Invisible Abuse: ABA and the things only autistic people can see11 min read

If you want to upset a self-described Autism Mom, all you have to do is tell her that ABA is abusive.

This argument breaks out on social media so many times every single day.

Autism is an unusual condition because the community is so sharply divided.

On one side you have the neurotypical parents and families of autistic children, and on the other you have the online community of adult autistic people, many of whom are parents to autistic children.

The two sides disagree on virtually everything, but arguably the most contentious subject is Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy.

ABA Therapists and many families of autistic people hail it as the most effective, most scientifically proven way to help autistic children develop life skills such as speech, potty training, and going to the grocery store without going into full meltdown mode.

Autistic adults– many of whom have been through ABA as children– say that it is abuse.

You can imagine how that statement sounds to loving parents whose children adore their ABA therapist and who would never knowingly abuse their beloved child.

You can imagine how it feels to be told that the gold-standard treatment which is bleeding your finances dry so that you can help your child is actually abuse.

The difficulty is that when people hear the word “abuse,” they think of pain and violence.

ABA has a big history of those things, too.  Its founder, O.  Ivar Lovaas, used electric shocks to stop children from engaging in their obsessive, repetitive behaviours.  He systematically trained them with equal combinations of love and pain to behave more like non-autistic children.

He thought he was saving them, turning a raw bundle of nerve endings into something resembling a human being.

One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is you have to construct a person.  You have the raw materials but you have to build the person.

-Lovaas

Whenever ABA comes up, so does Lovaas.  Autists point out that he used these same techniques to pioneer gay conversion therapy, which, like ABA, has also been proven to be deeply harmful to the human psyche.  They also point out that while fewer ABA therapists use things like electric shock, it is still used and considered important by several institutions.

“But ABA has changed,” people argue.  “My ABA therapist never uses punishment.  It’s all positive and reward-based.”

That is very true for many people.  Most ABA therapists don’t set out to hurt children.  And yet, despite making ABA therapy fun and positive, the underlying goals of ABA have not changed.

And it is these goals that, like gay conversion therapy, do long-term damage to the human psyche.

The reason parents and ABA therapists can’t see it as abusive is because they can’t see it from an autistic point of view.

Let’s take a moment to look at some ABA in progress.

 

 

 

So?  Did you see any child abuse?

Probably not.

How about here?

Or here?

Sure, the child was unhappy in the first video but the teacher was patient and she recovered, right?

And in the second video, they’re trying to teach children not to be disruptive, but they aren’t punishing the child or anything.

In all of these videos the children are never yelled at, scolded, shamed, or injured.  They are praised and rewarded when they get things right, and often the kids seem to be enjoying the games.

No electric shocks, no aversive, nothing to make the experience traumatic, right?

Wrong.

Allistic people can’t see it, because they don’t understand how it feels to be autistic.

Let’s go back to that first video.

While they do not address it in the voice-over, if you watched it again you would notice how often the therapists take the children’s hands and fold them into the children’s lap.

You would also notice how often the child’s feelings are ignored.

In the first video, several of the children begin rubbing their eyes and looking tired, but they do not address this.

In the video with the girl in the supermarket, an autistic person can spot that she was getting overstimulated, exhausted, and was increasingly desperate to escape this environment.

In the video with the crying child, an autistic person wonders why she is so unhappy.  Is she exhausted?  Overtired?  Overwhelmed?  And when she stops fussing and goes back to doing the work, we can see the resignation on her face.

She isn’t happier.  She’s just accepted that her feelings don’t matter and the fastest way to escape the situation is by complying.

In the last, you can see that ABA therapists deliberately ignore attempts to communicate or produce behaviours that have not been demanded by the therapist.

The child wants his mother’s attention.  Would I ignore my child while trying to listen to what his doctor was telling me?  Probably.  But I would “shhh” or pat his arm to let him know that he was heard, and I would be with him in a minute.

Notice that ABA doesn’t tell you to go back to the child after and find out what they needed or wanted.

And that is the problem with ABA. 

Not the rewards, not the silly imitation games. The problem with ABA is that it addresses the child’s behaviours, not the child’s needs.

Think of those happy little children in that first video.

Now understand that sessions like this are not a couple of hours a week.  ABA therapists recommend that small children between 2 and 5 go through 40 hours a week of this type of learning.

40 hours a week.

No WONDER those kids are rubbing their eyes.

My allistic eight year old doesn’t do 40 hours a week of school.  He goes to school from nine to three and gets a half hour recess and a half hour lunch.  That’s 5 hours a day five days a week.  25 hours of active learning.  And much of his class time is actually quiet reading, playing with learning materials, gym, or talking in a circle with his peers.  So make it less than 20 hours a week of being actively taught.

Imagine asking double that for a preschooler.

Now consider that ABA is designed to ignore any protests the child might make.

ABA is not designed to consider the child’s feelings or emotional needs. 

I’m not making a jump when I say that.  You can go to any ABA website and read what they say and you’ll see that there will be no discussion of the child’s emotional welfare or happiness, only behaviours.

To ABA, behaviour is the only thing that matters. ABA considers autistic children as unbalanced kids who need to be balanced out, and if you balance their behaviour, they are fixed.

“…what you need to do is reduce those excesses like the self stimulatory behavior, repetitive behaviors, and increase the skills.  And then what will happen is after the child really learns a set of foundational skills; then they will start relating more to other people.”
— Deborah Fein PhD

 

As you can see from the above video, “self-stimulation”, one of the “excesses” of autism behaviours, is considered a kind of boredom fidget– something useless that replaces real learning and interaction.

When they are erased and replaced with “life skills,” then this is celebrated as a success.

Any autistic person will tell you is that this is NOT what stimming is.

Stimming isn’t just like doodling when you’re bored, or throwing a basketball.

Stimming is a comforting self-soothing behaviour which helps us reduce stress, feel more comfortable in uncomfortable environments, and regulate our emotions.

Many of us feel that our stims are a form of communication – just as a smile or a frown communicates something about our internal states, so do our stims, if you would just pay attention.  Moreso, in fact, since many autistic people smile when they are anxious or frown when they are perfectly content.  Studies show that non-autistic people are terrible at interpreting our facial expressions. 

If my husband sees me stimming more than usual in the middle of the day, he frowns and asks if my day is going okay.  But many times he mistakes my emotions based on my facial expressions.  My stims are better at translating my emotions than my face is, unless I’m actively animating my face in an allistic way for the benefit of my allistic audience.

Which is exhausting, by the way.

40 hours a week is too much for me so I can’t imagine how a small child manages it.

Grabbing my hands when I stim the way ABA recommends would NOT help my day go better. 

It would be an excellent way to piss me off and make me feel frustrated and anxious, though.

It’s one thing to stop a child from hurting themselves by banging their head.  It’s another to stop a harmless stim like hand flapping.  You’re causing the child emotional discomfort just because the behaviour strikes you as weird.

Go back and watch some of those videos again, noting how often the autistic children are interrupted from hand-waving, making noise, crying, or otherwise trying to express and relieve their emotions.

Notice how often they get the child to make eye contact.  Many autistic people find eye contact extremely uncomfortable.  The way the children’s bodies are touched and manipulated so frequently, in corrective redirection, is upsetting the children.  Their faces reflect confusion and sometimes distress.

But learning to tolerate discomfort is what ABA is all about. 

Watch that child enter the grocery store.  See how she looks all around?  The noise and the lights are stressful and distracting.  She wants to please her family and get the cookie pieces so she goes along with the act of putting food in the cart, but after a while she is worn out and can’t stand it anymore.

The mother comments that if they relented at this point and took the child out of the store, her daughter would be rewarded for behaving this way.

That is probably true.  If you are in pain, and you scream “Ouch!”  and someone comes running and relieves your pain, you’ll probably yell “Ouch” again the next time something hurts you.

Is that…  bad?

The parents say the ABA really helped their daughter.

Did it really help the child, though?  Or the parents?

The grocery store isn’t any less noisy or bright or overwhelming.  And the child obviously still finds it difficult to go in.  Instead, she has learned to keep her feelings to herself, to try and focus on pleasing her family, and bottle up her stress inside until she can’t take it any more.

That’s a healthy thing to teach a child, right?

With time she may become excellent at this.  She may be able to go to the store, put items in the cart, and go home without a meltdown.

But the meltdown WILL come.

It will come over something minor, some silly thing that seems like nothing and pushes her over the edge where she was already teetering.  And they will wonder where it came from.  They’ll talk about how unpredictable her meltdowns can be.

It isn’t unpredictable to us.

We can see it coming.  We can see that her autism hasn’t been treated to improve her life so much as to improve her family’s life.  And while that is important too, wouldn’t it be better to find a solution that works for everyone?

Did they try ear defenders, and dark glasses?

Did they try encouraging her to stim if stressed?

Did they teach her a polite way to let them know when she has had enough and needs to leave the situation?

I don’t know.  I don’t know them.  I don’t know their child.

But I do know what autism feels like.

I know that ear defenders are not part of standard ABA protocols.  Instead of teaching them to understand their sensory needs and self-advocate for having their needs met, they are taught to ignore them.

I know that ABA demands the child’s attention but refuses to give attention back when the child demands it.

I know that ABA aims to be positive and rewarding for the child, but doesn’t allow the child to tap out whenever they need to.

I know that ABA considers vital emotional regulation tools to be problems that must be extinguished.

I know that neurotypical pre-schoolers are not usually expected to learn for 40 hours a week.

I know that neurotypical children are encouraged to express their emotions, not smother them.

I know that ABA believes in removing a child’s language tool like the iPad when they are naughty.  I notice that the ABA therapist working with the 8-year-old boy only handed him his communication tool in between “discrete trials.”

I know from activists like Cal Montgomery that even adult autistic people have their communication tools routinely taken away from them if they don’t “comply” to the demands of their therapists and caregivers.

I know that if I ask someone if they think it is abusive to remove a child’s only way of contacting their parents, or to ignore a child in distress, or to force a child into a situation that they find uncomfortable/painful, or refuse to help a child when they are suffering and overwhelmed, they will say yes.

As long as I don’t mention that the child is autistic, anyway.

Autistic kids are different, apparently.

Whenever autistic people protest ABA, we are told that we don’t understand, that we don’t know how hard autistic children are to live with.  They talk about improving the child’s independence and argue that it isn’t cruel to teach a child to write or play with toys.

They don’t see how weird it is to try to systematically shape a child’s behaviour to teach them to play with a toy the “right” way.

They don’t see that 40 hours a week of brainwashing a child to put up with stress and discomfort without expressing their feelings might be a bad idea in the long run.

They don’t see how wrong it is to teach a child that their way of feeling comfortable and soothed is wrong and that ignoring your feelings and physical needs is good and gets you approval from your teachers and parents.

