurological deficits (DesLaursers & Car1son, 1959).

7.  Response to Treatment – Treatment effects of psychoanalysis are said to range from poor (Kanner, 1943) to non-existent (Churchill, Alpein, DeMayer, 1971).  It is also agreed by all drugs have shown very poor results.  There is also no indication whether autistic children do better or worse than children with other disorders using operant conditioning.  There are some indications educational techniques may work (Churchill, Alpein, DeMayer, 1971).  In the book, Autism-New Directions in Research and Education (Webster, Konstantareas, Oxman, Mack, 1980) there is further evidence educational techniques are effective.  There has been good success using sign language, albeit particularly designed for the autistic child.

Perhaps the most promising and successful treatment intervention can be found in Barbara Knickerbocker’s book A Holistic Approach to the Treatment of Learning Disorders (1980).  For example, regarding head-banging, she states:  “Efforts to provide him with more suitable means to provide this kind of stimulation to the point of being satiated would be one method used in the holistic approach.” (pg. 59)

Further, as can be seen, her methods are prescriptive in nature and she speaks of letting the “child be your guide,” and to “feed the need”; that is, allow him to do as he does, under direction, (although she calls this technique “non-directive”).  She believes in “more structure, less instruction” and her rationalization is as follows: “Behavior such as this (twirling themselves and objects) is representative of an excessive need for stimulation of the vestibular system and a means of facilitating sensory integration.  When this need is satisfied the tendency to twirl himself and objects will be greatly diminished or may cease altogether.” (pg. 80)

8.  Long Term – A small minority recover by adolescence.  Of the adult population, 50% are in institutions, approximately 30-40% remain cared for at home, and some 10-15% are considered recovered.

Etiologies are varied, and best summed up Hermelin & 0‘Connor’s book (1976):
(1) Bett1eheim (1967) views autism as emotional malfunction between mother and child.
(2) Knight (1963) Beres (1955) Mahler, et al (1959), suggest an impediment of the ego structure.  Rimland (1964) and Wing (1966) argue against this view on 3 points:  a) few orphanage children develop autism, b) no adequate demonstration of coldness or rejection of mother made available, c) mothers of autistic children have normal children.
(3) Bender (1961, 1963) and Chapman (1957) support a genetic view; however, no chromosomal studies support hypothesis. 
(4) Kanner (1954) suggests condition is congenital.
(5) Rimland (1964) and Hutt (1964, 1965) have developed a physiological hypothesis. 
6) Feister & DeMayer (1961, 1962) take an environmental point of view.
(7) Anthony (1963), using Piaget‘s stages in child development, has 3 theoretical explanations: a) Derangement of sensory input; b) interference with central coordinating and integrating mechanisms; c) disorder of output.

At this point, rather than offering this writer’s ideas, a digression is necessary.  Up to now, this paper has dealt exclusively with autism. Originally intended to find some common ground between autism, fetishes, self-mutilation, masochism, vagrancy, and passive sodomy, this endeavor, following the criteria of the ISFP, was frustrating, and for the most part, fruitless.

What were looked for in the literature in each category were common personality traits.  These were glaringly missing, as descriptions centered about the deviant behavior, with virtually no demographics given; or at least none, other than statistical, which would give clues to temperament.  There is very little information on fetishes other than historical tribal rites and old Freudian viewpoints, which described the malady and not the people. Such was the same with the other behaviors of the ISFP.

Perhaps the one exception is the information given on the vagrant.  At least it was the most romantic, and while perhaps not descriptive of the ISFP, it certainly describes rather well the SP in general.  In You Owe Yourself a Drunk; An Ethnography of Urban Nomads by James P. Spradley (1970) he states, “The tramp is on a perpetual journey and the trip is more important than the destination . . . The wandering may have boundaries – for some it is the world; others the nation; others the city” (pg. 252).  And “the highly sophisticated organization of behavior . . . is not that of a burned-out schizophrenic.  It is that of men adapting to a society whose structure and institutions hold no place for them” (pg. 258). He speaks of a world of strangers who are friends.

