Soldier training a dog to jump through a hole in a fence.

Is ABA Really “Dog Training for Children”? A Professional Dog Trainer Weighs In.20 min read

ABA Therapists like to talk shop with me when they find out that I’m a dog trainer.

“I use the same prin­ci­ples in my work!” they always say eagerly. “It’s all operant con­di­tioning, isn’t it?”

“Well,” I say, “a lot of it anyway.”

I love operant con­di­tioning, and as a dog trainer, I’ve built my career around it.

I hold a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and I took every course on behav­iour mod­i­fi­ca­tion and con­di­tioning that my uni­ver­sity offered. I use it daily when training assis­tance dogs.

So you can imagine I was curious about ABA when I heard about it.

I started reading ABA web­sites, the prin­ci­ples and goals involved. The more I looked into ABA, the more I was exposed to the con­tro­versy around it. While par­ents whose chil­dren have received ABA sing its praises and describe it as the therapy that saved their child, the adult autistic com­mu­nity seems to feel dif­fer­ently.

I dis­cov­ered that autistic adults con­sider it abu­sive, and many who were sub­jected to it as chil­dren claim to have been emo­tion­ally dam­aged.

Some pre­lim­i­nary studies even sug­gest that adults who received ABA as chil­dren are at an increased risk of sui­cide and PTSD.

And quite com­monly on Twitter, I’ve seen people call ABA “dog training for chil­dren.”

When I see that, I tend to go on Twitter rants in reply to it, because from every­thing I have read and seen of ABA, it is NOT “dog training” for chil­dren.

…I would never treat a dog that way.

What is ABA?

I’ll let ABA proponents explain it themselves:

Autism Speaks says:

ABA therapy applies our under­standing of how behavior works to real sit­u­a­tions. The goal is to increase behav­iors that are helpful and decrease behav­iors that are harmful or affect learning.

Autism Canada says:

Behaviour Analysis is the sci­ence of behav­iour. Applied behav­iour analysis (ABA) is the process of sys­tem­at­i­cally applying inter­ven­tions, based upon the prin­ci­ples of learning theory, to improve socially sig­nif­i­cant behav­iours to a mean­ingful degree.

The Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) approach teaches social, motor, and verbal behav­iours, as well as rea­soning skills. ABA treat­ment is espe­cially useful in teaching behav­iours to chil­dren with autism who may oth­er­wise not “pick up” these behav­iours on their own, as other chil­dren would.

AppliedBehaviourAnalysisEdu.org says:

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the prac­tice of applying the psy­cho­log­ical prin­ci­ples of learning theory in a sys­tem­atic way to alter behavior in humans or ani­mals. The prac­tice is used exten­sively in edu­ca­tion, health­care, animal training, and busi­ness man­age­ment. It is par­tic­u­larly promi­nent in the treat­ment of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), for which it is one of the only sci­en­tif­i­cally valid ther­a­pies avail­able.

Right away a few things in these descrip­tions strike me as odd.

For one thing, none of them—or any of the infor­ma­tion I’ve found from the ABA dis­ci­pline–make any ref­er­ence to the autistic person’s emo­tions or well being.

It’s all about increasing cer­tain behav­iours and decreasing other behav­iours, as if their stu­dent were a pas­sive recip­ient.

Dog trainers don’t talk about sys­tem­at­i­cally altering behav­iour as if the dog weren’t a thinking, feeling, sen­tient being.

Look at Karen Pryor, who changed the face of dog training by intro­ducing behav­iourism to the wider world. If you’ve ever heard of “clicker training”, you can thank Karen Pryor.

Clicker training is an animal training method based on behav­ioral psy­chology that relies on marking desir­able behavior and rewarding it. Desirable behavior is usu­ally marked by using a “clicker”: a mechan­ical device that makes a short, dis­tinct “click” sound which tells the animal exactly when they’re doing the right thing. This clear form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, com­bined with pos­i­tive rein­force­ment, is an effec­tive, safe, and humane way to teach any animal any behavior that it is phys­i­cally and men­tally capable of doing.

That’s a pretty sci­en­tific way to describe dog training, isn’t it? It sounds a lot like the descrip­tion of ABA.

But notice this dif­fer­ence – this descrip­tion uses words like “com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” “safe,” and “humane.”

Even this brief descrip­tion of operant con­di­tioning as it is used on dogs addresses the dog’s point of view (“tells the animal exactly when they are doing the right thing”) and addresses the emo­tional and phys­ical well being of the dog.

That’s a big dif­fer­ence. The lan­guage of the ABA research and its guiding doc­u­ments struck me as exces­sively clin­ical and dis­tant, espe­cially con­sid­ering that they were dis­cussing not ani­mals, but human chil­dren.

 

Behaviour Analysis Is Not Dog Training

As a dog trainer, what also stood out for me when learning about ABA was the frankly-inaccurate claims that ABA is used on ani­mals.

That’s just not cor­rect. I have a sci­ence degree in behav­ioural psy­chology and I never heard the term “behav­iour analysis” at uni­ver­sity.

If you google “behav­iour analysis,” you will only find sites that refer to autism and intel­lec­tual dis­ability. It simply does not exist out­side of the realm of “ABA.” So their claims that they took an existing sci­ence and applied it to autism is extremely mis­leading.

It is clear that ABA employs some aspects of B.F. Skinner’s rad­ical behav­iourism and this is what they mean when they say “behav­iour analysis.”

Not only is it rec­og­niz­able to anyone familiar with it, but you can also con­firm the con­nec­tion by googling rad­ical behav­iourism. Everything will tell you it under­pins ABA.

The founder of ABA as it exists today, Ivar Lovaas, who is also the father of gay con­ver­sion therapy, derived the prin­ci­ples of his ther­a­pies from rad­ical behav­iourism.

What is Radical Behaviourism?

It’s hard to make this a short answer because the real answer involves a lot of bick­ering about minu­tiae among behav­iourists, but the “tl;dr” of it all is that rad­ical behav­iourism believes that every­thing we do is a behav­iour.

  • Your thoughts are behav­iours.
  • Your feel­ings are behav­iours.
  • All of them can be mod­i­fied or altered through reward and pun­ish­ment as con­se­quences.

Radical Behaviourism is con­sid­ered out-of-date by modern psy­chol­o­gists.

While its prin­ci­ples do work and have largely been upheld in exper­i­mental research, cog­ni­tive sci­ence has found that there are some things that it can’t explain.

Language, for example.

B.F. Skinner tried to explain lan­guage using behav­iourism, but there is a lot in psy­cholin­guis­tics that frankly cannot be explained through behav­iourism.

Some things are larger than reward and pun­ish­ment. Empathy, for example. Creative lan­guage. Storytelling. Music.