They don’t see that it is abusive to ignore a child’s attempts to communicate because they aren’t “complying” with a demand that makes them uncomfortable.

They don’t see how dangerous it is to teach a child to do whatever they are ordered to do, no questions asked, and to never object or say “no.”

They don’t think about the fact that 70% of people with ASD have experienced sexual abuse by the time they are college age.

They don’t think about how this person will learn to stand up for themselves or advocate for their needs when they were systematically trained in preschool never to disagree, speak up, or disobey.

Do what I say. 

Put your hands in your lap.

Don’t cry.  Don’t complain.

Listen to me.

I won’t listen to you.

This is not abuse.

…But, you know, the kid gets bubbles and tickles so it’s obviously safe and totally okay.

What do we know?

Our feelings don’t matter anyway.

 

C.L. Lynch

C.L. Lynch is an award-winning author and socially awkward autist living in Vancouver, B.C. with one husband, two children, several fuzzy animals, and uncountable unwashed dishes. She enjoys smashing tropes and hiding from adult responsibilities.

Author: C.L. Lynch

C.L. Lynch is an award-winning author and socially awkward autist living in Vancouver, B.C. with one husband, two children, several fuzzy animals, and uncountable unwashed dishes. She enjoys smashing tropes and hiding from adult responsibilities.

144 thoughts

  1. Excellent article!  And still they say that WE (autistics) are the ones lacking empathy!  It’s not just the techniques but how and why they are applied.  Even more frightening, I fear that his model seems to be spreading into non autistic special education programs.  We’ll end up with an even greater amount of young adults that have little ability to self advocate!

  2. I found it really disturbing to watch the amount of grabbing, touching, tickling which to me seemed quite aggressive and completely not respectful of the child’s bodily autonomy along with absolute blindness to Any of the children’s non verbal gestures.  Where is it acceptable when a child is quite clearly reaching to take something to ignore their hands and then ram it up their tee-shirt?

    1. That really irked me too. 

      Also, while I agree with everything the articles says, in addition to that, based on the videos, it looks like the therapists don’t even have a clue about rewarding.  For the most part, what’s meant to be rewarding appears to be uncomfortable for the kids judging on their body language, which is in many cases either avoidant or indifferent or resigned (just putting up with it) …  so it looks like the therapists apply what they assume are rewards without even first checking out the kid’s preferences and what’s rewarding for them.  The “rewards” honestly looked aversive in many cases…  as you say, lots of invasive gestures and handling like touching, tickling, leaning over, hugging, starring down etc as part of both the interaction and then as “rewards” too…  If this was animal training, they would all have been sacked long ago for their incompetence

    2. I felt the same way about the amount of touching, especially since touching for some autistic people can be a trigger.  It’s invading their personal space, my 10 year old son is super sensitive about being touched.  We always ask before we give him a hug or something because it’s his choice, and we show him respect for his boundaries.

  3. This is why I believe ABA belongs to a courtroom docks.  ⚖️⚖️⚖️
    People who know they are being called out for their ABA sessions but still keep it on with that, should face justice for child abuse.
    No sympathy for people like that.  😡😡😡

  4. If you consider ABA as abuse, PLEASE don’t spread pictures or videos of Autistics being abused.  I ask you to delete these videos.  You owe us some dignity.

    1. Unfortunately, those videos are publicly accessible, shared by people who don’t see them as abusive.  I think it’s worth linking to them here so we can help people understand.  The harm from these videos being shared non-consensually in this context is less than the benefit if parents or therapists see this discussion, accompanying these videos, and start to see what’s wrong with this approach.

      1. I think it is also important for many parents to see what actually happens in ABA.  Many ABAs don’t allow parents to watch.  I insisted on watching it and got through one half of a session with my son and it ended there.  I couldn’t imagine how it would be okay for anyone to treat someone I loved like that.  No matter what the “goal” was.

        1. This article is focused on a.  Part of ABA that is practiced without considering the internal thoughts and feelings of participants.  Healthy ABA following BF Skinner’s (not just lovaas) approach to ABA requires parents participation and knowing how far to go with a goal without traumatizing the participants.  What you are seeing is unprofessional and unregulated ABA.  This starts with good teachers and higher requirements for practitioners of ABA.  They should be licensed professionals with training and experience.  Many, unfortunately, have never worked with children at the interventionist level.  Supervisors require more training and BCBAs are even lacking without the proper training.  The field is not regulated enough to be sure that proper instruction is taking place.  Until then it is a learning process.

          1. Under every ethics code, no “learning process” trial and error balderdash is acceptable to practice on children who cannot protest or who are not allowed to protest. 

            I was a registered ABA behavior technician.  These videos are exactly like the most commonly used training videos.  Why do you think that even with rampant problems with regulation it’s okay do anything other than strongly condemn ABA for autistic children?

  5. That sad little “do this” from the little girl in the first video…

    I can imagine what she’s thinking.  “You don’t care how I’m feeling.  You just care about me following your commands.”

  6. Wow.  Thank you for explaining it in a way I understand.  I never really understood why it was considered abusive, but I get it now.

  7. Just yesterday, I read a blog post by a mother who was expressing her gratitude to a perfect stranger showing kindness to her child, who was beginning to melt down in the grocery store.  The man sat down with him, on the floor, and interacted in a way that settled him and made him laugh.  Meltdown averted.  Lots of questions there.  Had she done anything to protect the child from overstimulation: dark glasses, ear muffs or plugs?  Did she believe that trips to the grocery store would eventually “desensitize” the child?  Did she learn anything from watching the interaction?

  8. What annoys me when “autism mommies” respond to adult autistics about this, is that we’re often dismissed as “too high functioning” so our opinion doesn’t count.  Often it seems like if an autistic person manages to communicate in a way they understand, they’re dismissed as “not autistic enough.”  So the only people who are “autistic enough” are the ones who can’t protest what they’re saying.

    1. Can you please stop throwing moms under the bus?  I am autistic AND a mom.  I know many ally mothers who are very neurodiverse accepting and supportive.  Generalizing is never a great idea.

      1. Autistic and neurodiverse moms, as well as ally parents, are not being referred to when someone says “Autism Mom TM” or “autism mommies”. 

    2. “High Functioning” is a term created by ableist “autism warrior parents,” in an effort to shut down any autistic voices that are concerned about the way their children are treated.  It’s a term often used by ablest organizations such as autism speaks, in an effort to remove the opinions of those impacted by their ableism.  ABA is child abuse PERIOD, and I’m grateful my parents never subjected me to this.

  9. I am a mother of a wonderful boy who is autistic.  We do ABA therapy and many of the sessions have been in our home.  Many of the things they do are similar to what we do for our two other NT kids.  It’s about hoping to teach them coping skills.  We would never stop stimming because it is a way of communication but overall he needs to learn what to do when he is overstimulated.  I see the divide and understand both sides, but what it the other option besides ABA?  (Not being defensive I truely want to know) My 5 year has been suspended several times at school because when he is overstimulated he can become aggressive.  I don’t have the answer as to what else we can do because the school system won’t help.  I can understand him at home, but how do I help him at school?  If he is playing with friends and it’s just too much for him If I’m not there (and I won’t always be) how can I help him learn what to do?

    1. Eileen have you looked at the the DIR floortime method.  It is very play based and has worked wonders for my son in socialization and overall happiness.

    2. He can be encouraged to stim more, walk away and take a break, advocate for himself, not feel obligated to continue playing, wear ear plugs/weighted vests/dark glasses/soff clothing.  These are things we can be encouraged to do to help us in our environment.  Defending ABA and continuing it is not the answer.  These things I suggested have worked for me and many other autistic folks to avoid meltdown/shutdown/agressiveness because it addresses our actual needs.

      1. I am a BCBA and work in home and at and ABA center.  I actually teach my clients to request these things when they are becoming overwhelmed.  They have coping skills programs.  We encourage them to request their headphones if it’s too loud, their compression vest if they need sensory input, breaks from work if they feel tired.  We work on understanding and expressing emotions and our therapists validate that and work on what the kids can do if they are feeling that way.  Some of the kids I work with were being kicked out of school daily for becoming aggressive until we worked with them on requesting the things they needed to be okay.  I don’t understand how this is abuse?

        1. Coping skills programs are great!  But they are not ABA.  I think it’s fantastic to work stuff like that in.  It’s the basic goals and methods of ABA itself that I disagree with.  There are many other great ways to help autistic children and many BCBAs seem to mix and match.  If you believe that headphones and compression vests are a standard part of ABA itself i’d love to see some references because every ABA site I have read and every instructional ABA video I have seen have not mentioned that.

          1. ABA therapists (if doing their job correctly) are supposed to work as an interdisciplinary team along side of other therapies.  We work closely with OT and Speech therapists as well as schools to make sure the kids are getting EVERYTHING they need.  ABA is not supposed to be one size fits all therapy.  The treatment plan should be client based.  Coping skills are absolutely a HUGE part of ABA.  Teaching functional communication to express wants and needs is one of the main things we focus on.  Not all kids even do discrete trials.  Some kids need to work on social skills, job training, behaviors (through teaching coping skills and functional communication).  Discrete trials (as shown above) are such a tiny piece of what we do and honestly only represents a tiny portion of our clientele.  It’s sad that this is the representation of what ABA is.

          2. my son is 14 and we have been doing ABA on and off for along time.  asking for breaks are taught from an early age, and the choice of activity is given during breaks whether it is a trampoline or a swing or just walking around or just playing with toys.  my son was also taught to cover his ears if there is a noise that he doesnt like.  I think ABA is no longer what it used to be.  he was never forced to have eye contact and never to stop stimming.

          3. The implementation of the vest or sensory defenses are not part of ABA, but to ask for them in whatever communication way the individual uses in times of need is ABA.  I appreciate you trying to open people’s eyes to another side.  But, I also want to point out that when you claim you know autism, you know YOUR autism.  This entire discussion is way too over generalized for such a diverse community

          4. FYI, coping skills are part of ABA.  Also, compression vests, weighted blankets, and other sensory items are used by OTs, not ABA.  Parents/caregivers are a fundamental part of ABA.  They learn the skills taught through ABA and apply it to their childrens’ daily lives, instead of getting frustrated with them.I know many parents that have no idea how to help their kids, and just let there kids be.  In the long run, it is unfair to these kids because they have a lifetime ahead of them to deal with a community that doesn’t understand autism.  Let’s give these kids a chance to learn how to navigate through life.  They have the learning ability.

            I’m so glad ABA studies is now offered at many universities as a graduate program.  I am also glad many schools are hiring ABA therapists to participate in the childrens’ educational plans.

