Throughout the twentieth century, autism has been variously interpreted and as a result has become a flexible signifier. Over the last decade, both the academic world and popular culture have paid particular attention to the self-expression of people living on the spectrum. On the occasion of the most recent exhibition in the Dr. Guislain Museum in Ghent, which put numerous autistic artists in the spotlight, Leni Van Goidsenhoven reflects on conceptual changes within autism discourse, the danger of the savant-rhetoric, cultural interventions and the category of “autistic art”. She moreover shows how Museum Guislain’s project experiments with autism and outsider art by incorporating playful elements.
This contribution sheds light on Françoise Dolto as an inspiring pioneer of preventive work with children. A question that informs our discussion is the extent to which “extramural psychoanalysis” can, or should, be creative. Two projects illustrate the inventiveness and the power of psychoanalysis beyond the boundaries of the classical cure. The first project, “Les Enfants du Jeudi”, in which choreographers work with autistic children, reveals how the “unspeakable” can manifest itself through music and dance. Our second project, “Villa Ou-ki”, demonstrates how parents and children can be held within, or evacuated out of, their symptom by applying short-term psychoanalytic interventions with the focus on the relational aspect in the context of childcare. We present these two projects referring to the four key theoretical aspects of Dolto, namely, the relational, the unconscious body-image, the play of desire, and respect with regards to the subject aspects. The ideas of Jean Laplanche are used as supplementary theoretical tools.
There are currently three main research trends on the disorder of autism. The first (theory of mind) supports the idea that autism is a deficit in the capacity to generate a theory of mind, which allows the child to develop social relationships (a reinterpretation of Kanner’s loneliness). This capacity is understood to be modular (J. Fodor). According to the second theory (theory of control), the autistic symptom of sameness as described by Kanner, is crucial, although these authors do not reject the theory of mind. The third theory based on lacanian thinking, proposes that autistic disturbances are caused by the subjects’ difficulty in knotting the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. We argue that this theory leads to more differentiated and precise therapeutic strategies.