So basi­cally, Radical Behaviourism is broadly seen by psy­chology pro­fes­sionals as a sim­plistic and restric­tive theory which is useful in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions but cannot sum up the entirety of the human expe­ri­ence. It doesn’t even sat­is­fac­to­rily answer some ques­tions about behav­iours seen in ani­mals.

I can under­stand why Applied Behaviour Analysts decided to rename it as “Behaviour analysis,” but a rose by any other name is still rad­ical behav­iourism.

In any case, very few dog trainers use the rad­ical behav­iourism that’s employed in ABA.

Most of the dog trainers I know mix and match behav­iourism with other cog­ni­tive sci­ence research and other methods to create a more holistic approach to training their dogs. This is because dog trainers under­stand the limits of behav­iourism on canines, because it doesn’t address the whole dog.

One would hope that someone con­sid­ering using rad­ical behav­iourism on a human being would also rec­og­nize its limits.

So if it isn’t suf­fi­cient to prop­erly train a dog, is it suf­fi­cient in edu­cating a child? Let’s take a look at ABA and the suc­cess rate that ABA pro­po­nents often boast about.

Does Radical Behaviourism Work? How is “Success” Measured?

ABA is good at accom­plishing what it set out to accom­plish. There is plenty of research demon­strating this, and ABA prac­ti­tioners point to it often. This doesn’t sur­prise me. The prin­ci­ples behind rad­ical behav­iourism are sound and well proven. You can use it to change an organism’s behav­iour.

But should you?

Dog trainers spend a lot of time debating what is moral or eth­ical when it comes to changing the behav­iour of their canine stu­dents.

They dis­cuss not only what behav­iours should be taught and which are not, but also what methods are eth­ical and which are not.

Do ABA prac­ti­tioners do the same for the chil­dren in their care?

Are their goals in align­ment with the best inter­ests of the child?

Are their methods of achieving those goals humane and con­sid­erate of the child’s emo­tional and mental health?

Autism Speaks says that ABA helps:

· Increase lan­guage and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills
·  Improve atten­tion, focus, social skills, memory, and aca­d­e­mics
· Decrease problem behav­iors

Autism Ontario says that:

An ABA pro­gram should address the core fea­tures and char­ac­ter­is­tics of ASD (i.e. social skills, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and repet­i­tive pat­terns of behav­iour), as well as any bar­riers to learning (i.e. chal­lenging behav­iours, stereo­typy, etc.)

What struck me about these lists was how out­wardly focused they were. They really are teaching behav­iours, aren’t they?

Nothing about improving the child’s quality of life, relieving anx­iety, or helping the child cope with sen­sory sen­si­tiv­i­ties.

ABA is focused on shaping an autistic child to behave more like a non-autistic child, even to the point of shaping the child to play more like a non-autistic child.

Those are weird goals, quite frankly.

None of these goals refer to improving the quality of life of the child.

I sup­pose that to some it would be redun­dant. People seem to think that if you act normal, then you must feel normal. But that’s not true for people.

It’s not even true for dogs.

The Problem of Operant Conditioning in Dog Training

In my field of dog training, you can use reward and pun­ish­ment to train a dog not to bite when another dog passes by, or when a human touches it. In fact, Cesar Millan does it with great aplomb on TV.

While he talks sci­en­tif­i­cally dis­proven non­sense about dom­i­nance, what he is really using is operant con­di­tioning, the aspect of behav­iourism which ABA ther­a­pists employ. By pun­ishing “problem behav­iours” Cesar makes the dogs stop growling or attacking.

It looks like magic to viewers.

But to cer­ti­fied dog trainers like me, it looks like painting over rotten wood. Worse. It looks like burying a land mine.

We all know that we can feel angry without expressing anger. That we can smile when inside we are crying. You can stop someone from expressing an emo­tion, but that doesn’t make the emo­tion go away.

A dog who has been trained not to growl is con­sid­ered by trainers to be a “time bomb dog.”

When you read about a dog attack that came “out of nowhere” and “without warning,” it is because this sort of method was used to handle “problem behav­iours.”

Studies show that dogs trained with these sorts of methods actu­ally have an increased rate of aggres­sion, because pun­ishing aggres­sive behav­iour doesn’t deal with the under­lying fear and anx­iety that caused the aggres­sion in the first place.

Certified dog trainers help the dog get over their fear… and that uses no operant con­di­tioning what­so­ever.

Deal With The Underlying Problems Before Tackling Behaviour

Before a dog trainer breaks out the operant con­di­tioning, our first task is to ensure that all of the dog’s fun­da­mental needs are being met.

Dogs need to run. Dogs need to dig. Dogs need to chase things. Dogs need to chew things. Dogs need to play with other dogs. These are fun­da­mental needs that cannot be removed from a dog’s psyche, and that can result in a lot of “problem behav­iours” if they are not met.

If the dog is afraid or fearful, we gently encourage them to have pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences with the things that frighten them. It seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive to learn that feeding a dog who is growling at you will end the growling but it does - when the fear is gone, so is the aggres­sion. No operant con­di­tioning required.

There are many times when an owner wants me to “train” the dog out of a behav­iour and I refuse because either the behav­iour is fear-based, or because the goal of the owner is unreasonable/unethical.

Before you train a dog you need to accept that it is a dog.

Yes, I’m happy to use operant con­di­tioning to teach your dog to greet people politely at the door or to pull your wheel­chair (which they love doing anyway) or to lie qui­etly on their bed during dinner.

But when people ask me to train their retrievers not to pick things up in their mouth, or their ter­rier to stop dig­ging, or their puppy to stop mouthing them, I have to sit down with them and have a little talk with them about the fact that they have a dog.

Could I train a retriever not to pick things up? Yes. If I broke out a shock collar I could put an end to it really fast.

But I won’t do it.

The fact is that you bought a retriever and holding things in their mouths is what they love. You bought a ter­rier and they love to dig. You bought a puppy and they love to play.


Relieve fear instead of training the dog not to show its fear. Teach your retriever to retrieve and buy a sandbox for your ter­rier instead of forcing your dog to ignore fun­da­mental instincts.

It’s not only easier – but it’s much kinder.

How Does ABA Ignore Fundamental Needs in Children?

One of the rea­sons par­ents and ABA pro­fes­sionals get so upset when autistic people call ABA “abu­sive” is the fact that they care deeply. They gen­uinely want to improve these chil­dren’s lives. Yet the vast majority of autistic people when polled (typ­i­cally 97%) oppose ABA including and espe­cially those who went through it as chil­dren.

Why is there such a dis­con­nect?

Some of it has to do with a break­down in the way autism is per­ceived. Non-autistic people believe that “nor­malcy” is a fun­da­mental need; indeed, a stated goal of ABA is to make the autistic child “indis­tin­guish­able from [neu­rotyp­ical] peers.”

They think a child who blends into the crowd is a happy child.