        2. I did not read this article in its entirety.  I stopped when the article claimed Lovaas as the founder of ABA.  Lovaas is not the “founder” of applied behavior analysis.  Period.  Applied Behavior Analysis is more than “ABA Therapy.” In fact, I am not fond of that term.  I am also not a fan of Lovaas.  Applied Behavior Analysis is the science of behavior, regardless if you are a child, adult or any other animal, it’s how the world works.  You don’t have to have a disability to benefit from it.  We encounter contingencies every single day as we live.  It’s a shame that ABA gets a bad name due to people out there that practice it the wrong way.  I hope as time goes, professionals will continue to disseminate the science and show the benefits for everyone, disability or no disability, for businesses, private organizations as well as public.  The principles of ABA naturally occur in the world for everyone, everyday of their lives.

          1. If you are referring to the fact that radical behaviourism existed before Lovaas, we have a great article about that on this site too.  If you stopped reading before getting to any of the main points in the article then you obviously arent interested in learning how autistic people experience or view ABA therapy. 

            If you feel the people in the videos are doing it “the wrong way” I’d love to hear about it.  Most of them are promotional videos from ABA schools.

        3. It isn’t?  It also isn’t ABA?  Like, just because you are a BCBA doesn’t mean everything you do is ABA.  The stuff specifically mentioned above is abusive – discouraging harmless stims, teaching children eye contact, grabbing their hands, making them spend hours every day being systematically rewarded or ignored for everything they do…

          1. As a normal child who wasnt in ABA we didnt exactly get to do what we wanted, teachers have said straight to my face they dont care how I feel were doing it the way she said, told all the time by teacher “hey you look at someone when theyre talking to you” and last I checked we got time out or a star sticker depending upon how well we did what our teachers (instead of therapist) told us and they didnt care if things made us sad we were told to do things and expected to do them.  Welcome to life.  No one really cares how you feel just how can you make their lives easier.  Kids are forced to do things they dont want to everyday.  Its not abuse its teching them authority, a system our whole country is based on. 
            What happens when that kid gets older and he cant force himself to make eye contact when necessary.  He is approached by a police officer because he matches the description of a perp and request ID.  The officer is going to end up screaming at this kid to look him in the eyes.  The kid could end up wrongly arrested or even killed because he cant force himself to listen to authority like everyone else has been taught.

          2. So what you’re saying, Gab, is “I had an abusive teacher, therefore all children should be abused by teachers”?  Doesn’t sound like a good argument to me. 
            And if you’re trying to justify abuse by teachers or therapists by pointing out abuse by cops, well… 
            Shouldn’t we, instead of demanding that children be properly subject to enough abuse to break them, rather demand some better standard for what cops get away with?

          3. Well, in a classroom at a random elementary school, do teachers never provide a reward for good behavior such as completing an assignment that a student doesn’t want to do?  Or discipline a child for breaking a rule that a child doesn’t want to follow, such as indoor voices?  Both of those are what contingencies are in a non-ABA setting. 

            To provide a more applicable contingency, your replies and comments to this article are met with responses and many supporters and ‘like’s.  If your article was met with complete silence and no attention from anyone, would you further invest in your article and continue this discussion even if you were by yourself?  That is a contingency that is social.  If your words fell on deaf ears you might not continue to discuss this topic further.

          4. That’s the thing.  The author of this article didn’t write this for praise or accolades.  It was an act of selfless service with no need for a reward.  It was to achieve an end.  Your view that egotism and tangible rewards or social status matters to autistic people is just a reflection of your own egotism.  We’re not wired to be rewarded by the same things you are.  We’re wired to pursue passions.  You’re wired to maintain the status quo.  Autistic people have no illusions about how the world regards them. 

            And, autistic people are immune to your polished patronizing.  The author of this article didn’t need your basic cause and effect lesson.

    3. There are lots of great alternatives to ABA.  Some of them have been mentioned in this thread – headphones, compression vests, teaching the child to advocate for their needs.  Even the “coping skills” you mention do not sound like ABA.  Many ABA therapists encorporate these other therapies into their work, confusing people into thinking EVERYTHING their BCBA is doing is “ABA”.  That is not true.  ABA is analyzing your child’s behaviour, and then coming up with a reinforcement/extinction plan.  It involves descrete trials as shown above.  Teaching a child how to leave an overwhelming situation is not ABA even if it is done by an ABA therapist.

      1. The other thing I think is worth noting is that a lot of insurances only cover ABA.  So some practices have started using the ABA label while not really doing ABA-type things.  I understand the reasoning but it does make things harder for people trying to talk about ABA, because the term is often used where it’s not really correct.

      2. BCBAs and ABA therapists teach the communication skills for children to requests these items when they need them 🙂 we want our clients to be able to advocate for themselves and tell people when they need these things.  If they can not communicate how will anyone know when they need the headphones or the compression vest?

        1. What counts as functional communication?  Is it just speech, sign, or pecs?  Does running or pushing away count?  Do you even remember to account for the fact that they might not be able to communicate in a way that counts as functional to you?

          1. We realize most of our kids can not communicate in a way that is functional to most people.  Our job is to teach them.  A lot of my kids do try to run away or become aggressive when they feel overwhelmed.  That is why a lot of them end up getting sent home from school daily or end up in seclusion rooms in the schools.  We look for their precursor behaviors and teach them (based on their ability) to use a break PEC Or ask for a break BEFORE they escalate so they learn to express their needs rather than becoming aggressive or running away.  I don’t feel that it is fair to the kids that they get to a point where they feel like they need to run away or become aggressive because they haven’t been given the tools to communicate.  If they can’t communicate they can’t advocate for themselves!

          2. Well, in social settings, if you don’t want something or want something you can’t have are you banging your head on the wall or biting a person?  Because that’s what my clients do to gain access to the items and activities they want.  Using contingencies, I try to emphasize that when my client points to an item I can get it for them.  I think the pointing sounds a lot more functional than banging your head.

      3. I am in no way trying to be argumentative, but you need to do more research.  I am a BCBA and have worked in private, home and public school settings.  When a student/child is having a hard time, the main goal is to figure out why and how we can get them to communicate his/her needs so we can help them.  There’s a ton of research on “functional communication training”, which is an ABA method.  I also have recently used “behavior skills training” to teach a student who was making sexualized, inappropriate comments to another student in school to take a break, or write down his thoughts in a journal because the school kept giving him detentions.  After a few sessions of behavior skills training, he hasn’t had any detentions and has been able to use the skills we practiced when he sees this particular peer. 

        ABA goes well beyond discrete trial training.  I urge everyone that reads and agrees with this article to please do more research and see the other side.

    4. The article has been interesting to read, and it has been very insightful.  You point out a lot of important problematic aspects to ABA.  This includes reducing/total removal of stim behaviors, lack of autonomy/self determination, over reliance on compliance, and lack of acknowledgement and appropriate response to needs.  I do have to say that ABA is a very broad discipline with a variety of practitioners at varying levels of training and philosophy.  I think, as you have pointed out, that a major problem is a lack of underlying philosophy in rights and individual understanding in addressing behavior.  The fact of the matter is that we have to work behaviorally with all students, and we will always have to work behaviorally with students.  Unfortunately, people using ABA use a lack of ethical philosophy in its underpinnings as a way to produce ends to make people comply and appear “normal”.  As a result, individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities get too intense and inappropriate use of intervention.  As a result, we should maintain behavioral science but perhaps scrap ABA (at least as it is currently).  Every good discipline has a good base theory.  ABA currently does not consider an individual’s rights and needs as extensively as it should. 

      Currently, I am training to be a school psychologist, and I have worked with children with ASD and other developmental disabilities for the past six years.  At first reading this article, I was defensive.  I have used ABA (or at least I thought I have) with success.  Here’s another problem: ABA has such a broad definition that it covers a wide domain.  I was actually using a form of ABA called Positive Behavior Support (PBS).  This was developed in the 80s, and it has some major key differences.  First, it has a strong human rights and individual needs philosophy.  It is the core.  That is a huge part missing from traditional ABA, and practitioners weasel their way around it.  PBS does not allow this.  All aspects of the individual must be considered and understood.  All behavior has a function (reason), and we must truly understand the reason for that behavior.  This includes biological, cognitive, social reasons for behavior.  This means that within the ethics that stim behaviors cannot be removed, since stim behavior is used as a self-soothing biological mechanism.  In PBS, these behaviors are often left alone, whereas ABA would seek to remove it to make individuals appear neurotypical.  I do have to say that PBS may address these behaviors if they negatively affect someone’s functioning.  For example, if someone were to flap their hands all day, then that is not conducive in a job or school setting.  ABA would further see this as a problem and remove it.  A PBS approach may be to encourage the individual to conduct the behavior at a certain time/place, maybe flap with one hand while working, or perhaps take breaks to stim in between work.  It is more ch more adaptable and choice based.

      Another hallmark to PBS is choice and autonomy.  During work, teachers teach students to ask for help, ask for breaks, and select their own rewards and provide choices.  Again, we have to work behaviorally with children.  That’s just a reality.  It’s how we approach it and value children in the process.  Now, there will be sometimes where behaviors will have to be eliminated.  This is where core parts of ABA and behavioral principles come in play.  Behaviors should be addressed that involve self injury, injury or rights violation of other individuals, feeding issues, or behaviors severely affecting ability to function at their academic or work level.  This is where functional behavior analysis (FBA) comes into play.  If someone has done ABA without doing an FBA, I would consider looking into that for legal reasons.  All ABA practices (especially intensive) must have a clear understanding of the behavior before applying an intervention.  An FBA involves taking baseline data, gathering information, determining the intensity of the behavior, determine the cause, and identifying appropriate interventions.  In PBS, everything is similar to ABA, but the difference is in intervention. 

      In ABA, often the goal is just to stop the problem behavior.  PBS, builds skills and regulatory systems in individuals to cope and advocate for themselves.  Additionally, PBS offers supports and environmental modifications.  For example, I worked with a student who would bite herself.  After performing an FBA, we found that the computer in the classroom was giving off a high-pitched sound, which frequently annoyed her.  After too long exposure, she would be annoyed and bite herself.  In traditional ABA, a practitioner would sit down with her and perhaps have the the computer blaring in the background.  The practitioner would see that the child is getting annoyed.  He would then give the child a gummy for working hard and focusing on the work.  He would continue.  The child’s needs were not met.  The computer is annoying her.  She just complied.  Now let’s talk about what we actually did using PBS.  We would be working in the room.  Sometimes the computer would be on and sometimes it would be off.  It’s a school, so it was usually periodic.  The student was annoyed after the computer was on.  We taught her to raise her hand and ask for help.  Yes, we would give her a gummy for raising her hand because it was an appropriate replacement behavior compared to biting her arm.  After she raised her hand, we would ask her what she needed.  She would either point to her ears, computer, or say “ears hurt”.  We would then offer her some options depending on what we could do in the moment.  We could work in another room, turn off the computer, take a break, or wear headphones.  She usually picked headphones, and she would successfully and happily finish her work.  PBS also offers prevention.  We could anticipate her needs by turning off the computer, placing head phones readily next to her, or even beginning the lesson outside the room.  Even better, she was able to generalize the skill.  Another student was annoying her, and she was able to raise her hand and ask for help.  This is some life long self advocacy in the making.  PBS also gives emotional work and strategies.  It advocates for students to communicate needs and feelings. 

