Autismum

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Le Packing – Pack it in

When Bruno Bettelheim proposed his theory, inspired by Leo Kanner, of the refridgerator mother, predictably, therapies were devised  to “thaw” the autistic child. One of those  was holding therapy also known as attachment therapy. Basically, this is forcing a child to be held as tightly as possible by the parent/carer/therapist and fiercely resisted should the child struggle. Even at its most benign, this can be akin to torture for hypersensitive individuals for whom even light touch can be perceived as pain. Sadly, this isn’t the only problem with this therapy. Holders and holdees can and have been seriously injured in what is little more than a one-sided wrestling match and children have even been suffocated.  See Advocates for Children in Therapy for the names and details of the children lost to such pseudoscience which also  includes children who were deemed to suffer from attachment disorders (many of them neurotypical adopted children) as well as autistic children.

In most, mainstream practices, such treatments are, thankfully no longer used relying, as they do, on Bettleheim’s post Freudian, psychogenic theories of the cause of autism. It is hard to believe that an even more barbaric and potentially dangerous variant of holding therapy called packing is practiced in more than 300 establishments including residential institutions to this very day in that most advanced and civilised of nations, France.

Packing, unpacked

So, what happens during a packing session?

Basically children are stripped and wrapped very tightly in cold wet sheets (around 50 degrees F, that’s 10 degrees C).  Some practitioners of this cruel  treatment will even refrigerate the wet sheets to make them colder still. The sessions of around 45 minutes may be repeated daily.  For a photographic breakdown of a packing session click here.

As discussed the rationale behind this therapy is flawed to the point of being just plain wrong.  Autism cannot be remedied, treated, cured or alleviated by the tools of psychoanalysis and certainly not by, what amounts to, torture. The aims of packing are to:

  • improve/restore child’s body image;
  • improve relationships with parents especially in terms of physical contact;
  • reduce self-harming behaviour;
  • reduce repetitive behaviour and stimming;

…and the evidence that it does so? None.

Opponents of packing have called for, but been refused, a moritorium on the practice. They cite many objections to this supposed therapy including that it may make autistic children more suseptible to sexual abuse as,

the child, accustomed to being in their underwear in front of adults for an activity they do not understand, loses the ability to distinguish between strangers and their carers and parents. At best, they might simply be confused. At worst they will find it normal to undress in front of adults who may wish to harm them. How can these children ever learn the basic social signposts to be able to protect themselves from sexual aggression? – Support the Wall – Autism

Tragically, calls for change have gone unheard and somewhat unsupported. Parents of institutionalised children fear their children being returned should they object to the regime at what is their child’s home. The numbers of children institutionalised in France was, in 2007, around 108,000 compared to just 2,245 children in the UK.

Indeed, France is certainly lagging when it comes to autism diagnosis and services. Fewer than 20% of autistic children regularly attend school of any kind and the vast majority of people with an ASD diagnosis receive it after the age of six. On the other hand, childhood schizophrenia and childhood depression are still  relatively common diagnoses. The state, it seems, supports the use of packing and it is practiced in  institutions it funds. In February 2010, France’s High Council for Public Health decalred,

given the absence of notable risks identified to date, the practice of Packing presents no risk which would justify its prohibition.

The fact that it may cause suffering to a child upon whom this is inflicted seems entirely lost upon them. The same can be said for the French National Authority for Health who state:

“For psychoanalysts, autistic processes, whatever their cause, are linked to the archaic anguishes found in children presenting invasive developmental disorders. These anguishes lead them to react using defensive mechanisms which progressively isolate them. The different measures proposed aim at enabling the expression of these archaic elements in a relationship with a therapist.

The fact that the poor (even for the time) psychoanalytical model of autism has been dead and buried for decades has passed them by.  in 2009 a consensus statement of autism experts stated,

“We have reached the consensus that practitioners and families around the world should consider [packing] unethical. Furthermore, this “therapy” ignores current knowledge about autism spectrum disorders; goes against evidence-based practice [and]  poses a risk of preventing these children and adolescents from accessing their basic human rights to health and education.”

signatories include Michael Rutter, Simon Baron-Cohen and Eric Fombonne.