When par­ents see their child engaging in unusual behav­iours such as flap­ping, or ignoring other chil­dren, they see a child who is ill or dam­aged.

When they see that child talking and working well at their desk and playing with other chil­dren, they see a child who has been healed. Helped. Saved.

If only they would listen to the autistic adults who are trying to tell them that this is not nec­es­sarily the case. Because in reality, a happy autistic person may not look neu­rotyp­ical.

Knowing how to stack blocks or how to sup­press essen­tial means of reg­u­la­tion and expres­sion (such as flap­ping) doesn’t make an autistic person “hap­pier.” Often, in fact, it makes them less happy.

When you are autistic, talking can be exhausting. Even if you are extremely verbal like I am – adults praised my pre­co­cious vocab­u­lary as a child, and I have often been called a “chat­terbox” – vocal speech is draining. My well of words may be deeper than that of most other autistic people, but it is not bot­tom­less.

Therefore, an autistic child who has been playing, without speaking much, all day may be a more rested and hap­pier child at the end of the day than a child who has been chat­ting up a storm.

A child who is given AAC or other ways to com­mu­ni­cate their needs will be more com­fort­able and better reg­u­lated than a child who has been required to speak aloud… assuming they are even able to meet this demand. An autistic child who spins or jumps is prob­ably stim­ming and/or self-regulating through movement—ways to stay calm.

Flapping and echolalia (repeating words or phrases), sim­i­larly, are expres­sions and often play an impor­tant emo­tional role as well as a devel­op­mental role. Echolalic speech helps autis­tics, many of whom process lan­guage in a dif­ferent part of the brain, to process the lan­guage they have heard and under­stand the meaning of the words.

Yet, ABA seeks to “extin­guish” these things.

A good dog trainer doesn’t extin­guish behav­iours which improve the dog’s mental health and hap­pi­ness. But an ABA prac­ti­tioner may not think twice before doing this to a human child.

In my field, when a dog loves to tug, I don’t oper­antly con­di­tion the dog to play tug less fre­quently. Instead, I play more tug and incor­po­rate obe­di­ence rou­tines with it so that the dog has a blast learning to sit and stay. And, if a dog has prob­lems sit­ting still, I see that as a sign that the dog needs to move. Some dogs are not meant to lie still. Some dogs are meant to play agility and fly­ball, not lie on the couch all day.

Sometimes I have to tell an owner that their dog’s per­son­ality just isn’t suited to what they are trying to achieve.

Could I achieve it? Yes.

I could break out the hard­core reward/punishment and using a com­bi­na­tion of learned help­less­ness and pos­i­tive rein­force­ment. I could change that dog. I could break their spirit. Crush their ability to respond to their own emo­tions.

But I won’t do it.  Because the methods I would have to use would vio­late the Code of Ethics I agreed to when I applied for my cer­ti­fi­ca­tion through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers. The methods would vio­late the rec­om­men­da­tions of every vet­eri­nary med­ical asso­ci­a­tion. The methods would vio­late the stan­dards of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Some goals just aren’t worth it.

…But as it turns out, the Behaviour Analyst Certification Board has no such guiding prin­ci­ples.

Codes of Ethics: Dog Training versus ABA

Like all cer­ti­fying bodies, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board has a pro­fes­sional code of ethics which its cer­ti­f­i­cants must abide by to remain in good standing.

You can read them here.

I was amazed when I read it, because while it goes into great detail regarding what cer­ti­f­i­cants may do with regard to the busi­ness aspect of things, right down to detailed guide­lines on what you can do and say in the media, there is vir­tu­ally nothing about the wel­fare of the therapy’s recip­i­ents.

The Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), by con­trast, ded­i­cates almost the entirety of its code of con­duct to what, when, and how you interact with the animal. While it also covers eth­ical busi­ness prac­tices, its pri­mary con­cern is the well-being of the “learner”.

First of all, the CCPDT has an entire policy ded­i­cated to spec­i­fying in great detail what sorts of methods are con­doned and which are not. The Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers policy is called “Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive” and is referred to in the code of ethics by its acronym, LIMA.

This policy also lays out the “Humane Hierarchy” which advises which methods to start with first (ensure basic phys­ical and emo­tional needs, then redesign the envi­ron­ment to remove antecedents, then employ pos­i­tive rein­force­ment, then use dif­fer­en­tial rein­force­ment of an alter­na­tive behav­iour, and so on), and which methods are only accept­able as a last resort.

The CCPDT Code of Ethics refers fre­quently to this policy which forms the back­bone to the board’s entire frame­work.

If one applied the dog trainer’s code of ethics when working with an autistic child, there­fore, one would first ensure that the child’s basic needs were met. If the child seemed to be under-exercised or lacked suf­fi­cient play­time for an average child’s needs, they would rec­om­mend trying that first.

If that failed to make an impact, one would then pay atten­tion to what sit­u­a­tions impact the child, such as loud and noisy public places. Following the dog trainer’s code of con­duct, one would then rec­om­mend reducing expo­sure to these places, or pro­viding the child with ear defenders and sun­glasses, or gentle expo­sure based on the feed­back of the child.

One could not even con­sider other methods until these had first been tried and found unsuc­cessful. For example, counter-conditioning or desen­si­ti­za­tion could only be con­sid­ered if one could not simply keep the child away from the sit­u­a­tion and if ear defenders, sun­glasses, etc. were not proving helpful.

One cer­tainly could not deprive the child of play­time past the point needed by neu­rotyp­ical chil­dren as part of any training plan, because that would vio­late one of the first steps in the Humane Hierarchy.

This step-by-step guide pro­vided in the CCPDT’s Code of Ethics is designed to ensure the dog’s emo­tional and phys­ical needs are con­sid­ered first and fore­most and to pro­vide a clear guide of accept­able training con­duct to its mem­bers.

The Well-being of Humans, The Well-being of Dogs

The Behaviour Analyst Certification Board (BACB) does not con­sider the well-being of the child through policy or guide­lines.

In fact, in the entire Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s pro­fes­sional code of ethics, a 24 page doc­u­ment, there is only one small sec­tion which refers to the behaviour-change pro­gram, and most of that involves how the plan is doc­u­mented.

It is inter­esting to me that this doc­u­ment uses the word “client” to refer to the learner and the employer (par­ents or care home) inter­change­ably, which means that when it dis­cussed “client con­sent,” it does not specify whether the actual learner has to con­sent.

The way it is written, the learner could give no con­sent at all and the ana­lyst could still be within guide­lines as long as the employer con­sented, regard­less of the learner’s age, intel­lec­tual ability, or com­mu­nica­tive capacity.

