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Keywords:

  • annexation;
  • autobiographical memory;
  • autistic spectrum disorder;
  • child analysis;
  • internalization;
  • procedural memory

Recent work in neuroscience has highlighted the contrast between ‘procedural’ memory for bodily experiences and skills, which is unconscious though unrepressed, and verbalizable, ‘declarative’ memory, which includes autobiographical memory. Autobiographical memory is weak in people with autistic spectrum disorder, who frequently turn to self-generated sensations for reassurance that they continue to exist. The author suggests that, instead of internalizing shared experiences leading to growth, children with autism can feel that they add to themselves by taking over the qualities of others through the ‘annexation’ of physical properties that leads to a damaged object and can trigger a particular sort of negative therapeutic reaction. Clinical illustrations drawn from the treatment of two children on the autistic spectrum illustrate some ramifications of these processes in relation to the sense of a separate identity and the capacity to access memories.