There is (unbelievably!) a study underway looking at the effectiveness or otherwise of this technique that is gaining popularity for use with adults displaying psychosis (for example in neurogenerative conditions such as Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases) and even the elderly having such episode. How the researchers got ethics board approval is beyond me.

Thank you to commentor, Carine, for sharing this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4ghYPnXiETQ

Packing is nothing new and has been in routine use on the continent for over thirty years (actually various forms for much longer – thanks Childmyths for the info). France, however is one of the few countries to still use it on such a routine basis. With 2012 being the year that France has declared autism to be its  “National Cause of the Year” let’s hope – and act – to ensure this country, so wonderful in many ways, outlaws the torture of autistic people in their care.

For much more on this topic and how to support the fight to get this barbarism outlawed go to Support the Wall – Autism and sign the petition here

(the two name boxes are 1st name then surname in that order – Google Translate isn’t perfect!)

For an excellent summary of the history of such treatments please visit CHILDMYTHS

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26 comments on “Le Packing – Pack it in

  1. bejay
    18 January, 2012

    The idea wasn’t inspired by Leo Kanner. It wasn’t actually part of his mindset, and was always an also-ran possibility in his initial papers. Hans Asperger ‘got’ it in that he checked out the parents and identified a clearly observed (by him) genetic link. Kanner thought it was a socio-demographic/cultural issue at first, then changed his mind, and apologised to parents for his assumptions.

    However, some of these assumptions are clear in his initial papers, and are not particularly weighed against the mother, many against the father.

    Bettleheim, as a Freudian, had his own issues to bring to the debate. He was always a charlatan, and a liar.

    Just my view.

    • M O'C
      18 January, 2012

      Don’t all Freudians have issues (and not just with their mothers)? I totally agree with you about Bettelheim but I do think he rather over-interpreted some of Kanner’s observations to come up with his theory.

  2. bejay
    18 January, 2012

    Bettelheim – typo

    Just forgot the hell. :)

    • M O'C
      18 January, 2012

      You’re such a perfectionist…J T is coming soon btw. I’m in that kinda mood (I have sciatica!) xx

  3. Pingback: Thank you for sharing, reblogging and supporting. It helps spread the word. | Support The Wall – Autism

  4. Pingback: Le Mur – Censored « Autismum

  5. anyachaika
    29 January, 2012

    This kind of treatment is now used on children supposedly diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder – the treatment is just as abusive as it was when it was used on autistic children. See http://invisibleengland2.wordpress.com/ for more details

    • M O'C
      29 January, 2012

      Thank you so much for putting me on to this film! I will do all I can to publize it here and elsewhere xx

  6. Pingback: Le Mur – Censored

  7. Pingback: New Petition – Le Packing « Autismum

  8. aefountain
    13 February, 2012

    I am fortunate to live in Canada, where we are making strides in the right direction. Ontario closed their last institution a few years ago and Manitoba has just announced closing their last one in the next couple of years.

    There are two thoughts to the process, and I do feel very sorry for the individuals who have only known the institution as their home.

    From someone who was once referred to as a refridgerator mom. When I found out what it meant, I was crushed and to this day, 18 years later, I still live with tremendous guilt for what I must have done to my son (it’s buried deep but it’s there).

    Thanks for sharing this, as I had no idea this practise still existed.

    • Autismum
      14 February, 2012

      You’re a great Mum! No one with an ounce of coldness could write as you do about your boy.
      Let’s get the word out about this abuse and get it stopped! xx

  9. Jimmy
    9 March, 2012

    Not sure what all the fuss is about. It looks like the same stuff you find done in high end spas. At least they aren’t packed with mud or cellophane.