Only three sub­sec­tions in the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s pro­fes­sional code of ethics even address the well­being of the learner:

  1. Subsection 4.08 requires that rein­force­ment pro­ce­dures must be pre­ferred over pun­ish­ment pro­ce­dures.
  2. Subsection 4.09 requires that they use the least restric­tive pro­ce­dures nec­es­sary. This is mean­ing­less, how­ever, because it does not define what is con­sid­ered “restric­tive” or lay out a clear guide­line on this.
  3. Subsection 4.10 warns against harmful rein­forcers which could adversely affect the client’s health (pre­sum­ably the learner, not the parent).

None of those three ensure that the pro­ce­dures will be humane, for a few rea­sons.

First, “rein­force­ment” and “pun­ish­ment” do not mean “good” and “bad” in behav­iourism.

When I used to train ser­vice dogs, for example, some of the older trainers still used the old-fashioned, no-longer-recommended method of training a dog to retrieve: they dug their fin­ger­nails into the sen­si­tive tip of the dog’s ear until the dog screamed, while holding out a dumb­bell. As soon as the dog’s mouth closed on the dumb­bell, they stopped pinching the ear.

I refused to use this tech­nique and now, if I were to do so, I would be barred from the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers for doing it. But — and it is impor­tant to under­stand this — it is a “rein­force­ment tech­nique.”

The dog is rewarded for grab­bing the dumb­bell by the trainer ending the pain. That makes it rein­force­ment.

If the CCPDT used the BACB’s code of ethics, I could use that method without breaking their code of con­duct.

The BACB says nothing about inflicting pain. There’s nothing in the BACB ethics code says you can’t use elec­tric shock. In fact, it doesn’t say any­thing at all about what type of “aver­sives” are accept­able.

4.08 - Behavior ana­lysts ensure that aver­sive pro­ce­dures are accom­pa­nied by an increased level of training, super­vi­sion, and over­sight. Behavior ana­lysts must eval­uate the effec­tive­ness of aver­sive pro­ce­dures in a timely manner and modify the behavior-change pro­gram if it is inef­fec­tive. Behavior ana­lysts always include a plan to dis­con­tinue the use of aver­sive pro­ce­dures.

As long as the aver­sive pro­ce­dure is effec­tive and accom­pa­nied with training and super­vi­sion, under the ABA model you could hypo­thet­i­cally do any­thing.

In fact, in a 24-page doc­u­ment detailing eth­ical codes of prac­tice for working with human beings, including chil­dren and dis­abled adults, the word “abuse” is used zero times.

The word “humane” is used zero times.

The word “pos­i­tive” is used zero times.

All this despite the fact that using behav­iourism on a human being – espe­cially a child – can easily ven­ture into the realm of emo­tional and phys­ical abuse. For example, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies defines emo­tional abuse as:

exces­sive, aggres­sive, or unrea­son­able demands that place expec­ta­tions on a child beyond his or her capacity. Emotional abuse includes con­stantly crit­i­cizing, teasing, belit­tling, insulting, rejecting, ignoring, or iso­lating the child.

And yet the BACB does not warn against or estab­lish a cri­teria regarding the use of ignoring to punish a child, which is actu­ally a com­monly rec­om­mended strategy in ABA.

The BACB does not warn against asking a child to sit still or work beyond the capacity expected and rec­om­mended for a child of their age.

The BACB, in other words, con­siders vir­tu­ally any­thing accept­able so long as it is within the law and well doc­u­mented.

I find that incom­pre­hen­sible.

 The Rights of All Living Things

All sen­tient beings deserve to have their needs met, and their lives enjoy­able. All sen­tient beings should be able to be them­selves and still be cared for. All sen­tient beings should be treated with kind­ness and respect.

Modern dog training takes its codes of prac­tice from the rec­om­men­da­tions of many animal wel­fare bodies, and it pri­or­i­tizes the needs and emo­tional well being of the dogs.

I don’t believe ABA focuses on the emo­tional needs of autistic chil­dren. Nor do I believe that it incor­po­rates rec­om­men­da­tions from child psy­chol­o­gists on basic needs such as uncon­di­tional love, the need to play, or the right to say no.

The emo­tional needs of chil­dren are too often left entirely out of dis­cus­sions about autism. This should be shocking to anyone who under­stands chil­dren, behav­iour, or how emo­tions and rela­tion­ships impact us.

Nor does the field listen to autistic people about autistic emo­tions, which may be dif­ferent from those of neu­rotyp­ical chil­dren but are worth of respect nonethe­less.

Dog trainers under­stand that dogs need to chew and bark and dig, but ABA ther­a­pists don’t under­stand that autistic chil­dren need to repeat words and sen­tences, flap their hands, and sit qui­etly rocking in a corner when things get too much.

ABA assumes that the key to hap­pi­ness is changing their behav­iour to be more in line with non-autistic chil­dren.

It focuses on training chil­dren by holding their sources of hap­pi­ness hostage and using them as black­mail to get the chil­dren to meet goals which are not nec­es­sarily in the best interest of their emo­tional health.

And like I said…

I wouldn’t treat a dog that way.

Carol Millman B.Sc., RAHT, CPDT-KA, CTDI is an autistic dog trainer with seven years of post-secondary edu­ca­tion and a decade of prac­tical expe­ri­ence. She appren­ticed as an instructor at Pacific Assistance Dogs Society in Burnaby, BC, and now trains dogs pri­vately. She spe­cial­izes in training assis­tance dogs for people with a wide range of vis­ible and invis­ible dis­abil­i­ties.

107 Comments

  1. This is the best break-down I have ever read. Excellent article with good points, clearly written.

      1. Author

        Amanda, I have read your rebuttal and really have little to add. None of your points seem to refute mine at all. They only set up straw man argu­ments to knock down instead.

        You link to the same com­pli­ance code that I link to, and specif­i­cally quote some of the areas that I addressed as prob­lem­atic.

        You say the com­pli­ance code is “thor­ough” which is a strange rebuttal because I pointed out sev­eral areas in which it is NOT thor­ough and you actu­ally quote one of them. You also quote an item that I quoted myself in my article. It’s very odd.

        If you are not con­cerned by the fact that your com­pli­ance code doesn’t out­line abu­sive prac­tices such as elec­tric shock or planned ignoring, then you and I will never see eye to eye on ABA.

        If you truly care about autistic people, then instead of defending a very loose code of con­duct which allows ther­a­pists to do things like this:

        TW: JRC, elec­tric shock, abuse

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko-ip3MImik

        As you can see, sev­eral of the board mem­bers at the JRC are cer­ti­fied by the BCBA.

        https://www.judgerc.org/board-of-directors.html

        In fact, a couple of BCBA‑D cer­ti­fied pre­sen­ters ran a sym­po­sium on the effec­tive use of elec­tric shock at the Association for Behavior Analysis International’s 2009 con­ven­tion.

        That is because the BCBA PERMITS treat­ments like this as long as cer­tain pro­to­cols are fol­lowed. The JRC is still in oper­a­tion and still using these tech­niques and the BCBA seems just fine with it.