      It is awful in traditional ABA that we would force students to comply and be uncomfortable.  Yes, it produces outcomes, but it violates some serious human rights.  I need to stress again that we cannot remove behavioral work.  It’s how we engage and work with all students, especially in early youth.  What we can change is the approach, target behaviors, and underlying philosophy.  I think PBS in it’s current standing is a good model for addressing individual and systemic needs of students.  There’s so much more to say, and I’m sure that I haven’t covered all the areas.  I will attach some links.  Please ask questions.  Give me concerns.  I would love to hear some perspectives.

      Links:

      Underlying philosophy of PBS with a video.  It discuss ABA’s connection.  Just know that the science of ABA is sound, but it’s application is horrible and unethical.  PBS aims to alter this.

      https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/pbs

      This provides an overview with a case example.  In the case example, you will see clear causes and descriptions of behavior.  Instead of an ABA approach with just elimination of behaviors, it provides a continuum of support.  This includes prevention, skills development, and a plan for when the behavior has been reached.  In each phase, the child is given options and skill building opportunities.

      https://challengingbehavior.cbcs.usf.edu/Pyramid/pbs/index.html

      This link is an introduction of autism and PBS.  It shows the use of modifications and accommodations to bring about academic performance.

      https://www.naesp.org/principal-november-december-doing-more-less/positive-behavior-support-students-autism

      Autism and PBS

      https://bestpracticeautism.blogspot.com/2012/11/positive-behavior-support-pbs.html?m=1

    5. I totally understand.  In my son’s case, school seemed to be a place of constant torment by people who were clueless about his condition.

    6. This is a great question.  Does he have short breaks built into his day?  This can be part of his 504 accommodations or IEP.  If he doesn’t have one, please request this immediately.  Accommodations are a right granted by law, anything that can help him be successful in education.  Our school had a sensory room kids could use and other ways to take a break.  Usually it’s 5 minutes or so with a calming tool like a stuffed animal, iPad games, a rocking chair or exercise ball, or reading.  Whatever he needs to release the stress.  Sometimes it’s even just a drink of water and a walk to the office.

      Check out this group.  Their website is great and you can call and talk to one of the owners for more information or advice.  They are great at advocacy and thinking outside the box for kids with autism and different abilities.  http://www.cfc-stl.com They are located near St.  Louis, but can always work with you through email or phone.

      For playing with friends, just keep teaching him to recognize the signs of stress or even ask to shorten his recess time if it happens regularly.  He should start to self-regulate better as he matures; I noticed my son did as he grew older.  He also used to bite and hit when frustrated.  Perhaps he needs a 10 minute time on the playground, then 10 minutes in a quiet space, rather than the full 20 minutes outside?  You could also ask for an older “buddy” who could help distract him when he notices the stress building.  Older kids can be great at this, as they love to feel important and helpful.

    7. Alternatives to ABA are relationship-based developmental approaches that follow the child’s lead.  Either therapist directed – DLT/Floortime, SCERTS, Early Denver Model or parent directed – Relationship Developmental Intervention & SonRise Program.  I prefer the parent-directed programs because then the parents are empowered to develop a strong relationship with their child and can incorporate lifestyle approaches throughout their day to maximize their child’s learning and comfort.

    8. Circle time, music therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy.  Help the child to cope with a NT world.  Don’t make them be more NT.

    9. There are other options.  Floortime is a play-based method.  PLAY Project uses floortime and now is evidence based as well.  Much better!  Check is out.

  10. I am non-autistic mother of an autistic boy and I have always hated ABA.  When I first heard about it I was horrified.  It is brainwashing.  as you explained, it doesn’t help the child to learn about his anxieties and how to cope with them, it is just forcing them to conform to Neurotypical behaviour and ingnoring their needs and emotions.  It is based on operant conditioning.  It’s the same method as training dogs.

    1. Actually, modern dog training is much more advanced, better and kinder than ABA – this blog has another great article about that, which I warmly recommend!  (I’m studying dog training/behaviour myself and am on the spectrum, so I love that article).  Operant conditioning is the way we all learn skills, whatever the setup is, and classical conditioning is the other “leg” of the learning process, and always at work in any situation – whether or not anyone pays attention to it.  Classical conditioning is an organisms emotional associations with any given situation/cue/set of cues, which determines their psycho/somatic state and mind state when exposed to the cues/situation. 

      This is why a dog trainer worth their salt would never try to teach a dog that’s in a mental state of distress, and would always consider the dog’s mental state first, and adapt (abandon if needed) whatever the plan was – and this is why, if you replaced the ABA therapists in the videos with modern dog trainers, you would see a totally different approach, where finding out what the individual is comfortable with, what they like and dislike, what kind if setup works for them, and working within that frame would be the basis for any teaching.  You would see the traditional ABA table & chairs setup gone in most cases, because the whole set-up isn’t based on the kids comfort but the therapists convenience, and encourage a form of communication that isn’t well suited for most autistic kids.  If you consider classical conditioning then you *can’t* treat your learners the way the therapists in the videos treat the kids, because (besides the welfare concerns and ethics of the situation), this intrusive, compulsive setup (not to speak of, pushing on while some of the kids are in a state of intense stress, totally disregarding their feelings) will facilitate a “fight/flight/freeze” mind state that isn’t effective for learning. 

      Drilled enough times, YES the desired results will likely be gained anyway sooner or later, but what are the side effects?  My guess: learned helplessness, OCD, anxiety, depression and similar psychological problems.  Also: learning happens much faster & more effectively when an individual isn’t in a “fight or flight” state of stress, or shut down.  Hence (I’m guessing) why ABA therapy programs require so much time in order to work – around 40 hours per week I’ve heard, that’s an insane imposition on a toddler, especially for autistic kids …  we need a lot of downtime to process & recover from social demands.

      To clarify, ABA as seen in the videos, is similar to traditional dog training (today typically advertised as “balanced” dog training) it focuses solely on compliance using operant conditioning, and largely overlooks classical conditioning/the emotionally associative aspect, and the psychological side effects that can come from that.  Traditional dog training is still in business (to see an extreme version, there is Cesar Millan’s “The Dog Whisperer” TV show on National Geographic’s channel) albeit the modern dog training practices are gaining ground (almost) everywhere, so I can understand your impression

  11. I’m a 35 year old male, my Bluetooth headphones are what gets me through a shopping trip these days.  What that girl went through looked like a nightmare!

  12. As a non-autistic mother with two non-autistic children, this looks horrible.  I would have been terrified if someone would treat me like in the first video, using cartoonish gestures, the yelling, invading my space while forcing me to do silly tasks.  Are the tickles supposed to be a reward?  They did not seem to be welcomed by the child.  I do not like to be touched by people outside my “inner circle”, and as an adult I have the option to leave if the situation is getting awkward or uncomfortable. 
    I really felt the stress from the shopping-video as well.  Going to a big mall often leaves me mentally exhausted for hours afterwards.  If the kids are with me even more so, and at the worst when I start to feel overwhelmed I have felt this extreme need to just get out, right now, I am done and never mind we did not get all we need but I cant stay for a second longer.  It just have to feel so much worse for somebody on the spectrum.

    1. That’s how I felt about the videos too.  I’m an adult on the spectrum and don’t have kids, but I also thought this kind if treatment would be aversive to almost any kid (and adult) – that any sensible person should be able to see that it isn’t OK to treat kids (or anyone) like that..  and the fact that the kids are autistic just makes it even worse, because autistic kids are not exactly MORE tolerant to being invaded, touched, starred at, yelled at, constantly overwhelmed with pointless tasks, not be given enough rest and free time (40 hours of this torture every week!!!) etc

  13. Eileen, a lot of so called ABA therapists don’t actually do ABA or do very mixed things rather than pure ABA.  This is because insurance pays for ABA and not other therapies.  You’d think this would be good, but the thing is that it leaves parents unable to distinguish, and it means many parents think ABA is something different than it is and thus they become vocal defenders.  If the therapist is using mixed methods then you don’t know when the therapist will bring that kind of behaviorism to a behavior they just don’t like.  Coping skills are not a behaviorist goal, but changing behavior so that lack of coping is disguised is.

  14. I am very grateful to you for sharing this article from your perspective as an adult with autism.  I am a speech therapist working in public schools for 30 years.  I use a combination of ABA, Direct intervention, social skills training and other strategies to help my students connect more with people in their environment and to develop learning readiness skills and functional academics.  All of the work I do with my students starts with building trust and helping them to feel safe.  I look for cues from their facial expressions, body postures, etc to assess what might be driving a “behavior” and help them through it.  I believe that with that type of connection, some ABA is involved and some discrete trial teaching of particular skills is required.  Applied Behavioral Analysis means looking at something that is happening and analyzing why it’s happening – what function it serves for the child, if something deeper is going on, etc.  ABA itself is not harmful, in my opinion, unless it’s all cut and dry protocols all the time and the child’s emotionality is not considered.  Sadly, I recognize that this can often happen.  The other piece of this is, in addition to helping my students feel safe and loved, my goal is to help them assimilate into society when needed and to learn to deal with challenges and stressors in as positive a way as possible because their parents won’t always be there and they won’t always have the benefit of being surrounded by people who are patient and are looking out for them with understanding.  My one third-grader is this really funny, sassy joyful girl who loves fashion.  She is a frequent flapper and shared that she does it when she is happy, thinks something is funny, is thinking about something she really enjoys.  We talk about the fact that it’s okay to flap, but she can try to remember to flap her hands under the desk or more to her side because it is distracting to others and hard for them to concentrate on what she is saying.  We’re not trying to change who she is.  We are trying to help her find ways to adapt so that she is still honoring who she is, but in a way that is more well-received by her neuro-typical peers.  We all have a “face” we show to our friends, our peers, our family, our boss, and society in general.  For me personally and the professionals i work with at my school, that is what we are after for out students.  Not changing who they are.

    1. As the dog training article that The Aspergian also recently published points out, behaviourism itself is not always bad and can be useful.  The problems show up when the goals of the behaviourist do not take into consideration the feelings of the student.  And very very very often autistic people are misunderstood and are taught things which SEEM helpful but are ultimately harmful.

