Friday, December 10, 2010

Stuttering and destructive impulses in an Autistic patient

A man in his late forties, who lives in a supervised setting because he carries the label of Developmentally Disabled, suffers from crippling stuttering. He rarely completes a sentence of any length without such severe stuttering that the listener quickly loses interest in relating with him.
In a therapy session, after the Thanksgiving holiday, noticing that he was stuttering more than usual, I paid closer attention to his chopped speech. And what I heard took me by surprise. He was hurling violent abuses against his mother, to whose house he had gone for the big dinner.
They ran - with stuttering obscuring one's ability to understand them clearly - something like this: "I will blow my mother with a pistol. I will knock her to the ground....bash her teeth."
Curious - for they were Tourettian in their intensity and explosiveness - I inquired what his mother did that has him so enraged. All he could say was that she was a bitch throughout the dinner. Then he went into a tirade about how she was cruel to him when he was growing up, would not let him speak his mind, and would hit him with the back of her hand right on his mouth for the slightest mistake, when he was so little.
"I want to tell her suck my you-know-what," and this piece was delivered without any stutter. And then, as if horrified at his own boldness, he immediately retreated into an apologetic mode. "It will hurt her feelings. So I cannot say that to her, you know that Dr. Kelwala. You know that Dr. Kelwala. I should get a pistol and blow myself."
After expressing remorse in which he thought the most deserving punishment for expressing defiance towards his mother would be to blow his head off or be jailed for life, he returned to the previous hostile mood, as if the aggressive impulse had to go back and forth against his mother and himself.
"I want to call her, "You fat broad. You bitch. And other bad names. But it will hurt her feelings, you know that Dr. Kelwala. You know that. So I cannot do that."
Then returning to the remorse mode he said that he should be punished because he is not thankful for all he got in his life. "There are people who are homeless. There are people who have nothing to eat. They are much worse than me."
Now I constructed in my mind that his stuttering has to do with sadistic sexual impulses and [premature and excessively strong] counter measures that got displaced on to his speech centers.
What was the ground for such a construction?
The fact that he made the statement:
"I want to tell her suck my you-know-what," followed by immediate guilt and wishing to be locked up in jail and blowing off his brain with a pistol. So here was a sadistic incestuous thought and guilt and countermeasures and punishment for it. Theoretically, the sadistic sexual impulse must have arose in the Oedipal period and the fear associated with such an incestuous thought had brought on the inhibition. Then the struggle over that impulse had got displaced on to expressing such a thought through speech and countermeasures to prevent the expression had resulted in stuttering.
But in the normal Oedipal Complex the anger would have targeted the father more than the mother. So I asked him did he have any such angry thoughts towards his father.
To my astonishment he said, "Yes, I always wanted to hit my father on the jaw. Or give him a bloody nose. Get a gun and shoot him in the stomach."
And he claimed that his father was as mean as his mother, and worse, for though he did not hit him directly, he never intervened and stopped his mother from hitting.
So the aggression from the Oedipal period had found outlet towards father as well. However, because of the fear of retaliation he had redirected it mostly upon his own self. The sexual current had regressed from the genital phase to sado-masochistic phase perhaps because the mother was too hostile for him to approach her without contemplating first knocking her down to the ground, bashing her teeth or outright shooting her, so she would not castrate him for his attempt.
His sexuality had mostly withdrawn on to himself and only a very small portion of it flowed to others, and here too through the center of speech with the impediment of stuttering blocking its passage.
Now could we place all of the blame for his stuttering on his paretn's cruelty towards him.
Well, something prevents us from doing so. And this something was confirmed in that very session.
I got a phone call from my son to which I had to attend to for a few minutes.
My autistic patient threw a fit at my focus shifting from him to the phone. Within 30 seconds he started ranting, "You are ignoring me. I am being ignored." He started sighing and muttered "shit" and threw up his hands in despair.
So behind the stuttering, more than his mother's hitting him on the mouth, was his inability to postpone gratification. The man wanted attention, right now and could share the person from whom he wanted attention with nobody. In fact his acute discomfort was so excessive and motor movements accompanying it so wild, almost bordering on violent, and the speech associated with the protest so aggressive that one had to wonder whether the primary pathology lay in this inborn aggression and the parents were provoked to mete out harsher punishments to contain the explosive behavior.
One also had to consider whether his autism itself was not a withdrawal from the world to prevent acting out upon others such an inordinate response to frustration.

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