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“How to Go On”: Intersubjectivity and Progressivity in the Communication of a Child with Autism



Abstract Through the lens of a case study of the spontaneous verbal interaction of a five-year-and-ten-month-old child with autism, this article offers a reflection on the psychological and epistemological underpinnings of human communication. In particular, in the analysis of verbal exchanges between a child with autism and his caregivers, we discuss formulaic talk and verbal play and the relation of these with sequential progressivity, expressions of personal stance, and intersubjectivity. The analysis allows us to unearth the inherent precariousness and unpredictability of communication and how it is perpetually vulnerable to failure. We suggest that the intrinsic risk of breakdown in intersubjectivity cannot be conceived of as a threat to successful communication, but rather, as an attribute of sequence progressivity and an essential component of communication as encounter with the other, grounded on mutual trust. [autism, intersubjectivity, sequence progressivity, trust]