  15. I am a BCBA and this article is very confusing to me.  I am wondering if some people are having different experiences with ABA therapy.  I actually teach my clients to request their headphones if it’s too loud, their compression vest if they need sensory input, breaks from work if they feel tired.  Everything we do is revolves around teaching the kids to advocate for themselves and communicate their wants and needs.  We work on understanding and expressing emotions and our therapists validate how the kids fee and work on what the kids can do if they are feeling that way.  Some of the kids I work with were being kicked out of school daily for becoming aggressive until we worked with them on requesting the things they needed to be okay.  I don’t understand how this is abuse?  I would love to hear from some of the people on this page who do have autism about their experience and what made it feel abusive because that is not the goal of ABA.

    1. I wonder too because my experience with ABA is amazing!  Our family is less stressful from meltdowns and going on vacations.

      1. Parents do love ABA because it eliminates challenging behaviour.  But if your child’s ABA involved decreasing repetitive behaviours, teaching eye contact, grabbing hands and putting them in the child’s lap, ignoring crying/distress…  then your child was being abused into behaving.

        1. If you look up ABA and coping skills you’ll find a lot of information on coping skills and Autism.  I pasted just one that I found very interesting that talks about the correlation between Autism and anxiety.  I am so sorry it seems like you had an awful experience with ABA but a few videos on Discrete Trials is not a fair representation of what ABA is as a whole.

          https://www.albany.edu/autism/files/Learning_to_Cope_revised.pdf

          1. Tiffany, I looked through that presentation and read most of it.  While I agree with what I read, I didn’t see the term ABA or any terms that are specific to ABA.  I saw, maybe, some similarity to DBT or CBT.  What is your definition of ABA?

          2. ABA is Applied Behavior Analysis.  This means we analyze the function of someone’s behavior and create an individualized plan to address the behavior.  For example, if I have a client who is screaming, crying and becoming aggressive every time he/she has to sit down for math class, I am going to analyze why he/she is acting that way.  Is the work too difficult?  Are they becoming sensory overloaded with the number of questions on the page?  Is the math classroom too loud?  Based off the function, a behavior analyst would create a behavior intervention plan.  A lot of us use visuals for emotions like a feelings scale or something similar and then teach replacement behaviors like asking for help or a break.  Instead of screaming and ripping your page, using a break card or requesting help.  ABA is simply the analysis of behavior and creating a plan to teach more appropriate behaviors.  I am interested to know what some people think ABA is because many people on here seem to have a very narrow perspective of what we do.

          3. I understand that that’s how you define ABA, but can you explain why you are linking that presentation that doesn’t refer to ABA, as an example of ABA–but you don’t agree with the author using these self-identified ABA videos to talk about ABA?

            I believe that there are self-identified ABA providers who don’t do abusive things, but I also know that many do.  I’ve seen these things in an ABA school myself, and I know other people who have experienced and seen these things, either as a provider or a client.  Even though it’s great that some providers/programs are not abusive, it’s a big problem that others are abusive and that this is normalized.  Since the post is about analyzing these specific videos and pointing out how they are abusive, wouldn’t it make more sense to respond to that content in your comments, instead of just saying that this isn’t what you do in your work, as if that would make these videos and these children’s experiences cease to exist?

            In your comments, you seem focused on the idea that people might think all ABA is abusive, or all ABA is DTT, and it seems like this bothers you more than the fact that abuse is a problem in the ABA world.  In fact, while you assert that you don’t do these things in your work, I haven’t seen you actually acknowledge, “Yes, what’s happening in these videos is wrong,” or, “Yes, there are some terrible things going on under the name ABA, but–”

            Doesn’t it bother you that these things happen?

            You’re annoyed that people might think these videos represent ABA, but let’s say this type of thing represented only, say, 20% of ABA practice–that would be a huge amount of abuse, and a huge problem.

            What’s going on that you don’t have a reaction to the abuse discussed in this post, and are more concerned with defending your field?

    2. I often see comments like this from ABA providers on posts criticizing ABA.  But you’re not really engaging with the original post.

      The author is analyzing and describing the specific things that happen in the videos, which are pretty common and normalized in the ABA community.  The fact that they’re normalized can be seen from the mere fact that these are all posted as educational and training videos!  The people who made/posted these videos didn’t feel any guilt or shame about the content.  They thought it reflected positively on their work.

      You can’t deny what’s happening in the videos.  The author explained why they think these specific techniques, that happen in the videos, are abusive.  If you don’t agree with that, you could say why you disagree–but you haven’t.

      You are just saying that this isn’t what you do in your work, and other people’s experience of ABA must be different from yours.  This may be true, and it’s good that you don’t perpetrate this type of abuse, but it isn’t really a counter to the author’s points.

      To put it another way, say the original post is someone pointing out problems with public transit in their city.  The buses are always late, fights break out on the bus, there are never enough seats.  The author has videos and articles to support this.  Then you comment and say, “But I’m a bus driver in your city.  I’m always on time, my bus isn’t crowded, and everyone is polite.  I don’t understand your post–how can you say that my bus is crowded and late, when it isn’t?”  Even though your bus may be an exception, that doesn’t mean the original post is wrong, especially when they have many examples of there being a widespread problem.

  16. This article has been “eye opening” for me.  We just found out in July that our 12-year-old AD is on the spectrum.  ABA has been suggested but has never felt right to me.  Our local school district doesn’t even recognize her diagnosis.  They do their own “educational diagnosis”. 
    No one talks about helping her cope.  It’s more about getting her to conform. 
    This has given me a direction in this journey.  It’s not about behavior as much as it is about coping. 
    I get that now.  Just need to figure out how and what to implement that will help her and not be overwhelming. 
    We have trouble going out to eat, going on vacation, shopping or even going on the walking trail.  She just can’t seem to control herself. 
    I don’t know if different voices, pacing, laughing oddly or talking loudly are her way of stemming but are things she does a lot. 
    We have a lot of learning to do!

    1. Please don’t allow the videos above to deter you from researching more on ABA therapy.  ABA focuses a lot on coping skills and functional communication.  I am posting a link below.  ABA therapists teach about emotions and understanding how you are feeling and learning appropriate ways to handle it and ask for help.  The videos above focus on discrete trials.  Typically, older children don’t even use this type of trial.  They focus more on life skills and independent living! 

      https://www.albany.edu/autism/files/Learning_to_Cope_revised.pdf

  17. I think everyone has there own opinions on ABA.  I haven’t seen any abuse or inappropriate behaviors as yet in two years of his services.  My child doesn’t kick, bite, or hit because of ABA.  He is using his words and taking breaks on his own.  I love intercare therapy.  They definitely help!

  18. Love the article and feel ABA Therapy is recognizing the emotional needs of a child.  I am a speech language pathologist and work with students on the spectrum.

  19. What a clear and brave piece for you to have written.  THANK YOU.  It took me one day to realize that ABA was something I would never subject my young autist daughter to.  I have shared your article to a large forum I am a member of and expect all kinds of backlash for it – but that is OK!  This needs to be talked about throughout the entire autism community and by society at large.
    Thank you also for your very well thought out responses to all who have commented.

  20. It seems to me that lack of concern for how someone feels is a cultural phenomenon not reserved for poorly practiced ABA or for autistic children, but for many, many children, women, people of color, or anyone at all, really.  All of us are not far from the time of “children should be seen and not heard.”  My parents ignored me or rejected me for negative emotions, and most of the kids I knew were raised similarly.  I see neurotypical parents do some version of this to their nerotypical children daily in the present.  I’m not saying it’s right.  It is systemic, however, and a very real part of our everyday world.

  21. The first and most obvious thing I see in this videos is this horribly artificial, high pitched voice of the instructors as well as their exxagereted praise (“well done!!!”  “good job!!!).

    Who would ever consider this an appropriate way to communicate with human beings?  Would you ever talk like that to adults?  Family?  Friends?  Colleagues?  Neurotypical children?  Even if you are showing/ teaching them something?  They would probably think you have gone mad….

    Just the way these instructors talk show how they don’t accept autistic children as valuable others.

    1. Personally whenever I was/am spoken to that way or I see other autistic teenagers like me I get resentful real fast.  Talking to me with the high voice is the BEST way to earn my hatred, it’s awful.  I’m not 3!

      1. Exactly, Jack!  Thank you for visiting our site.  I always wonder if we ever get any teens coming through.  <3

  22. Thank you for this article.  Any Laurent, OTR gave a beautiful TED Talk that Autism is not about managing challenging behaviors but emotional regulation.  She had adults with Autism speak on their experience with ABA.  https://www.uri.edu/tedx/talks/amy-laurent-rethinking-support-for-autistic-individuals/
    We have to shift the paradigm from focus on surface layer behaviors to a focus on relationship based therapeutic interventions.

  23. I wanted to add, for everyone talking about the floor time approach, ABA uses that as well.  We call it Natural Environment Teaching 🙂 please do more research before bashing an entire field of work!

    1. Tiffany, I would like your comment on the ABA methods showed in the ABA training videos that are part of the article: do you think these type of trials are acceptable teaching methods for autistic kids?  Do you think the way they are carried out in the videos are acceptable?

      The author and most people who’ve commented, have expressed that they find the ABA therapy methods shown in the videos abusive to the kids, do you agree with that?  Why/why not?  (if possible, please give specific examples from the videos)

  24. Hi.  I’m a high functioning 28 year old on the spectrum and I feel like my blog will resonate with you.  I can really relate to the brainwashing you talk about, so thank you for writing this blog entry.  If you’re interested, here are one of my entries that you can start with: https://iamthemike.wordpress.com/2018/09/03/opinion-the-treatment-of-autism-seems-to-focus-on-making-non-autistic-people-feel-comfortable-around-autism-rather-than-making-the-the-person-with-autism-feel-comfortable/

  25. I really appreciate this article!  Thank you for doing the hard work of educating allistic people like me, who are eager to learn.  I’m pleased to say that I was able to notice some odd things in the videos (the folding of the hands, the almost constant physical touching, the idea that the girl in the supermarket is “acting out” willfully rather than in an attempt to communicate that she’s tired and needs a break) before reading your analysis and explanation, thanks largely to the education and sharing of experiences that one of my autistic friends has generously given me.  But this article and your explanations are awesomely articulate and make it easy to see and understand some of the problems with ABA.  I will definitely be recommending it as a way for people to learn from the autistic community, rather than from allistic narratives.

    1. The article has been interesting to read, and it has been very insightful.  You point out a lot of important problematic aspects to ABA.  This includes reducing/total removal of stim behaviors, lack of autonomy/self determination, over reliance on compliance, and lack of acknowledgement and appropriate response to needs.  I do have to say that ABA is a very broad discipline with a variety of practitioners at varying levels of training and philosophy.  I think, as you have pointed out, that a major problem is a lack of underlying philosophy in rights and individual understanding in addressing behavior.  The fact of the matter is that we have to work behaviorally with all students, and we will always have to work behaviorally with students.  Unfortunately, people using ABA use a lack of ethical philosophy in its underpinnings as a way to produce ends to make people comply and appear “normal”.  As a result, individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities get too intense and inappropriate use of intervention. 