        That is because none of the above vio­lates the BCBA’s ethics code.

        Either you think that this is accept­able, or you do not.

        I do not.

        I’m sorry that my article made you feel defen­sive about your chosen field, but unless you wrote the com­pli­ance code and run the BCBA there is no reason to take this so per­son­ally.

        I’m sure many ABA ther­a­pists mean well. But your field is not well reg­u­lated.

        A poorly reg­u­lated field allows abu­sive ther­a­pists to con­tinue prac­ticing without reper­cus­sion. I do not con­sider this accept­able.

        You cannot rely on peo­ple’s good­will to ensure that the child’s emo­tional and phys­ical well­being will be con­sid­ered a pri­ority. There must be clear guide­lines.

        I rec­om­mend guide­lines such as:

        “Repetitive behav­iours which are soothing to the stu­dent and which do not cause harm or sig­nif­i­cantly dis­rupt the people around may not be dis­cour­aged or extin­guished.”

        “When sen­sory sen­si­tiv­i­ties are sus­pected the ther­a­pist must always first try adap­tive tools such as ear defenders or sun glasses before attempting desen­si­ti­za­tion.”

        And so on.

        The fact that a dog training cer­ti­fi­ca­tion board has poli­cies in place to ensure the well­being of the animal and pre­vent abuse yet a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion board that involves working with chil­dren does NOT is frankly appalling to me.

        You con­sider it suf­fi­cient. I do not. We must agree to dis­agree.

        At least we both agree — dog training and ABA are nothing alike.

        1. This made me think of psych ward stays in past years where I wit­ness more than a couple indi­vid­uals go through shock therapy. The one guy after a ses­sion had his face so swelled that it looked like a bal­loon human, he couldn’t even see his flesh had inflamed so bad. It seemed to reduce over the next treat­ments and never got that bad again. Now every one of those people I saw go through it had a remark­able reduc­tion in their ini­tial symp­toms of depression/suicidal ideation, but I could not for the life of me con­clude that it was the therapy electro therapy itslef because of the per­sonal con­ver­sa­tions with those indi­vid­uals, which seeme to be more effec­tive in pro­ducing common ground and insight into our hap­pi­ness and reflecting on those. And that man who swelled I met again in future time on the same ward. So I agree that there is sci­ence that is in place that shows imme­diate and short term results of electo ther­a­pies, but there is nothing that shows long term ben­efit or long term harms directly resulting from those forms of therapy.

          I am an austic adult and every­time that a psy­chol­o­gist rec­om­mends electro therapy I will say the same thing, ‘Doing no harm should entail you looking at cur­rent sci­ence and the short­coming of past sci­en­tific con­clus­sions being based on faulty premise’.

          This article is hands down the best analysis of ABA and it’s short­com­ings. And I as an autistic person have defended Autism Speaks because I don’t believe they have the inten­tion of harm, but I do think there needs to be account for what Carol addresses in this article. It is well thought out and well pre­sented. Only igno­rance would attempt to sweep this under the rug with gross jus­ti­fi­ca­tions.

          And just clar­i­fying about my sup­port of AS. I quite every single face­book autism group because I felt peer pres­sured to hate them and that my ques­tions regarding why would be retal­i­ated with aggres­sive bully like expla­na­tions.. Had anyone given me a well though out article like this I may still have those groups as a peer sup­port.

          1. Quick note: the electro-convulsive therapy used to treat severe mental ill­ness is very dif­ferent from the shocks used at the JRC. ECT uses elec­tricity basi­cally to turn the brain off and on again. The patient is sedated and it’s pain­less. There are risks, which is why it’s only used when someone is extremely ill. But it often does help a great deal and is solidly evidence-based.

            The elec­tric shocks used by the JRC, and men­tioned in this post, are simply a pun­ish­ment method. Quick blast of cur­rent causes pain and stops people from doing some­thing. No ther­a­peutic basis. Completely dif­ferent.

  2. Ridiculous, redun­dant article More like a stupid thesis.
    STICK TO DOGS!
    TO EVEN COMPARE DOG TO HUMANS, MUCH LESS HUMANS WITH DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES IS ABSOLUTELY ARROGANT AND INSULTING!

    You make a few shocking com­ments based on NO per­sonal expe­ri­ence and sit back and gloat?
    PATHETIC ABLEIST!

    1. I feel like you either didn’t read this or you might need to read this after wiping the steam from your eyes.
      Sit down, Sheryl.

    2. So that’s a 98.9 chance that Sheryl is an Autism Mom trying to poison the well.

    3. I see. You’re an autism mom using abu­sive methods to try to make your child not autistic, aren’t you?

      Listen to autistic people instead of abusing chil­dren.

    4. Author

      Hi — I am devel­op­men­tally dis­abled, so I’m not sure why you’re so angry? And I agree, we shouldn’t have to com­pare chil­dren to dogs which is why I’d really like to know why a therapy involving chil­dren has poorer ethics and less con­sid­er­a­tion for its learners than dog training does.

      1. Because in wealthy coun­tries we treat ani­mals better than humans?
        I mean people are more easily out­raged to see a dog left to sur­vive in the streets than a home­less person…

    5. article: aba is so inhu­mane i wouldnt even do it to dogs
      you: AAGGHHHHHH ITS CALLING US DOGS!!!!!

    6. Did you even read the article? The author is lit­er­ally autistic. And it’s less about com­paring humans to dogs, it’s about com­paring how people treat dogs to how people treat autistic chil­dren. Learn to read please.

    7. …What? this person is responding to a common pro-ABA stance that “ABA is just like dog training”. They don’t believe that.

    8. Your seri­ously out of line with your com­ment and its repul­sive and abu­sive. Don’t call someone ableist in the same post of you using shaming tac­tics of a bully.

    9. You know, not everyone thinks the same as you.
      Every crea­ture has its wants and needs. We live with dogs, and quite frankly.….…the person who wrote the article does have a point. We have guide­lines for how to treat and train ani­mals, wereas we dont nec­es­sarily have those fpr human beings. I think part of that is because everyone is dif­ferent and has a dif­ferent idea of how to treat people. Not saying that it doesnt happen either with animals.…but we as humans have been learning how to treat ani­mals better than other human beings fpr a long time now.

    10. “Carol Millman B.Sc., RAHT, CPDT-KA, CTDI is an autistic dog trainer with seven years of post-secondary edu­ca­tion and a decade of prac­tical expe­ri­ence.”

      Sounds to me like someone did not read the entire article.

      Doggis and Humans have not only grown together, but evolved together. Since the days when Humans were little more than glo­ri­fied stunted pri­mates who shared a common ancestor with apes, doggis have been there helping them to hunt and gather.

