This post is the translation of an article on packing published by the French newspaper Le Monde on Feb. 16, 2012. In this article titled « Autisme : la technique du packing, enjeu d’un violent conflit », the journalist Catherine Vincent argues that wrapping kids in 10°c sheets is not torture !
Autism, the art of “packing”, a violent conflict at stake
LILLE, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT – Florian undressed himself. In a swimsuit in the small room, he is lying down on a bed. Celine and Yann, psychologists who are with him, wrap his legs gently with a white cloth. Then the whole body, except the head. Florian, attentive, lets himself get covered with swaddling blankets. The two therapists sit beside him, one on each side. In the next half hour, this 10 year old boy, diagnosed severely autistic, will laugh, talk and laugh again, in a moment of intense communication and relaxation. At the Centre for Mental Health Care of Children and Adolescents, University Hospital of Lille, we have, this afternoon in January, witnessed a session of “packing”. And it really has nothing to do with a torture session.
The packing? A technique of “wet wraps” restricted to the most severe cases of autism, with repeated self-harm. Practiced by dozens of teams in France, it involves wrapping the patient in cold and wet towels (10-15 ° C), then inducing a rapid warming. To its defenders, the sessions can fight against the “anxieties of fragmentation” and facilitate the therapeutic relationship. To his detractors, the most virulent of whom are the parents’ association “Vaincre Autism”, it is a “torture”. The symbol of the evil psychiatric treatment of autism. The animal to slaughter.
“I feel blamed, slandered, disqualified. For my practice vis-à-vis the children that I treat and their parents, it’s terrible.” Professor Pierre Delion, chief of child psychiatry at the University Hospital of Lille and the first promoter of packing in France, believes they are under “workplace harassment. ” Recognized by his peers for his humanism and openness, the autism specialist was to appear, Thursday, Feb. 16, before the County Council of Northern College of Physicians, following a complaint lodged against him by “Overcoming Autism” for breach of medical ethics. A similar complaint was filed against Professor David Cohen, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry of the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital (Paris).
Their offense? Practicing packing when they deem necessary. And supporting the principle of scientific research on the effectiveness of this method, conducted since 2008 as part of a national hospital clinical research (PHRC). A support committee was formed to defend the two men, as an “open letter to the Board of the Medical and families of people with autism”. Put online a few weeks ago, it already has several thousand signatures of health professionals.
Revealing paroxysm of the conflict between the parents’ associations and the medical establishment, will packing be the baby thrown out with the bath water? Its therapeutic efficacy, it is true, has never been proven other than observationally. It was precisely the purpose of the clinical trial launched in 2008, that Professor Delion says he had asked for for many years. But this research has become, in fact, impossible.
“Since its launch, there has been such publicity against this technique a number of colleagues and parents refused to participate. It is stalled,” laments Professor Delion, who recalls that “the alternative to this technique are very high dose neuroleptics. ” In this testing times, there is an element of consolation: “None of the parents of children on whom I practiced these integrative approaches is part of the vendetta. It’s the only thing that comforts me.”