The impact of words on children with ADHD and DAMP: Consequences for psychoanalytic technique

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Abstract

Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and disorder of attention, motility control, and perception (DAMP) are often sensitive to the analyst s interventions. This is not always due to the literal import of the intervention. The children sometimes react as if the words were dangerous concrete objects, which they must physically fend off. The author traces this phenomenon to the child's unstable internal situation. A bad, un-containing internal object is easily awakened and threatens to expel the analyst's words independently of their content. This results in violent clinical situations. Infant research and psychoanalytic work with infants and mothers evince how a complex semiotic process develops between mother and baby. The prerequisite for this process to get started and maintained is a secure external object, which gradually is internalized. Findings from developmental research and clinical infant work are used to illuminate analytic work with children with ADHD and DAMP. Vignettes demonstrate how important it is for the analyst to phrase interpretations after having gauged the state of the analysand's internal object as well as his/her own countertransference. If this is overlooked, the psychoanalytic dialogue easily capsizes. The author provides some technical recommendations on the psychoanalysis of these children. As part of the theoretical discussion he raises the general question of how the representations, which the baby forms in interaction with the mother, and the analysand forms in interaction with the analyst, should be classified. Rather than dividing them into bipartite thing- or word-presentations (Freud), the author suggests C. S. Peirce s tripartite semiotic classification in that the baby forms representations of icons, indices, and symbols.

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