      To get your weenie in such a knot because a) cure­bies like to pro­claim that ABA is like dog training and b) an autistic indi­vidual who is reg­is­tered with an offi­cial dog-training organ­i­sa­tion says “no, it is not, and this is why”, is what is truly pathetic.

      We autistic people have our “****ers” and our Uncle Toms, too, and the above com­ment looks like it was written by one.

  3. What a won­derful analysis. Thank you for going to the trouble to put it all together. We’ve shared your article on our Facebook page.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much!

  4. This infor­ma­tion about ABA is incor­rect. There are so many things wrong with this article that I don’t know where to begin. No, I would not say that ABA is dog training for chil­dren. We cer­tainly do not spend hours and hours of our time trying to make kids act more “normal” and it is actu­ally against our code of ethics to change a behavior simply because it doesn’t fit in with social norms. I am appalled that you think we don’t look at the child as a whole, or think of their feel­ings and emo­tions. I actu­ally help chil­dren under­stand, label, and cope with their emo­tions. A lot of my clients struggle with that. A huge part of ABA is teaching the child to com­mu­ni­cate. A lot of problem behav­iors come from com­mu­ni­ca­tion issues and the frus­tra­tion that goes along with that. All of my pro­grams are adapted specif­i­cally for each indi­vidual based on his or her needs, con­trary to what you said in your article.
    This article is incred­ibly slanted and it makes me sad that you didn’t make a better attempt at under­standing ABA and behavior analysis.

    1. Honestly, it should make you sad that you are working with a therapy that almost all autistic people find to be abu­sive. Whether or not you feel like what you do is in the best interest of the chil­dren, or how well it meets their needs, it doesn’t matter. You help autistic chil­dren define them­selves and their feel­ings and needs according to neu­rotyp­ical stan­dards, and that doesn’t trans­late the same way to us. What mat­ters is that those who have been through the therapy find it trau­ma­tizing, and that should matter to you. If autistic people matter to you, then you should listen to them.

    2. Watch the video here of an autistic child being forced to ignore thier sen­sory needs to gro­cery shop, or the video where the ther­a­pist takes away the child’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool as a means of con­trol­ling the child. I’m an autistic adult, and I could not finish watching these videos without many tears. This is abuse. Neurotypicals should not be in charge of devel­oping ther­a­pies for autistic chil­dren. They have no idea what it’s like.
      https://theaspergian.com/2019/03/28/invisible-abuse-aba-and-the-things-only-autistic-people-can-see/?fbclid=IwAR3X_7NQMKyd44fwp_jTOVSKWLkYtrg9uhnRpvc_mnt5W-K_fpTdkgcV4Gw

      1. I agree that its hor­ren­dous and some­thing needs to be done in allowing these off­shoot con­ver­sion ther­a­pies to account. I don’t think this is a neu­rotyp­ical vs neu­ro­di­verse issue so much as it is a igno­rance to updating con­clus­sions of data and that false premises of con­clu­sions can skew per­cep­tions.
        I am diag­nosed autistic.

    3. I am going to sus­pect that you as a ther­a­pist use more tools than just ABA in every single one of your appoint­ments. So I have to wonder if you are in fact employing text book ABA?
      In all the research I have looked at con­cerning ABA none have addressed the con­cern that there is a pos­sible cor­re­la­tion to increased sui­cide risk of those who went through ABA as a child and were adult at the time of sui­cide.
      The dif­fi­culty it seems is that there is little ability to truly seperate the dif­fer­ences of how you therapy com­pared to Bob or Jane and how they do theirs. Your indi­vid­u­ality makes it dif­fi­cult to parse the data to a degree of serious clin­ical sig­nif­i­cance on todays stan­dards. What I want to know is can we cor­re­late the increased sui­cide by ther­a­pist versus straight up ABA?

  5. I find it very telling that those like Louis, Sarah and Sheryl who defend aba dont just show/quote where in their own code of ethics you are wrong.

    How hard it must be for these people to read a 24 page doc­u­ment and tell us where it tells people not to hurt chil­dren, like the dog trainer can clearly tell us where and why she cant hurt a dog, as well as what “hurting” is as well as how that has changed over time.

    1. You find it “telling”? I’m not writing a research paper, I’m com­menting on an article. If I were to go through this article and point out every­thing that is wrong, it would take days. If you actu­ally want to know about ABA, I would love to explain it. I doubt that’s the case.
      I do want you to know that ABA is not child abuse. It does not change a kid’s per­son­ality. I have never seen a ther­a­pist ignore a child’s sen­sory needs, nor have I seen anyone attempt to change behav­iors such as “flap­ping.” Problem behav­iors are things like self-injurious behavior and aggres­sion. And we teach kids to use more appro­priate behav­iors to express their feel­ings. For example, I have a client who used to bite her­self when she was frus­trated. She was always cov­ered in bruises. She now has a chewy that she chews on when she is frus­trated, rather than hurting her­self.
      I could go on and on. I wish this author wouldn’t make these false claims.

      1. So can you show us where in your code of ethics it proves the author wrong?

        1. They won’t. ABAers are so full of them­selves they don’t give a shit about what we autis­tics want or actu­ally feel.
          No ethics to be showed there because many know they are wrong for doing this but denial moti­vated by stuffed up enti­tle­ment is an easier escape hatch.
          And still people say we autis­tics are the ones lacking
          empathy… 🙄🙄🙄

        2. Author

          I would also like to see this as I read the doc­u­ment mul­tiple times.

      2. The first crop of chil­dren that received ABA are now adults, and studies show 97% of them report ABA was unde­se­ri­able. It strikes me as very pompous to declare that invalid. It also speaks to the exact mindset that this article sug­gests is the root of the problem.

        1. I wonder if they would be able to report any­thing had they not
          gone through ABA. My 17 year
          old was non-verbal through age 8,
          smeared feces until he was five, and eloped until 20 or so. ABA enabled him to attend to learning, and now he enjoys reading and base­ball. However, he will never live inde­pen­dently, and ABA enabled him to learn basic life skills.

          I fond this article, com­paring my son to a dog, to be offen­sive. Autistics who have turned their backs in lower func­tioning people with autism are a new form of ableists, looking to deny others of the ther­a­pies that give them hope for a ful­filling life.

          1. Hey.….can you actu­ally tell me your kid is happy? I am autistic. Never had aba because it was undi­ag­nosed, but my daughter is get­ting it right now. I can tell you this, she does have words but is still learning how to use them prop­erly. She is going to an autism school, and quite frankly.….I am on the fence about ABA. My daughter shows me in a very non verbal way how she feels about ABA. I can tell you that she has gone down hill when it comes to them teaching her to sit still and all that so she can have what neu­rotyp­ical s con­sider “attending skills”
            She is right now in that inbe­tween stage of what you call low func­tioning and high func­tioning. She is learning, but at what cost?
            My daughter does not need to com­mu­ni­cate with me like everyone else does to tell me how she is feeling. She tells me with body lan­guage most of the time… Tell me…how can an autistic person read another per­sons body lan­guage if they never got ABA?
            ABA has helped her learn more words and to better communicate…but I don’t think it has helped her to better sit still and pay atten­tion. I get daily reports from her teachers. When they have her doing attending behaviours.….she is at 50% most of the time these days because she does better learning while moving.