      As a result, we should maintain behavioral science but perhaps scrap ABA (at least as it is currently).  Every good discipline has a good base theory.  ABA currently does not consider an individual’s rights and needs as extensively as it should.  Currently, I am training to be a school psychologist, and I have worked with children with ASD and other developmental disabilities for the past six years.  At first reading this article, I was defensive.  I have used ABA (or at least I thought I have) with success.  Here’s another problem: ABA has such a broad definition that it covers a wide domain.  I was actually using a form of ABA called Positive Behavior Support (PBS).  This was developed in the 80s, and it has some major key differences.  First, it has a strong human rights and individual needs philosophy.  It is the core.  That is a huge part missing from traditional ABA, and practitioners weasel their way around it.  PBS does not allow this.  All aspects of the individual must be considered and understood.  All behavior has a function (reason), and we must truly understand the reason for that behavior.  This includes biological, cognitive, social reasons for behavior.  This means that within the ethics that stim behaviors cannot be removed, since stim behavior is used as a self-soothing biological mechanism.  In PBS, these behaviors are often left alone, whereas ABA would seek to remove it to make individuals appear neurotypical. 

      I do have to say that PBS may address these behaviors if they negatively affect someone’s functioning.  For example, if someone were to flap their hands all day, then that is not conducive in a job or school setting.  ABA would further see this as a problem and remove it.  A PBS approach may be to encourage the individual to conduct the behavior at a certain time/place, maybe flap with one hand while working, or perhaps take breaks to stim in between work.  Another hallmark to PBS is choice and autonomy.  During work, teachers teach students to ask for help, ask for breaks, and select their own rewards and provide choices.  Again, we have to work behaviorally with children.  That’s just a reality.  It’s how we approach it and value children in the process.  Now, there will be sometimes where behaviors will have to be eliminated.  This is where core parts of ABA and behavioral principles come in play.  Behaviors should be addressed that involve self injury, injury or rights violation of other individuals, feeding issues, or behaviors severely affecting ability to function at their academic or work level.  This is where functional behavior analysis (FBA) comes into play.  If someone has done ABA without doing an FBA, I would consider looking into that for legal reasons.  All ABA practices (especially intensive) must have a clear understanding of the behavior before applying an intervention.  An FBA involves taking baseline data, gathering information, determining the intensity of the behavior, determine the cause, and identifying appropriate interventions.  In PBS, everything is similar to ABA, but the difference is in intervention.  In ABA, often the goal is just to stop the problem behavior.  PBS, builds skills and regulatory systems in individuals to cope and advocate for themselves. 

      Additionally, PBS offers supports and environmental modifications.  For example, I worked with a student who would bite herself.  After performing an FBA, we found that the computer in the classroom was giving off a high-pitched sound, which frequently annoyed her.  After too long exposure, she would be annoyed and bite herself.  In traditional ABA, a practitioner would sit down with her and perhaps have the the computer blaring in the background.  The practitioner would see that the child is getting annoyed.  He would then give the child a gummy for working hard and focusing on the work.  He would continue.  The child’s needs were not met.  The computer is annoying her.  She just complied.  Now let’s talk about what we actually did using PBS.  We would be working in the room.  Sometimes the computer would be on and sometimes it would be off.  It’s a school, so it was usually periodic.  The student was annoyed after the computer was on.  We taught her to raise her hand and ask for help.  Yes, we would give her a gummy for raising her hand because it was an appropriate replacement behavior compared to biting her arm.  After she raised her hand, we would ask her what she needed.  She would either point to her ears, computer, or say “ears hurt”.  We would then offer her some options depending on what we could do in the moment.  We could work in another room, turn off the computer, take a break, or wear headphones.  She usually picked headphones, and she would successfully and happily finish her work.  PBS also offers prevention.  We could anticipate her needs by turning off the computer, placing head phones readily next to her, or even beginning the lesson outside the room.  Even better, she was able to generalize the skill.  Another student was annoying her, and she was able to raise her hand and ask for help.  This is some life long self advocacy in the making.  PBS also gives emotional work and strategies.  It advocates for students to communicate needs and feelings. 

      It is awful in traditional ABA that we would force students to comply and be uncomfortable.  Yes, it produces outcomes, but it violates some serious human rights.  I need to stress again that we cannot remove behavioral work.  It’s how we engage and work with all students, especially in early youth.  What we can change is the approach, target behaviors, and underlying philosophy.  I think PBS in it’s current standing is a good model for addressing individual and systemic needs of students.  There’s so much more to say, and I’m sure that I haven’t covered all the areas.  I will attach some links.  Please ask questions.  Give me concerns.  I would love to hear some perspectives.

      Links:
      Underlying philosophy of PBS with a video.  It discuss ABA’s connection.  Just know that the science of ABA is sound, but it’s application is horrible and unethical.  PBS aims to alter this.

      https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/pbs

      This provides an overview with a case example.  In the case example, you will see clear causes and descriptions of behavior.  Instead of an ABA approach with just elimination of behaviors, it provides a continuum of support.  This includes prevention, skills development, and a plan for when the behavior has been reached.  In each phase, the child is given options and skill building opportunities.

      https://challengingbehavior.cbcs.usf.edu/Pyramid/pbs/index.html

      This link is an introduction of autism and PBS.  It shows the use of modifications and accommodations to bring about academic performance.

      https://www.naesp.org/principal-november-december-doing-more-less/positive-behavior-support-students-autism

      Autism and PBS

      https://bestpracticeautism.blogspot.com/2012/11/positive-behavior-support-pbs.html?m=1

  26. My four year old, non-verbal son just started his ABA training about a month ago.  I can say that the instructor we were seeing did not act this way.  His father and I are present for all of the training and we give input.  In the videos where they gave the difference between the good trainers and the bad ones, I honestly saw no difference.  The trainer that comes does not act that way other than use the louder voice, which she doesn’t do too much before we told her that our son is not used to that and might not be responsive, so she adjusted how she talks to him while explaining that being loud is how she is supposed to be and has to use that positive applause that serves as a reinforcement.  We told her our son is shy and doesn’t like to have so much attention placed on him, so she adjusted how she deals with him.  I know my son is doing better because he has started to do a lot of the things he has learned on his own without us asking him too much…basically no different than when I used to tell his older siblings to do something, like pick up their toys.  Kids, in general, do not like to pick up their toys.  Just because I tell him to doesn’t mean I am abusing him.  I can tell my son really likes his trainer too because he has gone to her, sat in her lap, and hugged her without being prompted or told to do it.  He never acts this way with anyone unless he likes them.

  27. Interesting and one sided, clearly only focusing on old school aba approaches.  New and growing research and interventions discount all the concerns, including the iisca by Hanley, and growth in the use of acceptance and commitment theory, naturalistic teaching models, etc.  Addressing specifically the stimming, do you recommend allowing stimming when it is pervasive all day long and disruptive to skills such as completing a toilet routine or any learning activities.  Because most bcba’s I worked with dont believe in disrupting stimming unless it prevents learning.  I will grant that there are some implementations of ABA that are abusive.  But this doesnt acknowledge all the ways the field has grown, specifically in addressing the concerns you mentioned.  Just saying.

    1. What on Earth does IISCA have to do with my concerns raised in this article? 

      It’s a form of functional behaviour analysis.  Nowhere in my reading on IISCA did I see things like “do not ask autistic children to make eye contact” or “do not try to extinguish repetitive behaviours unless they are self-harming”. 

      As for “old school”, all I can say is the majority of these videos are from 2017.  If ABA had a big revolution last year wherein it changed its mandates and no longer tries to reinforce children for acting like neurotypical children, then I haven’t seen that written anywhere.

    2. Also “one sided” – Yeah.  The autistic side.  Doesn’t the point of view of autistic people matter most when discussing what therapy helps autistic people?  It doesn’t look abusive to you.  It feels abusive to us.  Please listen.

      1. This is an article of the viewpoint of ONE individual with autism.  I’m not too comfortable with over generalizing your views as an individual with autism to my client who is a totally different individual with autism.  I certainly don’t go around saying that Client A feels one way about this ABA so Client B must feel that way about ABA; two different individuals much like how I am different from the person next to me.

        1. No, these are the views of almost every autistic adult.  Nobody is asking about your comfort, Karen.  We’re telling you the facts because autistic suicide is a global crisis and this obedience training is a big factor in that. 

  28. I apologize to all the parents out there that have to read and worry about all this misleading information.  ABA is a science and far from being abusive.  Please do your research before making incorrect statements.  If you have any questions or concerns please refer to research based articles or ask licensed professionals.

    1. Hi, I am a psychology professional who also was an ABA certified and licensed specialist.  Everything the author cited is accurate, scientifically-sound, and obviously thoroughly researched.  Your neglect of actually citing or mentioning anything within the article renders your input on it nothing more than grandstanding and gaslighting, suppression of autistic adults, and ableism. 

      Could you cite something from this article which is misleading?  Are the training videos from the article not the ones used to train ABA practitioners?  The article didn’t even mention that in the US, one only needs a GED or high school diploma to spend as much as 40 hours a week with an autistic child. 

      1. Yes, actually.  There are a lot of holes in this article and it is not factually sound at all.  This is not to say you all don’t have a voice, you do, and I hear it.  But you also don’t understand the science.

        In regards to the qualifications for an RBT, that’s true.  But that’s not the science’s fault.  Ask for stricter qualifications, harder exams, more experience and higher qualified professionals to perform the service.  The science is perfect, humans are not.  Don’t blame the science for the fault of center-based unethical analysts.

    2. OR ASK AUTISTIC PEOPLE. 

      What about the article is misleading?  Hmm?  Can you specifically cite claims I have made and explain why they do not feel abusive when you are autistic?

  29. LISTEN TO AUTISTIC VOICES.  We are all saying it is abusive to us.  Stop running over us with your abelist BS.  It is invisible abuse because it is not obvious to non autistic persons.  This was already addressed.  And non autistic people that are commenting not to listen to us ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.  Just stop.  If you want to support autistic people, your autistic child, etc., then just listen to what we have to say.  It’s that simple.

    1. I am an SLP who used to do ABA therapy- about 8 years ago.  I did almost exactly what the first therapist was doing with the girl at the table!  Quiet hands.  Do this.  Great job! 

      I don’t do this anymore. 

      For anyone who is interested, I fully support other programs to help kiddos with Autism.  The best program for families is RDI- relationship development intervention.  This is a training specifically for the parents.  This way the parents know what to do to make lasting changes!! 