    • Autismum
      9 March, 2012

      The “fuss” is about using an unproven “treatment” that is akin to torture on individuals who are unable to give their consent or even understand what is taking place. As for being:

      like the same stuff you find done in high end spas

      You are just being plain, old fashioned, stupid. If people knowingly wish to pay to be wrapped in warm bandages at their whim in luxury surroundings (though also for no good reason) and pay large sums of money for the experience good luck to them. That’s rather different to being forcibly wrapped in wet blankets well below body temperature to try to alleviate your innate personality and behavioural traits with little or no explination as to why this is being done to you.

      At least they aren’t packed with mud or cellophane.

      Yes, let’s all be grateful that these children are wrapped in cold, wet blankets, yes Jimmy? Why not watch Le Mur? I’m sure your view will change to that of a human with a heart. The uncensored version is here:

      http://autismum.com/2012/01/27/le-mur-censored/

      Grow a brain, or at the very least do some proper research before you comment here again, Jimmy dear.

  10. Autismum
    13 March, 2012

    The “fuss” is about using an unproven “treatment” that is akin to torture on individuals who are unable to give their consent or even understand what is taking place. As for being:

    like the same stuff you find done in high end spas

    You are just being plain, old fashioned, stupid. If people knowingly wish to pay to be wrapped in warm bandages at their whim in luxury surroundings (though also for no good reason) and pay large sums of money for the experience good luck to them. That’s rather different to being forcibly wrapped in wet blankets well below body temperature to try to alleviate your innate personality and behavioural traits with little or no explination as to why this is being done to you.

    At least they aren’t packed with mud or cellophane.

    Yes, let’s all be grateful that these children are wrapped in cold, wet blankets, yes Jimmy? Why not watch Le Mur? I’m sure your view will change to that of a human with a heart. The uncensored version is here:

    http://autismum.com/2012/01/27/le-mur-censored/

    Grow a brain, or at the very least do some proper research before you comment here again, Jimmy dear.

  11. Carine
    13 March, 2012

    Hello,

    I don’t know if you followed the HUGE decision in France, but it’s slowly improving. Here is a video that contributed to the decision against the packing:


    YOUTUBE : http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=4ghYPnXiETQ
    TWITTER : http://twitter.com/#!/Vaincrelautisme/status/176728634621575168

    Subtitles are available. Tell me what you think !!

    • Autismum
      13 March, 2012

      That is really striking. Thank you for sharing. This post is still getting lots of hits so I’m going to embed the video in it (not everyone reads comments)
      Merci
      xx

      • Carine
        16 March, 2012

        Hi,

        I’m sorry I didn’t reply any sooner, I’ve been kind of busy recently.

        @anyachaika : I’m sure that both sides should work together, because let’s face it, things are changing, but how many years have we been trying (and will be trying) to improve the autistic children state, while we should be the one to be helped?

        @ everyone : Please, try to diffuse this video as much as possible, we plan to use it during the upcoming presidential election… so share it with all your friends and family !

        @Autismum : thank you !

  12. Pingback: Le Packing « Autismum

  13. anyachaika
    13 March, 2012

    It’s good that the situation is slowly changing in France. Unfortunately the situation regarding the related issue of Holding Therapy is still not widely known in the UK. A young man who experienced HT between the ages of 11-13 describes his experiences here –

    http://invisibleengland2.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/first-hand-account-of-holding-therapy-in-the-uk/

    A criminal investigation into the programme has been ongoing for 4 months now (the case is currently with the CPS) and Foot Anstey a major firm of solicitors, have been investigating a legal claim for 9 months. In spite of this, hardly anyone in this country knows that one of the largest and most systematic programmes of state-funded Holding Therapy in the world, takes place in the UK.

    Perhaps the campaigners against Le Packing and the campaigners against Holding Therapy can support each other in what seem to be very similar goals

    • Autismum
      13 March, 2012

      I have just written a post about holding therapy with a preview of the documentary. Where can it be accessed in full?

      • anyachaika
        13 March, 2012

        The documentary (by Invisible England) is still in production. The main difficulty is avoiding being sued for libel or compromising the legal case. The timing of the release of the full documentary will need to take into account both of these factors.

