Nancy Crown, Ph.D. ’95, discussed the value of thinking psychodynamically about autism at a Derner colloquium.

Nancy Crown PhD Derner

Nancy Crown, Ph.D. ’95

At a colloquium hosted by the Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies on February 11, 2015, alumna Nancy Crown, Ph.D. ’95, presented her paper “Riding Roller Coasters in the Dark: Thinking Psychodynamically About Autism.” The paper presented a persuasive case for the value of thinking psychodynamically about the autism spectrum disorders, especially considering the increase in diagnoses, the need for deep and wide support for family members and the emphasis that psychodynamic practitioners place on the meaning of behavior, and the quality and importance of relationships—both familial and therapeutic—in the amelioration of symptoms.

Dr. Crown underscored the importance of recognizing that the individual with autism is first and foremost a person—a person who has strengths, weaknesses, dreams and an imaginal life. She looked carefully and psychodynamically at the role of sensory dysfunction, which characterizes more than 90 percent of individuals with autism spectrum disorder, and the common failure of people with autism to consider context.  She suggested that these processing difficulties may be a significant part of the picture of autism and may, in fact, underlie some of autism’s other difficulties.  She talked about how being conscious of sensory sensitivities and context insensitivity and their impacts on experience and relationship can help therapists make better sense of the person’s experience of self and other, and of his or her behaviors.

In case material, Dr. Crown illustrated how these ideas have been used in psychodynamic psychotherapy with three individuals (a young boy, a girl entering adolescence and a young man) affected by different degrees of autistic symptomatology.

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