Making meaning together : embodied narratives in a case of severe autism

Delafield-Butt, Jonathan T. and Zeedyk, M. Suzanne and Harder, Susanne and Væver, Mette S. and Caldwell, Phoebe (2020) Making meaning together : embodied narratives in a case of severe autism. Psychopathology : Mind, behavior, biology, and therapies, 53 (2). pp. 60-73. ISSN 1423-033X (

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Shared understanding is generated between individuals before speech through a language of body movement and non-verbal vocalisation, expression of feeling and interest made in gestures of movement and voice. Human understanding is co-created in these embodied projects, displayed in serially organised expressions with shared timing of reciprocal actions between partners. These develop in narrative events that build over cycles of reciprocal expressive action in a four-part structure shared by all the time-based arts: ‘introduction’, ‘development’, ‘climax’, and ‘conclusion’. Pre-linguistic narrative establishes the foundation of later, linguistic intelligence. Yet, participating in social interactions that give rise to narrative development is a central problem of autism spectrum disorder. In this paper, we examine the rapid growth of narrative meaning-making between a non-verbal young woman with severe autism and her new therapist. Episodes of embodied, shared understanding were enabled through a basic therapeutic mode of reciprocal, creative mirroring of expressive gesture. These developed through reciprocal cycles and as the relationship progressed, complete co-created narratives were formed resulting in shared joy and the mutual interest and trust of companionship. These small, embodied stories enabled moments of co-regulated arousal that the young woman had previous difficulty with. These data provide evidence for an intact capacity for non-verbal narrative meaning-making in autism.