Hypnotic experience and the autism spectrum disorder. A phenomenological investigation

  • Till Grohmann


In recent decades, the focus in autism research progressively expanded. It presently offers extensive material on sensorimotor disturbances as well as on perceptive-cognitive preferences of people with autism. The present article proposes not only a critical interpretation of the common theoretical framework in autism research but also focuses on certain experiences common to some people with autism and which can be appropriately understood by phenomenology. What I will call “hypnotic experiences” in autism are moments in which some individuals withdraw into intense sensorial and perceptive experiences. Following their examples, I use the term “hypnosis” primarily to describe a trance state in which the individuals become highly alert to and awake for an experience of a totally new kind. Through a close analysis of autobiographical writings from people with autism I defend the idea that the particularity of hypnotic experiences in autism consists in a certain qualitative shift within experience itself: what changes, in the hypnotic moments, is the way a person with autism relates to his/her own bodily experiences. If this qualitative shift is indeed difficult to account for within a reifying and intellectualist research perspective, phenomenology offers a large conceptual framework for understanding it. Phenomenology, and precisely, phenomenological psychopathology, will thus emerge as a major device in accounting for such “hypnotic experiences”. The argument mainly draws on the twofold structure of experience which is traditionally used in phenomenological research: it claims that in hypnotic experience people with autism are inclined to focus on non-reified “sensings”, “perceivings” and “movings”, and thus leave aside the object itself and any intentional reification of it. Finally, I will claim that this restriction to mere non-reified sensings might lead to a completely new conception of self and world. In the hypnotic experiences of autism, neither the subject nor the object come to a full-blown and independent existence. A thorough phenomenological analysis of hypnotic experience in autism therefore also has to face the question of a corresponding ontology of these experiences.


Phenomenology Autism spectrum disorder Hypnotic Experience Prereflective consciousness Psychopathology World 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fakultät für Geistes- und Kulturwissenschaften, Philosophisches SeminarBergische Universität WuppertalWuppertalGermany

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