From The Hobo – The Sociology of the Homeless Man (Nels Anderson, 1923) it is reported Alfred Adler tested 100 hoboes and found that 43% had paranoid personalities, 35% had inadequate personalities, and 22% had emotionally unstable personalities (pg. 73). (Note: Not a healthy one in the bunch!).  From Old Men Drunk and Sober (Bahr & Cap1ow, 1973) it is noted only 20% of those living in the Bowery had no institutional experience, 47% were middle born, and 50% never married.

Wanderlust is a general theme of the Hobo.  Anderson (1923) prints a Tong poem written by a tramp unnamed, of which the first stanza is given:

Nothing To Do But Go
I’m the wandering son with nervous feet,
That were never meant for a steady beat,
I’ve had many a job for a little while,
I’ve been on the bum and I’ve lived in style,
And there was the road stretchin’ mile after mile,
And nothing to do but go. (pg. 198)

Wanderlust is the yearning to see new places, to feel the thrill of new sensations, to encounter new situations, and to know the freedom and the exhilaration of being a stranger (pg. 82). 

In the cases read, while sketchy at best, most men reported a failure in academia, or boredom, and had a marked ability with mechanical devices and tools, as seen in the case of W.E.: “a job on the railroad…job in the extra-gang… to a farm where he tired of ‘eating at the same table’ everyday…to a box factory in Kansas City where he became an expert at working with tools… was maintenance of way of tools on Railroad…got a job timbering…tried millwright work…went to a bridge gang. Each month he may come to town, spend his money, and each time he goes out to some different job” (Anderson, l923, pg. 74).

Unfortunately, there was again little information given on family background, or childhood, or additional personality traits.

Masochism, defined as submitting to physical or mental cruelty, was derived as a symptom from the writing of the Austrian, Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch.  Virtually all of the cases given were of a sexual content, including passive sodomy, and again were viewed in Freudian terminology – that is, explanations of deviancy were given with very little descriptive notes, and no personality clues given.

In the following section, whatever correlation is made to the seemingly diversified symptoms of autism, vagrancy, et al, will be done for the most part, regrettably, by intuition and inference.

To give supporting evidence to this writer’s perspective, it is first necessary to review some of Keirsey’s remarks regarding the ISFP temperament.  Keirsey speaks of “the tendency of ISFPs not to express themselves directly, but through action,” they are “more inclined to the fine arts”; “they experience intensely, now”; and “the act is the ISFPs master.” Further, he notes about the ISFP temperament:

“They are usually quite oblivious to these accompaniments (fatigue, pain, or danger)… as they are wholly engaged by an action…the ISFP is attuned to color, line, texture, shading– touch, motion, seeing, and hearing in harmony . . .”kindness is unconditional . . .  sympathy carried to its most extreme form  . . . not interested in developing facility in speaking . . . speech, after all, is abstract, not concrete . . . this reluctant speech is not so much a lack of ability as it is disinterest . . . the number of great artisans . . .  who have been ISFPs is truly awesome.  (Keirsey & Bates, pg. 204-266).

The infant ISFP, as will be suggested, steps into a world of prejudice.

ISFP children evolve through action, love the senses of being, are enthralled by doing.  Unfortunately, what they do, innately, from the womb, they are asked not to do.  Perhaps as in no other type does this social stigma begin because of natural action as with the ISFP and is perhaps what Keirsey meant when he said they were the most misunderstand of all types.

If sensing and the senses are the life source of the autistic child, imagine what it may be like to hear for the first time, to see, to touch, to taste, to smell.  Colors, forms, patterns abound in the new world, and would be a source of constant fascination, and a never-ending source of doing.  What many authors called “an extreme autistic aloneness” can be seen as a fascination in what they are doing; a child described as “appearing unoriented in events about him and may occupy himself for hours with repetitious activities” can be quite oriented and interested –  in his own pursuits. 

Pronominal reversal and delayed echolalia, as these symptoms are described in the literature, may simply be a fascination for sound, with the content met with disinterest.  It can even be speculated a typical autistic phrase such as “don’t throw the dog off the balcony” when he means “no,” is a single, harmonious sound that quite readily serves its function to the toddling ISFP.