      3. Sarah,
        Cool story. So now, when that child is engaging in the com­mu­nica­tive behavior of expressing that some­thing is very wrong (e.g. self-loathing, pain, sen­sory over­whelm, etc…), it’s easier for her care­givers to ignore or put off addressing the actual REASON behind her behavior because it’s not as pressing of an issue when it’s only hurting the chewy. Sweet. I’m sure she appre­ci­ates it. Please give us some more exam­ples of how you’ve taught your clients that the way they express their pain is wrong- and more impor­tant than the pain itself. If you want to share your actual strate­gies for behavior change, I’d love to hear about that too. I think it would be illu­mi­nating.

      4. To be very frank with you, the tes­ti­mony of autistic people who have been sub­jected to it is far more cred­ible. They would not want to share their pain if they hadn’t expe­ri­enced it, but you clearly have a per­sonal need to be absolved.

      5. Why is the child self-injuring in the first place? How about reducing the pres­sure, expec­ta­tions, sen­sory over­load etc. that is causing the behavior instead of just redi­recting it to a chewy? Any treat­ment that is not cre­ated in COLLABORATION with the people it pur­ports to serve is bad sci­ence. Any treat­ment that actu­ally ignores and shuts down the input of the people it pur­ports to serve is not sci­ence at all. Why don’t you show us which autistic people you’ve col­lab­o­rated with? Whom have you inter­viewed? Show us that you listen and work together WITH us. Hmm? I think that’s the number 1 problem: you use the pro­noun “they” when speaking of autis­tics, not “we.”

      6. So you give the child a chewy and that’s ABA MAGIC! LOL

      7. Who defines “appro­priate” here, I wonder. You? The par­ents? How much say does the child have in the goals of treat­ment and the tech­niques used?

      8. Author

        I would love to hear a point-by-point rebuttal so feel free. I took a lot of time writing that article, and the knowl­edge to write it came from seven years of post sec­ondary edu­ca­tion in psy­chology and animal health, and a decade of dog training. If you want to spend as much time coun­tering each of my points, all of which I can back up with plenty of ref­er­ences, by all means I am happy to read it.

        1. Do not hold your breath. Curebies are not inter­ested in proving them­selves right, only in bul­lying us back into let­ting them word-rape and abuse us. At the risk of upset­ting you, I would gladly train every doggi in the world to tear every curebie in the world to shreds. Because they make it abun­dantly clear that without such action, all they are going to do is pre­tend that qual­i­fied psy­chol­o­gists who happen to be autistic are auto­mat­i­cally worth­less because they are autistic.

          I have seen dec­la­ra­tions of war that are more subtle than cure­bies about their intent to keep us in chains or dead.

      9. I learned about ABA, and I was an ABA spe­cialist. I have a grad­uate degree in psy­chology. What I saw when I watched those videos and when I shad­owed on the job was totally dif­ferent from what the NTs with whom I worked saw. I didn’t know at the time I was autistic, but I knew I was more like the chil­dren with whom I worked than the other pro­fes­sionals. Shortest posi­tion I ever worked.

      10. I went through ABA. This article was cor­rect and you’re wrong.

      11. I’m an autistic adult who works with autistic preschoolers, and am trained in ABA. I refuse to use those prac­tices, as I can see quite clearly how much it dis­tresses these chil­dren, and my morals pre­vent me out­right from doing this. It’s wrong. If you are not autistic your­self, you really should listen to all these autistic people INFORMING you how dam­aging it is. If you cannot actu­ally listen to the voices of autistic adults who do not need your ‘help’ to under­stand what they think or feel, and do not need your help to com­mu­ni­cate, then you are clearly in the wrong job. If I was in your sit­u­a­tion as a neu­rotyp­ical person trying to help autistic people because I cared about their wel­fare, I WOULD BE LISTENING TO AUTISTIC PEOPLE. It took me all of about 2 weeks to realise that ABA was abu­sive, and I had to break my employ­er’s code of prac­tice to refuse to comply with those methods. Please wake up.
        This is a person with more expe­ri­ence than you talking- I have been taught ABA method­ology, have been expected to use it, have attempted to use it before I morally couldn’t bring myself to any more, and I actu­ally AM autistic. But some­thing tells me that you are so emo­tion­ally invested in this prac­tice that you won’t pos­sibly be able to change your stance on it. And the funny thing is, neu­rotyp­ical people call autistic people rigid! Perhaps we should just take away your food and reward you with it when you see sense????

    2. I’m not defending ABA.
      I’m Autistic and I hate ABA and ABAers for their untrust­worthy dis­hon­esty and cyn­i­cism.
      The link I added was to an Anti ABA piece that pro­vide var­ious other links to ABA related dis­cus­sions like PTSD links, why it is not like par­enting or it isn’t because you seem to enjoy it that you really love it etc…

    3. Author

      Considering I read the doc­u­ment sev­eral times in the writing of the piece to double check my facts, I would appre­ciate it if the would do the same.

  6. “If you’ve ever heard of “clicker training”, you can thank Karen Pryor.” — Thanks to TAGteach for Autistics, right? Disgusting. Can’t believe how this article gets cir­cu­lated and is men­tioned as a stance against ABA at all.

    1. I took that sen­tence as applying to dog training only… NOT as rec­om­mended to be used on humans at all. She was merely using it to demon­strate “safe and humane” behav­iors for DOGS.… and that dog trainers take the well-being of the dog into account, whereas ABA does not. The author is not rec­om­mending clicker training as an ABA tool. The author is “thanking” Karen Pryor for starting a training method that takes dogs’ well-being into account, and there­fore supe­rior to ABA, which does not take into account the well-being of living human beings.

    2. Author

      Hi, TAGteach was based off of clicker training, NOT the other way around. Clicker training rev­o­lu­tion­al­ized dog training and it is thanks to Karen Pryor that dogs are no longer choked, pronged, and shocked into obe­di­ence. I con­sider that good. Sorry to hear that you dis­agree.

  7. Hi! Thanks for the article, it’s very inter­esting.
    I was just won­dering, do you have links to the sources about the 97%?
    Thanks a lot.


  8. So let’s allow some chil­dren to head bang until it bleeds or causes a con­cus­sion, beat up their par­ents and sib­lings (SO many par­ents deal with this), sex­u­ally stim­u­late them­selves in public (another common behavior), knock every­thing down in stores while screeching while we get to the root of their feel­ings? What an enlight­ening article.

