Case Study

Case Study

Breaking the Silence with Nonverbal Autism

By Peter Rothenberg

March/April 2020

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, author Paulo Freire demonstrates that nothing is more empowering than teaching people to name their world. As therapists, we know this applies especially to our clients’ inner worlds. Even relatively high-functioning people can find it difficult to know what they’re experiencing and how to express it. Imagine what it must be like for the people with autism who don’t talk but have a world of perceptions, feelings, thoughts, fantasies, and desires swirling around inside them. Imagine the frustration, isolation, and confusion they experience.

For the past 30 years, my work has included individual and group therapies with developmentally challenged and autistic clients (mostly people with Asperger syndrome). My goal with these clients always seems to involve helping them, their caretakers, and their families to see them as full humans, with strengths and weaknesses, rights and responsibilities, and rich internal lives—not just external behaviors. After all, perceiving people primarily through disabilities, whether patronizing them or focusing on their limitations, only further isolates them.

When Stephen’s mother called to ask if I’d be willing to try to work with her son, a 38-year-old man with autism, she explained that since he was nonverbal, he had to use facilitated communication (FC) to talk. FC is a controversial method, which involves a…

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Tags: autism

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