So what's wrong with ABA? Shortly: EVERYTHING.
And this post explains a tiny part of why it is unethical, harmful and damaging therapy.
In this post I will be talking about and/or mentioning ableism, dehumanisation of autistic folks, ABA therapy, behaviour therapies in general, institutionalised abuse, gaslighting.
Let’s make it clear from the very beginning: Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an institutionalised abuse against autistics.
There is NO not always, there are different kind of ABAs, some people need it, it’s for a better. It is an abuse. Period.
Nowadays lots of people tend to believe that there are two ways of doing ABA, one is “bad” aka outdated (using electroshock, locking up children in tiny cupboards, using physical punishment, etc.) and the other is “good” aka progressive (not beating children up, uses positive reinforcement, etc.)
And here I can’t stop my sarcasm “oh wow, you are so kind. You don’t beat children up. You use more sensible ways to abuse them. Such a hero… “
Okay, I am more than aware that ABA therapists can be and most probably are nice people and don’t use many things used in the past (you know we fought for the basic human rights for disabled people too and giving electroshocks to children because they rock, clap their hands too often or don’t look right into your eyes is simply unacceptable. Still there are places where children on the spectrum are getting electroshocks in the name of the behaviour modification !!).
Anyway, the main problem still stays. ABA is an abuse. ABA breaks autistic children and reinforces the idea that they are broken, wrong and need to be fixed. That only by acting in one certain, someone’s else’s demanded way they will be accepted and loved. The only right way is obviously the neurotypical way….
I believe that majority of ABA therapists or anyone in that matter who engages or promotes ABA have never even heard of this quote, but still this quote is a core of how ABA works.
So, what is the purpose of the ABA? Simply to “normalise” autistic child’s behaviour, in other words to make them appear as neurotypical as possible. Like any behaviour therapies ABA is not about teaching, understanding or supporting, it is about behaviour modification.
This kind of training is not only highly unethical, but also often becomes dangerous. Therapists are not trying to understand autistic people’s experiences, but to modify and change them. Not even for the welfare of an autistic person, for the comfort of the society! If one has any kind of behaviour that seem “obsessive”, “repetitive” or in any way not understood by the neurotypical people around them, then behaviourists try to change these things aka make the autistic child to look less autistic. They even call behaviours desired and unacceptable. Desired behaviour is the one they want to reinforce, such as looking into eyes, and unacceptable behaviour is the one they want to get rid of, such as repeating things over and over again.
Stimming, rocking, getting too attached to things, flapping hands, talking about the same thing too many times over and over again, not eating certain foods, not being able to touch certain textures, using echolalia, repeating sounds, having an intense interest especially if it’s not seen as typical, not making eye contact, covering ears, walking on tip-toes, not playing with specific toys in a specific (someone else’s desired) manner, the list could go on and on….
Basically anything that behaviourists would see as “inappropriate” and “not acceptable” would need to change or be stopped. One of the biggest problems is that these kinds of approaches completely ignores the fact that everyone has a reason for doing something. Just because someone else doesn’t understand why a child is flapping their hands or covering their ears or any number of other things, that does not mean the child has no valid reasons for doing so. And if sometimes certain actions might harm an autistic person, instead of looking into what has caused stressed and if there are other ways to get the sensory input, ABA stops the action, but not its cause. That way just further sending the message to an autistic folks that their feelings and emotions are not valid, that their needs are wrong and that they in general need to change in order to be loved.
Okay, I am going to stop my rant about ABA here, even if I could go on and on, because it is just so horrible!
I just wanted to add another autistic voice to so many others who speak against it, not that it is going to make a big difference, because we are not heard and everyone else thinks they know better what we need and how we should live.
If you are not sure where you stand on ABA, if you engage in it in any way, if you support it, if you think it can be helpful, if you believe that there are good ways of doing it, you are making it harder for us to live in this world and to advocate for ourselves.
It doesn't mean that you hate autistic people, probably you even believe that you are doing good, and it makes you feel good too to patronise and “rescue” these poor disabled children. But no matter how good your intentions are, it still means that you believe, contribute or maybe even promote the idea that dehumanisation of autistic folks is acceptable. You not only normalise daily abuse, but twist it and call it “help”. You make my and many other actually autistic people’s lives a living hell. I rather you listen to autistic people and survivors of ABA speaking up and stop suggesting that #NotAllAba … or that we should hear both sides. So far only one side is widely heard - and it is not my side.. It is also really cruel to ask that a survivor/victim would empathise with their oppressor and hear the other side. Just STOP!
Thank you for reading. Also thanks to everyone who wrote supportive comments and messages on my previous post, I really appreciate that. Thank you.
If you want to support my work, you can do it here, it will help me to concentrate on creating art and writing: https://www.patreon.com/AIWS
This is an article from Life Magazine (year 1965), a massive trigger warning for this especially if you are an autistic person. It is talking about “the newest most effective treatment for autism” (aka ABA therapy) and includes abuse, torture and dehumanisation of autistic children:
They have much more readings on the history of research and behaviourism of autism. It’s really terrifying, I don’t know why I keep reading it.
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