Disruption to the core self in autism, and its care

Jonathan Delafield-Butt, Penelope Dunbar, Colwyn Trevarthen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
115 Downloads (Pure)


This article offers a neuroscientific explanation of the experience of autism as a disruption to the embodied experience of the Core Self. It recognizes human experience is integrative by nature. Attending to the insights of Penelope Dunbar (Pum), who has lived with autism for decades, we explore an affective neuroscience understanding of autistic experience as a disruption to embodiment and coherence of the Core Self, and how to work creatively with its impulses for health and personal development. Pum describes her autistic disruptions to the intra-personal coherence of her basic states of being, moving-with-feeling in self-awareness, and how this disturbance to her internal subjective coherence of mind challenges her capacity to self-regulate arousal, and communicate with others. By examination of the source of her problems in childhood and ways of working with them, Pum has clarified fundamental elements in the development of her capacity to regulate self-care in creative efforts that facilitate both affective embodiment and sensory-motor coherence in growth of understanding in her mind and body. With her advice, we explore how current neurobiological insights in autism as a disruption to the regulation of affective embodiment and sensory-motor integration leads to new recommendations for therapeutic care to relieve autistic distress and restricted modes of being. Although particular to her circumstances and cultivated habits of autistic expression, this analysis offers insight into the fundamental nature of autism, and ways of positive working with one’s autism for creative gains.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-75
Number of pages23
JournalPsychoanalytic Inquiry
Issue number1
Early online date18 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


  • autism
  • embodiment
  • core self
  • affective neuroscience
  • self-regulation
  • art
  • movement


Dive into the research topics of 'Disruption to the core self in autism, and its care'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this