      The next one I recommend is Floortime.  This has more variability than RDI, and similar to ABA, you have to be picky.  I have met fantastic floortime therapists and others that are not. 

      Finally, I like many aspects of Sonrise, but not all.  I would say to read the book Autism Breakthrough and Autistic Logistics.  The main aspect I don’t like is you are either doing the program right (their way exactly) or wrong.  It also may make you feel like you against the world.  I learned many amazing strategies from their program, but I would suggest trying the top two first! 

      There are alternatives to ABA!  And even ‘good’ ABA over focuses on saying ‘first-then’ or giving SDs in a robotic and uncaring way.  Also, ABA doesn’t focus on the social connection whereas these above programs do! 

      Hope this helps those who read! 

      -Lauren

      1. Thank you for coming around and learning with time!  We appreciate and love therapists like you.

    2. I cringe when I hear the term “autistic.”  These are kids WITH autism.  Labeling anyone is not okay.  I’m sick and tired of hearing kids calling other kids “autistic.”  Many of my students feel bullied when they are called “autistic.”

      1. If they feel bullied when they are called autistic that means that the kids have been taught that it is BAD to be autistic.  Have you considered that “autistic” is not an insult because there’s nothing wrong with autism?  Do you talk about gifted children or children with gifts?  Do you ever call kids creative or artistic or intelligent?  If you don’t insist on saying “children with creativity” instead of “creative kids” or “children with art talent” instead of “artistic” or “children with high intelligence” instead of “intelligent” don’t give me BS about “labelling.” 

        If you think “autistic” is an insult then go to hell. 

        I am awesome.  I am not awesome despite my autism.  I am awesome in general and my autism is part of my awesomeness. 

        Stop telling people that it is insulting to call ourselves autistic.  What does that say about how you view autism?  What are you telling us about autism when you say we insult ourselves by calling us that?

        1. Your response is for me to “go to hell” really?  I am speaking for my students with autism.  Did you not read my post?  My students themselves are telling me how they feel when they are called “autistic.”  Don’t shut them down.  Everyone has the right to their own feelings. 

          Shame on you for bullying me and my students.  Telling me to “go to hell” is a form of bullying. 

          I’ll keep working with my kids and I will keep giving them the respect they deserve.  You are not representing them in any form. 

          Make it a good day.

  30. It’s a shame to read this.  It genuinely hurts my heart.  Behavior analysis finds it’s philosophy in behaviorism, fathered by BF Skinner, not Lovaas.  The philosphy states that behaviors are subject to natural selection, just like every other living thing on this planet.  Behaviors like genes are selected by their environment.  The behaviors that contact reinforcement will most likely continue to occur in the future.

    The science has unfortunately been placed in a box as the ONLY empirically-based effective therapy for individuals with developmental disabilities.  That too, is a shame. 

    ABA is not just therapy for an autistic child.  It is the way humans learn, the way my typical 8yo son learns.  It’s the way every living being learns.  The science explains how learning works and what humans can do to increase learning, learn skills we are unable to learn and in turn decrease the occurrance of those behaviors that prevent us from learning and growing as an independent human in our society.

    It’s still a young science, so yes, it wasn’t that far off that we messed up, pretty badly might I add.  That doesn’t negate the vast benefits we can gain from it.  Also, all of the negatives you mentioned is actually ABA done INCORRECTLY AND UNETHICALLY.  We are held to an extremely strict code of ethics that requires that we put the needs of our clients ahead of our own.  That we treat 3 year olds like they are 3 years old.  That we treat adults with the same autonomy as a typical adult would have.  So yes, that means that we have to respect the choice of an autistic adult receiving services to have sex with random strangers.  That means what we teach is safe sex, how to tell if you’re being raped, how to escape a rapist, how to get help, how to protect yourself etc. 

    ABA is a young field.  There are lots of us and most of us are really good at what we do.  We care for our clients as if they were our own children.  We love them and this science, because it’s a BCBA who taught a child to speak, who taught a mom to engage with her child in a way she couldn’t before.  It’s a BCBA that was punched, kicked, bite, spat on, peed on, pooped on, stabbed etc.  And we keep coming back for more.  Because it’s not just a job for us.  It’s not a paycheck.  It’s the way we see the world and the people in it.  This passion comes from the need to help save the world, not hurt it.  We just want our friends with disabilities to no longer feel afraid of school, hurt when all their parents do is yell at them, understood when all they wanted was attention and loved when no peer would play with them. 

    Learn a little more about exactly what our science is, and who we are as people before judging an entire field based off of your singular experience with an ABA therapist.  Chances are, it was that one therapist that was wrong.  Unfortunately, if funding sources allow for unqualified people to provide this service, these unethical practices will continue.  Instead of complaining, ask for better qualifications, stricter applications, harder exams, more experience.  The science is right, it’s up to us to make sure ABA therapists are doing it right.

    1. Daisy, please leave B.  F.  Skinner out of it.

      He discovered a teaching/training method called operant conditioning.  It is very cool and fun and interesting.  But if this ‘prompt’ part of the ‘discrete trials’ is indeed the standard way of going about it, you’re not really doing operant conditioning, you are doing ‘molding’ and the science that’s telling you ABA is so great also shows that molding is liable to be harmful and you should be ‘capturing’ and ‘shaping’ behaviors. 

      tl/dr: Stop touching the learner and pushing them or their hands around, that screws up the process badly. 

      (Your dog probably hates it too and is so distracted wondering why you’re grabbing him and pushing on his butt that it’s gonna take him extra long to figure out what you’re on about.)

  31. Hi Daisy, I’m aware of your code of ethics.  That and the science of it was discussed in one of our other posts, by a dog trainer with a Psychology degree and a concentration in behaviourism. 

    Nothing you have said has addressed any of the thing I addressed in my article.  Can you show me proof that the basic tenets of ABA include encouraging stimming, allowing the child to start and end sessions at will etc? 

    Also, I have no experience with ABA therapists.  I was fortunate enough to grow up in an aspie household where my quirks were accepted and valued.  I took actual promotional videos of ABA from the internet and pointed out the things that bother autistic people.

    Please link to ABA information discussing the importance of respecting the word “no”, not touching the child without consent of the child, allowing the child to stim, and condemning “ignoring” as an extinction method. 

    If as you say, all of these promotional videos are ABA done wrong, please furnish your own videos or proof in evidence.

  32. Where do I criticize the science?  I don’t even mention the science in this article.  I don’t believe you even read my article.  If you did, you would be able to refute specific points.

    1. You’ve (unintentionally) implied that ABA is abusive.  As a result of not clearly differentiating abusive applications of ABA and ethical applications of ABA, I’m seeing people on social media go off all hung ho about how horrible the very idea of ABA is to them now.  What resources are there for people to report companies that recommend 40 hours of ABA for young children?  How does one tell the difference between a non-disruptive stim and one that is actually disabling?  When is ABA appropriate?  You and I may know these answers from personal experience, but people are walking away from your article knowing more about how abuse can manifest and understanding less about ABA than they did before.

      Also, Lovaas didn’t found ABA, that credit usually goes to Skinner.

      1. You’ve missed the point of the article entirely. 

        I am not “unintentionally” implying that ABA is abusive.  I am telling you right out that ABA – properly, as-taught-in-schools, looks-just-fine-to-neurotypical-folks – IS abusive. 

        Autistic people experience the world differently than NT people do.  What seems fine or might be non-abusive to NT folks is still experienced as abusive by us. 

        The purpose of this article was to demonstrate that it’s not just the Judge Rotenberg Center style of ABA that is experienced as abusive by autistic people.  Positive, loving, well meaning people can accidentally abuse autistic children unless they learn to see things through autistic eyes.

        There are plenty of therapies out there that do not traumatize autistic people.  Until people are willing to listen to autistic voices, believe us when we say that this totally-looks-fine training method is traumatic to us, and work with us to ensure that our feelings and experiences are taken into account when we are given “therapy”, there is no way to tell “good” ABA from “bad” ABA.

        It is safest to avoid ABA altogether until the industry starts listening to its students. 

        And what do you mean “report” companies that recommend 40 hours of ABA?  Who would we report to?  That is the official recommendation.  The stuff in those videos is not ABA done badly.  It is ABA used to train ABA therapists – examples of ABA done “correctly”.

  33. Hi Maria, I can tell you care very much about the welfare of your son, but I think you missed the point of my article.  I have no problem with teaching a kid to pick up their toys and at no point in my article do I criticize that. 

    Also, most kids like their ABA therapist.  Kids are eager-to-please and want to do well, and modern ABA tries hard to be positive and reinforcing. 

    That is not where my complaints lie.  You haven’t addressed any of my actual concerns.  And even if you have a great therapist who allows stimming and never encourages eye contact or ignores the child, that doesn’t mean that every child is getting that same experience because ABA students are taught to decrease repetitive behaviours and reward eye gaze etc.

    So your one good experience with the ABA therapist who doesn’t ask for eye gaze and lets your kid stim his heart out doesn’t undo the damage done to thousands of other children.

  34. I have severe ADHD.  Growing up having to remain seated in school and having to learn to remain on task with all the chaos going on in the classroom was very overwhelmingand I got in trouble for my behavior frequently.  Was it abusive?  No.  Had I not been taught those skills I would not be a functioning adult.  All children have to learn skills that they don’t necessarily want to learn and may be frustrating to learn.  Feelings should never be ignored but EVERY child (autism or not) needs to learn how to express themselves appropriately.  Do you feel that the child in the video saying mom over and over should have been answered immediately or taught to say excuse me and wait?  ABA would teach “excuse me” in that particular situation so he isn’t being ignored but his mother should not be expected to stop her conversation every time her child starts yelling at her.

    1. Or.  The mum could have greeted her child and asked about his day, instead of walking right up to where he was and not even looking at him, starting to talk to the therapist immediately as if her child wasn’t even there.  I mean, talk about rude.

  35. This is absolute nonsense.  Your article is irresponsible and potentially harmful to children with ASD.  Think of the damage that has already been done with the fabricated study on vaccinations and ASD by Wakefield, this article should be redacted.

  36. Lots of therapies offer the things you describe without ANY of the stuff I criticized here.  Kids in the UK where ABA is rarely used learn life skills etc too.

    1. The AFLS is a widely used assessment tool we use for kids with Autism and program based off of in ABA.  The whole assessment is based off life skills.  It has sections for independent living, money management, school success etc.  I really believe you don’t have the whole picture on what ABA is/does.

