Disruption to the core self in autism, and its care

Jonathan Delafield-Butt, Penelope Dunbar, Colwyn Trevarthen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper offers a neuroscientific explanation of the experience of autism as a disruption to the embodied experience of the Core Self. It recognises 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
Number of pages33
JournalPsychoanalytic Inquiry
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 10 Feb 2021


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

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