Giving a Voice: Using Writing to Interpret the Art and Stories of an 11-Year-Old Child with Autism

by David Baudemont, PhD.

A new analytical method based on the writing of monologues has been used to interpret the obsessions and compulsive behaviours of Winston (pseudonym), an 11-year-old boy with autism. Based on a total of 30 individual sessions over two years, it may be considered a new development in child-led, one-on-one therapeutic methods which have been developed by a small community of art therapists since the 1980s. It is based on a variation of the "I-voice", commonly used by Gestalt therapists to help clients understand their own art and dreams (Fritz Perls, 1951). Fritz Perls' principles are applied to "decode" Winston's stories: all his obsessions are "given a voice" through the writing of monologues by the therapist. These dramatic texts are based both on Winston's own words and on the therapist's interpretation of his attitude. They also take into account the evolution of each symbol over time, as well as the circumstances in which they appear or disappear. Whether concrete (kitties, watch, fridge, etc...) or abstract (colour, sickness, etc...), each symbol reveals the role it plays in the child's building of self, as well as in his system of defenses. The decoding of the child's obsessions has helped establish a mutual understanding and an interactive relationship between the art therapist and the boy. It has led to a gradual disappearance of Winston's obsession with feces and significant progress in his use of symbols.