The Relationship Between Neuroscience and Internal Conflicts in a Psychodynamic Approach to the Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Short Article

Susan P Sherkow


The Sherkow Center for Child Development and Autism Spectrum Disorder, founded in 2012, applies a psychodynamic treatment approach to children, adolescents and adults with ASD. This presentation proposes models of treatment of ASD which integrate perspectives from neurobiology and psychoanalysis, and which outline the roles of neural connectivity and processing, along with the roles of intrapsychic and interpersonal dynamics, in the development and treatment of autism. These models correlate with presumptive evidence that a disconnect between the thinking brain (the orbitofrontal cortex) and the emotional brain (the amygdala) underlies atypical social-emotional development. Process notes and video material will illustrate how these ideas are applied in the formulation and treatment of two cases: a toddler from 3-8 years old, and a preadolescent from 9-14 years old. This presentation will demonstrate a multi-systemic treatment approach that addresses all domains of the ASD child’s life and utilizes methods from multiple domains, including dyadic and family therapy, parent counseling, home treatment, intensive and frequent sessions, and coordinated team meetings. The integration of psychopharmacology, psychodynamic therapy, and overall attention to the details of a developmental trajectory create a comprehensive treatment paradigm, which continuously forms and reconfigures the psychoanalytic formulation so that each ASD individual can achieve their developmental potential. The presentation will conclude by offering directions for future research and collaborative project development. Participants will learn: 1) how proposed models of ASD organize existing etiological factors in the development of autism and also factors leading to autistic symptoms; 2) how psychodynamic techniques can address key deficits in ASD and the neurobiological correlates of these deficits; 3) how psychodynamic interventions integrated into a comprehensive treatment approach for ASD can promote genuine social connections.

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