        The main problem about raising awareness of HT is that programme is targeted at children in care who, by definition, often don’t have any family members to advocate on their behalf. The corporate parents, the Local Authorities who place the children have failed to ask the relevant questions and many simply don’t know what is being done to the children they are legally and morally responsible for.

        It is possible that the 14 year existence of this programme in the NW of England constitutes a major child care scandal that has not been covered by any mainstream news organisation to date.

  14. Pingback: Donald Davidson on Thought and Its Requirements | Ich bin das Wort ist ich

  15. Philip Jones
    15 June, 2014

    10 degrees centigrade. Ask a diver how he or she would feel about being in water at that temperature. The answer would end with: ‘…..but not for long.’
    Without protection you will lose dexterity in less than 5 mins. Exhaustion and unconsciousness after an hour. Anything longer than an hour and you are looking at death. Its no accident ( pun not intended ) that divers are very careful about temperature control.
    A child, unable to move and allowed to warm up under a layer of cold, wet blankets is in serious trouble. Increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, initial hyperventilation oh, and the very real need to pee ( Anyone with kids will tell you how distressed they can get when they cant ‘go’ )
    I can see kids developing avoidance strategies galore here. As soon as they work out that the medics (sic) want to see a happy-smiley face then that is exactly what they will get.
    Yes I live in France, a single (male) parent with an autistic son (13). Up to now everything has been great. He is in a mainstream school and performing OK. He gets a social worker that takes him swimming weekly. Add to that a language tutor, math tutor and speech therapist and the analyst……who has applied to the courts to start packing. She needs my permission and wont be getting it.
    I had never heard of packing before now. In a country that boasts the best medical service in the world ( and it is seriously good) I was shocked that such practices existed.
    His mum is an abusive, violent and frequently absent drunk that fits their model for autism-causation perfectly. So much so in fact that child protection have banned her from approaching him.
    Please wish me luck.

    • Autismum
      16 June, 2014

      I wish you luck, strength and stamina.

      • Philip Jones
        1 July, 2014

        Thanks for that. I arrived at the courtrooms on time to find my son was waiting with his Social worker. I was expecting a distraught boy since his mother’s access rights had only recently been revoked: Not a bit of it. Big smile, big hug and immediatly launches in to a description of his new version of ‘Angry Birds’. A year ago and neither hug or smile could have been expected.
        The analyst seems to be working independantly of the social workers who take a more practical approach to his problems. They were keen for me to be there to block the treatment proposed by the analyst.
        The family courts are very informal though its a a good idea never to forget you are dealing with people who have a lot of power and will use it. ‘The child’s interests come first’ whether you agree or not.
        I had done my homework and checked out all the ‘clinical trials’ for packing I could find. I cant say I was much impressed with what I’d found. There was no chance of even a passing aquaintance of Freud’s philosophy in the time I had, just a knowlege that most of the rest of the world had said ‘Thanks and goodbye’ to him back in the 60s.
        And of course the material on the web varies from sensible discussion to the downright rabid.
        The judge asked why I objected and I explained why I felt packing was wrong from a purely physical standpoint: Its actually quite dangerous. At least they listened.
        But when dealing with the occupants of a well protected ivory tower I knew I needed more and asked why Freud was still the driver of their approach to autism. No way did I have the kind of knowlege needed to counter what they knew but getting them to show their hand would do no harm.
        Adopting the attitude when patiently adressing the ‘foolish child’ I was told ‘because it works’ and tests prove it…..for which response I was ready.
        They didnt get my permission. Unfortunatly it wont be ending there. They can overide my objection on the basis of ‘the child’s best interests’ and go ahead.
        He is with a foster family and being cared for very well. All the role models are there from mum, dad, two sisters and a brother. The house itself is in the middle of the countryside. They clearly love him and he returns that love. I cant match that which is why Im happy for him to remain there. Miss him terribly especially since I have his younger brother to care for. We do get to visit but we all feel we are best for our kids. It could certainly be better but in this world we do the best we can.
        Sorry for the long post.

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This entry was posted on 18 January, 2012 by in Autism, Links, Parenting, Science.

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