Research presentation

Most of people suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have a specific and personal interest in a particular thing, such as a toy, a subject (e.g. traffic, plane…), an interest in cartoons or music to name a very few of them. Affinity therapy exactly relies on such particular interest from which a sustained connection between the autism’s world and an exterior world can be made. This affinity, that used to be denounced as being an “obsession” or some “momentary fad”, turns out to be the main support for a treatment as an opening to the word, to socialization and to learnings.

Affinity therapy actually emerges in 2014 after the publication of a New York Times article, which reviewed Ron Suskind’s book, “Life, Animated” (2014). In 2016, there is a movie from it that was released. In his book, Ron Suskind, a famous American journalist awarded by Pulitzer price, tells the story of his youngest son Owen, who was diagnosed at age 3 with regressive autism. Owen quickly lost his ability to speak. He stopped to interact with each other and withdrew into his own inner world. The only interest of Owen consisted in watching Disney movies. He could spend hours and hours to watch and to rewatch Disney films and, Ron Suskind, against the specialists’ advice, chose to foster his son’s passion.

After years of fight, the therapy centered on Owen’s interest allowed Owen to get out of his own inner world and gradually allowed Owen to connect to others. Today, Owen works in a cinema and is writing his own animated script.

Surprisingly, the story of Owen is not unique. A recent book, “Affinity therapy: Nouvelles recherches sur l’autisme” published in 2015 and written by Myriam Chérel, dressed a list and analyzed a number of cases for which the use of autistic passions has brought significant progresses in the care given to people with autism. Affinity therapy is today considered as a new therapeutic tool that could revolutionize in the future years the treatment of autistic patients Indeed, most of people with autism attest to the fundamental support that their affinity is to them and their family.

Far from the different behavioral or cognitive therapies that use the interests of people with autism either as a “positive facilitator” or as a “vehicle for the improvement of social abilities”, the practice of affinity therapy notices major clearings when passions are considered as a key opening to social link, to language understandings and speaking out and also a key to learnings, given that this “key” is always unique for each one of the autistic individuals. It is always an elective affinity of a specific and singular autistic mind.

Affinity Therapy involves the invention of a new treatment for each individual, whether it’s with cartoons for one, wind chimes for another, trains for a third, sometimes an animal, etc. Affinity Therapy is not an adjustment of an already defined path; it is the creation of a tailor-made path, case by case, based on the always unique passion of individuals with autism.

Many institutions accommodating individuals with autism integrate the so-called autistic object or “affinity” into their daily practices. Whether discreet or manifest, it is not considered as an obstacle but rather as a privileged object, an elective affinity of the autistic mind. This practice draws inspiration from this know-how, where the focal point is to become a partner to individuals with autism. “Making oneself a partner” is the guiding principle that directs all these practices and thereby encourages the respect for the alterity of the autistic individual.

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