    2. Speaking as an autistic guy from the UK (Hi Carol, Taz here 🙂 ) – yeah I (eventually) learned those things through entirely non-ABA methods and never had to go through anything like the stuff in the video above, which AFAIK we don’t have, or didn’t when I was growing up.  Regular occupational therapy and just constant reinforcement from my parents telling me This Is What To Do and What Not To Do was all (gets drilled into your brain after enough times, regardless of reward or punishment!!).  This looks, at the VERY least, terribly disrespectful of the autistic kids’ needs.  I would have HATED it.

    3. ABA in the UK is rapidly growing.  Did you know there are 9 full-time ABA schools funded by the state?  This speaks louder than words.

  37. the idea that NTs think these videos are depicting cutting edge therapy and miraculous treatment and inspiration porn instead of explicit, gratuitous child abuse is horrifying to me.  I can barely get through these videos.  I had to pause every few minutes to calm down because watching these children be manhandled and dehumanized without any regard for their thoughts or feelings or experiences is both horrifying and infuriating to me.

  38. You know what the worst part is?  I’m a non autistic person, and if I had seen this, without the explanation about ABA therapy, I would have thought that it was a good idea.  A good method.  But of course, I can’t talk about it.  I’m not capable of doing it.  Every person here, talking about how this is a big lie, and all that bullshit, stop.  Stop.  No one wants to hear about it.  Stop with your nonsense.  Don’t listen to your useless mind here, because that’s what it is, useless.  You can’t understand the deal.  You can’t understand the consequences.  You can’t understand it in the autistic way.  So, if you can’t understand, close your mouth.  Hold your tongue.  Don’t listen to your useless mind.  Listen to the autistic people, because, I can assure you, they know what they are talking about.

    1. Thank you so much for your support.  I also thank you for your honesty about seeing the ABA videos from a non-autistic perspective.  We don’t expect people to understand how we perceive the world but it sure gets frustrating when we tell people how we perceive things and are told that we are wrong. 

      Like…  I don’t understand how people can think that they know more about how autism feels than autistic people do. 

      So thank you for your honesty and your listening skills.

  39. I have a question as someone who worked as an aba tech for years and now is working towards social work and agreed with pretty much everything you wrote. 

    Is aba the problem or is it the underlying lack of acceptance?  Can shaping and positive reinforcement be used to teach communication as long as the tech is trying to understand what is overwhelming and how to listen? 

    I agree that trying to make an autistic “pass” as typical is destructive and abusive.  I refuse to stop students stimming unless it’s selfharm and I have filed complaints against staff that takes communication device away.  Yet I don’t know how to help someone who is less verbal and self distructive adapt to a world that I hostially ablist without some of the aba tools .

    1. I think it is possible to use shaping and positive reinforcement ethically – This article implies as much – https://theaspergian.com/2019/03/27/is-aba-really-dog-training-for-children-a-professional-dog-trainer-weighs-in/

      But until ABA is properly regulated to prevent child abuse and ensure that the goals and methods are genuinely helpful to the well being of autistic people and not just to make them seem less autistic, it should be given a wide berth. 

      Lots of other therapies incorporate positive reinforcement etc.  After all basic parenting uses it. 

    2. I also highly recommend reading The Spark for a example of how you can help a non-verbal child reach their potential without systematically training them.

  40. I’m a neurotypical and I’m not saying that this is right, however in my own experience growing up…  I was treated the same way with many the same expectations.  Ignore the problem if it’s not acceptable, until it is.  Rewards when it’s what is expected even if it was something I didn’t want and had to grudgingly accept.  Giving any person exactly what they want at all times can be dangerous at the best of times.  This article is enlightening as far as understanding stims over facial expression, and I acknowledge that the world in general needs to be more about the people in it and less about what is being accomplished. 

    However, there will always be a balance, as that is an undeniable truth.  Deciding the acceptable range of behaviors for any situation and exactly what behavioral balance is needed to optimize the situation for the individuals needs and desired outcome amongst other parties.  That’s a social dynamic that will be in every day life, it’s why we respect our elders and let them do what they will for the most part..  age is another factor which advises situations and acceptable behaviors.  If the expectation of a treatment is to make the person completely comfortable and do only the things that they want to…  you may as well just stay at home and save the money.  These underlying reason for these treatments is to have an individual be able to cope with and successfully navigate every day situations in an already established and complex social environment. 

    Learning isn’t comfortable and makes you do many things you don’t want to…  just ask my 7 year old son.  I love him dearly however, I would not let him decide the criteria of the curriculum in which he is to be exposed to because the current state of the world and complexities inherent therein have actually created a moving bar in which we need to rise to, or be left behind.  We each have our strengths and should work to those strengths if the ultimate goal is to contribute and be successful in our social integrations. 

    That being said…  I believe the intention of this post is to effectively “move the bar” and create an expectation of a system defined by neurotypicals to be redefined due to a better understanding of the complexities in human behavior specifically for which the system is designed.

  41. Thank you for this article.  My now 5 years old son was officially diagnosed in November and automatically they want him to go into ABA.  He has yet to start and I am fully against it.  There is nothing I want to change about any of my sons behaviors with the exception of hitting himself or others and his elopement. 

    I without being a therapist know these are things he does to show his emotions that he is unable to express.  He speaks quite a bit but has mixed expressive/receptive and social pragmatic communication disorder.  So, he has trouble getting out what’s going on inside.  I talk to him about trying to find a way to show his feelings that are injurious to himself or others.

    If anyone has any tips for me I would be grateful.  I don’t want my son conform to what others think is normal.  I never did, my OCD, anxiety, ant Bipolar make me who I am.  SO, why would I want him to not be him?

    Thank you in advance for any advice.

    1. Thank you for presenting some really thought-provoking and challenging ideas; I was really pushed to track and assess my internal reactions as I read.  Realizing I don’t have the experience to have a meaningful opinion will, I hope, help make me a better ally.

    2. Self injurious behavior and elopment are dangerous behaviors.  Don’t you want to give your son a chance to communicate what he really wants without these dangerous behaviors?  There are reasons behind the behavior.  ABA will help your child and you learn to how to work with elopment and his self-stimulation.  His behaviors will only worsen as he gets older.

      1. Do you really think that you have the ability to tell autistic people what they need or what happens with behaviors as autistics get older?  You know what happens?  They don’t get older.  Their average life span is half that of neurotypicals with suicide being a leading cause of death.  There’s a reason more than half of us have PTSD before we graduate high school.  It’s because our parents saw us as behaviors and liabilities and tried to break us.  It worked. 

        The hard truth is, autistic people are trying to tell you that you’re traumatizing your children because autistic people’s parents traumatized them. 

        So keep it up, or shut up and listen.  We are trying to do you a favor but your ego is enormous.

        1. I hear you.  Parents are a huge cause of the problem.  I myself suffer with PTSD and depression due to my parent.  This is why ABA works well for many children.  A huge of part of ABA is parent training; teaching these parents how to manage their own self around their kids.  ABA teaches parents to follow through, to prime, to give positive reinforcement, and so on.  ABA is not solely for the children, it is for the parents/caregivers too.

          How I wish my mother had given me this support growing up.  How I wish she would have learned to handle my ADHD with positive reinforcement instead of bullying me by calling me “stupid.”  Suicide was part of my daily thoughts because it was torture living that life.  And now, I work with kids dealing with similar issues.  It’s not the child, it’s their circumstance.

  42. I am so so thankful for the adult autistic community who are speaking out against things like ABA.  My daughter’s teacher pushed me relentlessly to put her in ABA.  She was familiar with it and insisted my daughter needed it.  My daughter is “high functioning” (whatever that means) It never felt right.  Her and my son’s doctor after their diagnosis instantly referred us to ABA…  they wanted 30 hours a week for my 1yo son, 15 hours a week for my 6yo daughter on top of school.  Understand they had NO destructive behaviors.  Mostly “delays in speech and behavior and sensory seeking behavior” (they develop on their own schedule and not be anybody’s approved chart and experience the world uniquely) I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they saw that needed such intense therapy.  I knew that something so exhausting would only make my daughter’s anxiety skyrocket.  It felt like they wanted me to sign the raising of my kids away to strangers because they needed to be “fixed.”  But seeing as it had always been so hard for me to figure out what my daughter needed (everything seemed traumatizing for her and until I understood sensory issues I couldn’t figure out why) I kept second guessing myself.  Listening to what the adult autistic community had to say about it helped me have the strength to say no to these “experts.”  They were all focused on her behaviors…  make her stop hiding under the table, make her listen, make her stop spinning while in line, make her sit still and be quiet, make her just stop….  I kept wanting to yell at them all…  “did you ever try asking her WHY she was hiding?  What’s wrong with a little spinning?  Do you even care how much you people are stressing her out?”
    We homeschool now.  None of them would listen to me or treat her like a person.  I’m completely done with them all. 
    Now my experts I listen to are researching what actual autistic people say helped them live healthy balanced lives.  I’ve pursued things like speech, and OT for my children and do loads of research on my own.  Yes I know that some things under the ABA umbrella don’t use as much abusive tactics, but seeing as it exists to such an extent that I can’t go into any ABA therapists office with the confidence that abusive tactics won’t ever be used?  I won’t allow it for my children.

  43. “They don’t see how dangerous it is to teach a child to do whatever they are ordered to do, no questions asked, and to never object or say “no.”

    They don’t think about the fact that 70% of people with ASD have experienced sexual abuse by the time they are college age.”

    Are you suggesting that people with ASD are sexually abused because they are compliant?  And that ABA teaches people with ASD to be compliant, so ABA is the reason for them being sexually assaulted?

    1. People with ASD are sexually abused because they are vulnerable. 

      And yes, I am suggesting that teaching unquestioning compliance to an already-vulnerable group is a bad idea.  I would not say ABA is the “reason” for being assaulted.  A sexual predator is ALWAYS the reason for someone being assaulted.

  44. I dont agree with the videos but strongy feel thats not how it happens when u r with right people.  As for the science I really really feel it also depends on need of a child.  I have an almost 8 years old on spectrum and have tried therapies based on floor time for few years, therapists were wonderful and he loved going there.  But end of the day he is a kind of child who really wants to connect with other kids want to be part of group of playing kids and be connected and be just another child in school or playground…And it’s not happening I see him getting sad and frustrated day by day.  So yes he needs ABA now to get enough tools to enjoy his childhood, to be able to stop doing things which other kids find disruptive in playing and learn to show more friendliness.  He may or may not like the process of learning all that but what he will get at the end is wat he really really want, when u have kids many times u can see wat they need/want but u need to make it happen for them and that could be they may feel pressured.
    ABA may not suit everyone but that would not make it useless or harmful for everyone.
    Please parents of young children don’t reject or adopt a method because someone says so.
    Every person on spectrum is different with different needs I wouldn’t decide on the basis of opinions of few people on spectrum who may have encountered wrong people.  I will be part of my kids life and observe the effects.

Click here and talk to us