Using the Object Relations Technique with Autistic Spectrum Disordered Children to Reveal Their Experience of Relationships
The use of projective assessments has a long history and tradition within psychological testing. However, there is a relative lack of research using these techniques with people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Asperger Syndrome (AS). People with ASD have common features known as the „triad of impairments‟: (a) impairments in social interaction (b) qualitative impairments in communication and (c) restricted, repetitive or stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests or attitudes. Herbert Phillipson‟s (1955) Object Relations Technique (ORT) is a well-established projective assessment that examines an individual‟s ability to describe object relationships. A review of the literature has revealed no published papers using the ORT with this client group. The ORT is a story-based assessment in which the participants respond to a set of ambiguous pictures displaying one, two, three person, or group situations and one blank plate. The test seeks to show the different ways an individual experiences, or will avoid, the particular object relationships. The expectation is that the participants will display a consistency between the four dimensions assessed and how they conduct and view relationships, and this will be reflected in the stories. Five participants were assessed using the ORT. The results were compared to the normative data supplied by Phillipson (1955). The study found that all the participants had difficulties with meeting the full criteria for the stories. Stories lacked emotional connections and interactions between the characters, with a reliance on basic emotional states. Problems were encountered in story production for the blank plate. When compared to normative data the participants displayed a range of perceptual variations in relation to the figures in the pictures. Further analysis was also conducted using Labov‟s (1972, 1982) structural analysis which revealed difficulties with including all the elements in the stories. Miles and Huberman‟s (1994) thematic analysis was also undertaken. The themes that emerged highlighted that the participants‟ stories reflected their adolescent stage of development, though these are not always clearly articulated. Overall, the study highlighted the difficulties with using the ORT with an ASD population, which affects its practicality and usefulness for assessment purposes. The possible reasons for these difficulties are discussed.