Colwyn Trevarthen

Biography

Colwyn Trevarthen, from New Zealand, is Professor (Emeritus) of Child Psychology and Psychobiology at The University of Edinburgh. He has spent 50 years studying development of brain and body in infancy and how children move, communicate happiness, and maintain well-being in creative play and shared learning, promoting transmission of cultural intelligence. He is interested in how rhythms and expressions of ‘communicative musicality’ in movement share emotions, motivate learning of language and other cultural skills, and help overcome developmental disorders, such as autism, or neglect and abuse. He has Honorary Doctorates from the University of Crete, the University of East London, and Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters, and a Vice-President of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, and has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Psychological Society.

Abstract

Early Signs of Autism, With Indications for Care and Support of Development In Relationships

I will present evidence, from observations of behaviors in early infancy and before birth, that the disorder identified by Leo Kanner as ‘early infantile autism’, which is characterized in contemporary clinical science by its effects on high level cognitive and affective processes and language, has its origin in the deformation of primary motor, proprioceptive and visceral systems of the embryo and foetus that are essential in the development of an intentional and affective Self who is capable of sympathetic cooperation with the agencies of other human selves; Kanner’s “Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact”. Evidence from the first year indicates how abnormal movements of attention and response provoke stimulatory efforts from an adult seeking communication, which further confuse the child. Therapeutic adaptations that aim to confirm purpose and give reward to the timing and direction of the child’s initiatives can lead to improvements in both immediate behavior and development, which in turn benefit cooperative learning and mastery of social and cultural skills, including language. Confirmation of this approach comes from assessments and treatments that attend to and engage with impulses of body movement, music, and dance in psychotherapy.