The whole idea of non-communication is rather a ridiculous notion.  Clearly, these children communicate, naturally, although in their own manner.  They are adept at getting picked up or put down, asking for toys, getting fed what they want to eat, and so on.  Messages are sent and received.  What is termed bizarre so often can be explained as misunderstood or not understood messages.  Interestingly enough, and to the credit of the autistic child, with time and persistence, he teaches his significant others his language.  It is not a coincidence sign language has been found to be particularly useful, action, senses, movement.

One author characterizes the bias we all, to some extent, possess when we try to describe symptomatic behavior of the autistic child (in reference to play activity), “. . . seen as profoundly disturbed play pattern, since it was perseverative and did not lead into any other interest,” as though perseverance and no other interest were symptoms of illness.  The psychological world is intent on describing and rectifying what people don’t do rather than observing what people do.  It would seem in the case of the ISFP child, this bias is pre-eminent. In effect, we ask a sparrow not to behave as a sparrow.

Social acceptance and the ability to “make it” is almost solely dependent on the interpretations of others, and that includes the very real prejudices, values, and judgments we all possess.  A lingering question remains:  At what point does this behavior become pathological?  That is, when do significant others decide the expressed doings of this child is no longer acceptable?

Imagine, again, the emergence of the ISFP to his environment with which he artfully plays.  If his parents were the seemingly cold, logical types, his actions could be seen as undirected and purposeless and an area of concern; he could be seen as lacking in “intellectual abilities.”  To the emotive, empathetic types, his aloofness to others and his “absence of warmth” would be an area of alarm; he could be said to be suffering from some emotional disorder.  Were he born to the socially conservative, salt-of- the earth types, his patterns of communication would be indeed worried over; he may be said to have brain damage or a low I.Q.  Combinations of types would only add to complexities.  It is also worth mentioning, professionals and adult concerns about these symptomatic behaviors are one-sided.  Until they are notified by the adults in their lives, these children are perfectly happy to pursue what comes natural to them.

Self-mutilation, sodomy, masochism, head banging, and other destructive behaviors tend to have an obvious connection – pain. Keirsey states the ISFP “simply doesn’t notice” pain. Perhaps it is as stated in Pain & Emotion by Roger Grigg (l970); “There is therefore some plausibility in holding that those who are apparently insensitive to pain are merely indifferent to it” ‘ (pg. 165).  To put self-inflicted or other inflicted pain in perspective, it may be necessary to re-define its content.  If pain were seen as an activity, a doing of something, as simply a sense to explore, play with, and manipulate, perhaps it would be easier to explain such strange behavior.  Indeed, many people report pain as a sensation, and not as uncomfortable nor even as something to avoid.  As it is so reprehensible to most others, it is hardly understood as possible, let alone something one would actively pursue . Whether an indifference or a lack of feeling, banging your head, or chewing on your lip, is something to do.  If, as Keirsey says, and action is their master, then surely pain would not be a deterrent.

How then, does one intervene?  Whether it’s “feed the need” or prescription of behavior, clearly the evidence indicates what works is to allow the ISFP to do what he does; to be what he is.  To the head-hanger, supply him a drum.  For the child who twirls get him a top or show him dance.  To those who are mute, get him a horn or show him how to hum.  To those who echo, teach them to sing.  What cannot go unnoticed is that classical and modern psychological techniques have universally failed.  Those techniques that have worked have been educational.  Perhaps psychological methods haven’t worked because this is not a psychological problem. The problem is misunderstood communication.  The responsibility lies with the adult in this reciprocal relationship; before you can teach someone else a new language, you first must understand their language.

The perspective here, to summarize, is simply stated.  With just the slightest manipulation, done carefully, the phrases and words Keirsey uses to describe the ISFP temperament can be seen as the very symptoms to describe the pathological autistic child.  Perhaps this malady is as Kanner put it – congenital.  But rather than something to change, rather than congenital, were we to change our understanding and call it innate, then perhaps this little sparrow could flourish and become the artisan we will, in later years, enjoy and admire.



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