“But-He’ll Fall!”: Children with Autism, Interspecies Intersubjectivity, and the Problem of ‘Being Social’

Abstract

‘Being autistic’ or ‘having Autism Spectrum Disorder’ implies a limited range of ‘being social,’ but the in situ organization of interaction, what Maynard and Marlaire (Qual Soc 15(2):177–202, 1992) call the ‘interactional substrate,’ within which this delimitation enfolds is usually hidden from sight. Analysis of processes constituting different ‘interactional substrates’ provides a view of how one comes to be known by and to self and others as a certain kind of being who is available (or not) for acting and feeling in certain ways. People diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 2013) are often described as ‘being’ impaired in intersubjective understanding of others. But the story of ASD as an impairment of sociality and intersubjectivity becomes more complicated when animals enter into the picture. I consider two interactional substrates: a psychological interview in a mental health clinic, and an animal-assisted activity in a child’s neighborhood. I aim to elucidate the practical problems of ‘being social’ encountered by two children with ASD, both nine-year-old girls, within these two very differently organized interactional substrates. I consider ways in which ‘being with’ therapy animals provides a way of ‘being social’ through “sensory modalities of knowing” (Haraway, When species meet, 2008:371).

Aбcтpaкт

Koгдa мы гoвopим чтo y кoгo-тo ayтизм, или cидpoм ayтичнoгo cпeктpa, пoдpaзyмeвaeтcя чтo y этoгo чeлoвeкa oгpaничeннaя cпocoбнocть coциaльнoгo oбщeния. Ho кoнтeкcтyaльнaя opгaнизaция этoгo oбщeния, тo чтo Mэйнapд и Mapлэp (Кволит Cоциoл 15(2):177–202, 1992) нaзывaют ‘интepaкциoннoй cyбcтpaтoй ‘ в кoнтeкcтe кoтopoй этo oгpaничeниe peaлизyeтcя, oбычнo cкpытa oт aнaлитичecкoгo пoнимaния. Aнaлиз пpoцeccoв кoтopыe coздaют paзличныe интepaкциoнныe cyбcтpaты дaёт вoзмoжнocть пoнять кaк чeлoвeк ocoзнaётcя дpyгими и coбoй кaк индивидyyм кoтopый cпocoбeн (или нeт) чyвcтвoвaть и дeйcтвoвaть cвoим coбcтвeнным, yникaльным oбpaзoм. Пpинятo дyмaть чтo тe кoму дан диагнoз cидpoма ayтичнoгo cпeктpa (Амepикaнcкaя Пcихиатpичecкая Аccoциaция, Руководство по диагностике и статистической классификации психических расстройств, 2013) oгpaничeны в интep-cyбъeктивнoм пoнимaнии дpyгиx людeй. Ho этa кapтинa знaчитeльнo ycлoжняeтcя кoгдa дoмaшниe живoтныe включeны в нeё. Я coпocтaвляю двe интepaкциoнныe cyбcтpaты: пcиxoлoгичecкoe интepвью в пcиxoтepaпeвтичecкoй клиникe и ceccию тepaпeвтичecкoгo oбщeния c живoтными в знaкoмoм кoнтeкcтe. Moя цeль - oпpeдeлить пpaктичecкиe пpoблeмы coциaльнoгo oбщeния иcпытaнныe двyмя дeтьми c ayтизмoм в кoнтeкcтe этиx двyx, oчeнь paзныx интepaкциoнныx cyбcтpaт. Я идeнтифициpyю пpoцeccы в кoтopыx oбщeниe c живoтными дaёт вoзмoжнocть coциaльнoгo oбщeния чepeз “мoдaльнocти ceнcopиaльнoгo пoзнaния” (Хapaвaй, Когда встречаются виды, 2008:371).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    ‘Affordances,’ according to James Gibson (1977) are opportunities for action provided by a particular object in the environment. A critical part of the theory of affordances is the idea of ‘fit’ or ‘scale’: the affordances have to be of the right scale to be perceived by the organism as relevant—that is, to fit the parameters of the organism, its anatomy and capacity for action. Eleanor Gibson (1993) argued that human perception of the self is directly linked with ‘perceiving affordances for acting in the world’ (p. 32).

