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PREVERBAL COMMUNICATION
 
by
Juan Carlos Garelli

I have never heard of a psychological theory that can escape the gauntlet of advancing a theory of Psychic Development. Those in vogue ever since Freud stubbornly insist in seeing the infant as hopelessly handicapped to get in touch with the outside world. Particularly with distinct, preferred persons in close contact with the infant, which we generically call "mother·".

According to Freud and his followers, the infant faces serious problems trying to make out itself from the other, or others.They assert he feels as though the external world did not exist. Margaret Mahler, the champion of this trend of undiscrimination between self and other, even talks about a "phase of normal autism and normal symbiosis" which would last for at least a year; that's why her book is entitled The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, as though we humans were doomed to go through two distinct births, a biological birth, whereupon we prove to be dependent, hallucinatory, indiscriminate, autistic, symbiotic, paranoid, schizoid, and so on. It seems as though one were being described a serious psychopathological condition. Under such dire settings, communication with an infant proves impossible, hence socializing with an infant would have to be postponed till he overcomes those so-called early developmental stages and becomes a more or less tractable child. One is amazed at the extraordinary luck we humans posses having been able to make it through the hazards of evolution with such seriously handicapped offspring: mothers in the Pleistocene must have been supermothers, especially taking into account no Early Stimulation Treatments were available at the time.

After the advent of the Attachment Theory by John Bowlby, infants reivindicated their rights to be seen as humans, even as healthy humans. Just by the simple expedient of taking a look at how infants behaved. One of the most impressive discoveries was that contrary to what everybody asserted, infants were ONLY interested in socializing from birth onwards. Categorial proof of the innate trend to socializing in infants came through when Bowlby decided to study EARLY SEPARATIONS. When an infant is separated from his mother for a short period, he indergoes a series of stages which go from protesting, through despair, to recoiling into himself as the outer world did not matter anymore (as if he considered he had lost mother for ever). The rest of Bowlby's work, with the addition of Mary Ainsworth's Strange Situation opened up a pathway of unpredictable dimensions for Early Developmental Researchers: now they did have a good theoretical framework to work under.

The Attachment Research Center has always followed that very policy: stick to empirical basis, or direct observation, do not take anything for granted, not even Bowlby's theory of attachment, a multidisciplinary approach (Attachment theorizing, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, ethology, scientific methodology and epistemology, information processing, updated cybernetics, and so on, form the bulk of the basis we feel we must be trained in to start even talking about Infants, about mother-infant interactions. about the subjective world of the infant, and so on). That is why we deplore relying on introspection to carry out either research programs or simple diagnostics. Instrospection leading to retrospective speculations about how an adult must have been treated by his parents harks the specialty back to Pre-Bowlbyian times.

Our endeavor focusses on the Bowlbyian perspective, trying to refine and explore unexplored aspects of child development, such as how infants perceive the world, how they perceive us, their caregivers, or very early experiences such as the so-called period of alert inactivity which follows birth.

Since we deem infants able to socialize as from birth throught their integrated amodal perception system (APS) we will incur into what others (Stern, Trevarthen) have called INTERSUBJECTIVITY or preverbal communication.

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