  2. 2.

    The notion of being ‘thrown’ into the world is borrowed from Heidegger (1962).

  3. 3.

    Because of IRB requirements, I am prevented from assigning name-like pseudonyms to the children in my human-animal interaction study. In my previous publications (Solomon 2010b, 2012), I solved this problem by using quasi-names like Childone (‘‘Child 1’’) and Boyone (“Boy 1”), which could be legitimately perceived as impersonal and dehumanizing. But in this article this however imperfect strategy does not work because the data corpus from which the other child’s psychological interview is drawn has an IRB approval that allows pseudonyms. Thus, my quasi-name for the girl in the human-animal study is ‘Kid,’ which seems less impersonal and thus more appropriate; and the pseudonym for the girl in the ‘Autism in Urban Context’ study is ‘Rosalyn.’

  4. 4.

    Animal-assisted interventions (AAI) consist of two modalities: Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) and Animal-Assisted Activity (AAA). AAT is “an intervention with specified goals and objectives delivered by a health or human service professional with specialized expertise in using an animal as an integral part of treatment”; while AAA occurs “when specially trained professionals, paraprofessionals, or volunteers accompanied by animals interact with people in a variety of environments (Delta Society 1996; cf Fine 2011).

  5. 5.

    Grinker (2007) writes of the significance of such toys for his daughter Isabel when she attended a museum-based preschool, the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center that had a “concrete, sensory-based, and interactive” curriculum (Grinker 2007:180). Isabel loved the small replicas of animals used for a Christmas-time exhibit so much that the museum’s curator donated the whole exhibit to her classroom. “This experience, Grinker (2007:182) writes, marked the start of a long fascination with biology and the classification of the animal world”.

  6. 6.

    I thank Douglas Maynard for identifying this dynamic.

  7. 7.

    Rosalyn missed the trip because of this session.

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Acknowledgments

I am deeply grateful to the children and their families who participated in this research, and to Susan Kraft, the animal trainer extraordinaire who contributed her unique understanding of children with ASD. I would be remiss not to thank the animals, those who participated in this research and those who have taught me at different times about interspecies intersubjectivity. An earlier version of this paper was presented in June 2014 in a panel ‘Interactional matrix of communication in autism’ organized by Laura Sterponi and John Rae at the International Conference on Conversation Analysis at the University of California, Los Angeles. I thank two anonymous reviewers, and Ariel Casio and Douglas Maynard for their generous feedback on the final version. I also thank my colleagues at the University of Southern California, Mary Lawlor, Sharon Cermak, and Kate Crawley, and my academic ‘family of origin’ at UCLA, Elinor Ochs, Alessandro Duranti, Marjory Harness Goodwin, and Charles Goodwin for their encouragement of this research. The study ‘Autism in Urban Context: Linking Heterogeneity with Health and Service Disparities’ was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant # R01 MH089474, 2009–2012, O. Solomon, P.I.). The content of this article is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Mental Health or the National Institutes of Health. The study ‘Animal-Assisted Therapy as Socially Assistive Technology: Implications for Autism’ was supported by the Cure Autism Now foundation’s Innovative Technology for Autism Bridge Grant (2006–2007) and the James H. Zumberge Faculty Research and Innovation award (2008). I am also deeply grateful to the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy that provided support for both studies.

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Solomon, O. “But-He’ll Fall!”: Children with Autism, Interspecies Intersubjectivity, and the Problem of ‘Being Social’. Cult Med Psychiatry 39, 323–344 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-015-9446-7

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Keywords

  • Animal-assisted activity
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Human–animal interaction
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Psychological testing
  • Sociality
  • Therapy animals