    1. When someone sug­gests to not use ABA, they do not imply that no therapy should be used to replace it. There are other ways to deal with the prob­lem­atic solu­tions you men­tioned you know?

      1. What are the other effec­tive ways? Please inform us!!

    2. Maybe they are just hoping that they can get the right person’s atten­tion and alert them to the fact that you are a filthy child abuser?

    3. I agree this article is incred­ibly bizarre and I’m con­fused why the opinion of someone reading about it online can be con­sid­ered an actual “source” what ABA therapy is and what it does for fam­i­lies. I com­pletely under­stand and agree that I’m sure there have been sev­eral bad expe­ri­ences out there and it’s very sad and unfor­tu­nate. But there are also sev­eral bad expe­ri­ences with SLPs, OTs, PTs, edu­ca­tors etc. Several instances of edu­ca­tors abusing chil­dren and leaving them in the corner of the room by them­selves because they don’t know what to do with them or think just because a person is non­verbal that they must be dumb, but yes let’s ignore those people. ABA people who care about the child and interact with them and play with them are the vil­lains here (big eye roll).

      BCBAs actu­ally do have a strong eth­ical code so to keep saying there isnt is bizarre. Also shock therapy is widely denounced by BCBAs and there is maybe 1 place that for some reason still uses it sadly in the U.S.

      The therapy actu­ally should be very play based and fol­lowing the moti­va­tion and interest of the indi­vidual, teaching them to advo­cate for them­selves, teaching them how to com­mu­ni­cate, helping them have access to peers to make friends, con­suming food that is healthy for them, sup­porting them in not engaging in behav­iors that are phys­i­cally harmful to them­selves and others and causing OTHERS to out­cast them in schools and in the com­mu­nity. To even pre­tend that this isn’t true is cruel and irre­spon­sible to par­ents and chil­dren that need actual help.

      One of the main com­po­nents of ABA is that it is sup­posed to be mean­ingful to the indi­vidual and their family. Again, making up things like this article and many of the com­menters is irre­spon­sible and just lit­er­ally making up things.

      Again I don’t doubt there are mul­tiple people out there that have made mis­takes or prac­ticed the therapy in a wrong or irre­spon­sible way, but to say that as a whole it’s “abu­sive” is so bizarre.

      Feel free to call me all the names you want or what­ever you want to make up. There is a dif­fer­ence between actu­ally having a dis­cus­sion with those that need to be edu­cated– such as those trying to stop chil­dren from stim­ming even on their free time– and just yelling made up things and name calling.

      1. BCBAs DO NOT have a strong eth­ical code. They make a point of defining “client” as “whomever behavior ana­lysts pro­vide ser­vices, whether an indi­vidual person (ser­vice recip­ient), a parent or guardian of a ser­vice recip­ient, an orga­ni­za­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tive, a
        public or pri­vate orga­ni­za­tion, a firm, or a cor­po­ra­tion” (see: https://www.bacb.com/wp-content/uploads/BACB-Compliance-Code-english_190318.pdf). At no point within the doc­u­ment do they specify that the needs/best inter­ests of the *ser­vice recip­ient* must be put first.

        The result? A parent, or even an insur­ance com­pany, can have their needs/best inter­ests put ahead of a child’s by the BCBA… and that would not be an eth­ical vio­la­tion on the BCBA’s part. Would you con­sider a doctor that put your inter­ests ahead of your child’s — when treating the child specif­i­cally — to be eth­ical? Sensible par­ents would not find this even remotely accept­able.

        As for the “shock therapy”: the Judge Rotenberg Center is still doing it. A UN Special Rapporteur on Torture specif­i­cally states that the use of GEDs (grad­u­ated elec­tronic decel­er­a­tors — a backpack-like device worn 247 that delivers a shock 10x stronger than a taser, used as an aver­sive) is, in fact, tor­ture. NOT A SINGLE BCBA AT THAT FACILITY HAS HAD THEIR CREDENTIALS PULLED FOR PERFORMING LITERAL TORTURE. This can’t be pushed aside with the “it’s not *true* ABA” rhetoric either — just this year, ABAI (Association for Behaviour Analysis International) had the JRC as a speaker defending their use of what the UN calls tor­ture (“The Right to Effective Treatment in the Crosshairs: Massachusetts Versus Judge Rotenberg Center”, among others). If it’s not “true ABA”, ABAI would not have invited them to speak. It doesn’t matter if only one facility you know of does this — if the pro­fes­sion as a whole refuses to denounce tor­ture, it is com­plicit in it. If the pro­fes­sional asso­ci­a­tion gives them a plat­form to speak of how tor­ture is “effec­tive treat­ment”, they invite it to con­tinue. THIS IS UNETHICAL.

        While it is accu­rate to say BCBAs have *an* eth­ical code, calling it *strong* is a com­plete false­hood. You can’t even call their code ade­quate without lying. If BCBAs had an ade­quate eth­ical code (not even strong, just the bare min­imum required to uphold human rights) , tor­ture would be strongly con­demned and the people per­forming it stripped of their cre­den­tials and black­balled from the pro­fes­sion. If they had an ade­quate eth­ical code, the pri­or­i­ti­za­tion of the *ser­vice recipent’s* needs/best inter­ests over that of any other person/entity defined as “client” would be explic­itly stated. Honestly, calling their ethics guide­lines neg­li­gent would be far more accu­rate.

  9. Many spexisp edu­ca­tion teachers are crying out for ABA in class­room. There’s a plethorabod articlar in which they state they’re tired of being beaten up and groped. Several teachers have filed law­suits and pressed charges against stu­dents because this is the only pro­tec­tion they have. What is the alter­na­tive that can pro­tect these teachers? Are daily restraints a viable alter­na­tive?

    1. Carol, it does not sur­prise me, at all, that you are a pro­po­nent of ABA. I hope that you are not in edu­ca­tion. You’re the problem, Carol. And what is a plethorabod articlar?

  10. Your article is inac­cu­rate regarding many facets of ABA. I felt com­pelled to write a response to hope­fully clear some ABA mis­con­cep­tions here.

    https://medium.com/@apakutz/aba-is-not-dog-training-for-children-a-behavior-analyst-weighs-in-ff875abff21?source=friends_link&sk=c94fc3abe20a3fe62a2911fd7f823766

    I’d encourage you to read what an actual behavior ana­lyst has to say about your dog training / ABA com­par­ison. Wishing you all the best!

    1. Geez, Amanda, we get it — you like ABA. You don’t have to spam!

      1. Did you read it at least? Because it’s pretty good, it’s rea­son­able and well argued.
        And no, i’m not a big fan of ABA.

        1. I read it. It’s ableist crap. To me the money line was:

          “We accept chil­dren for who they are, but what harm is there in teaching behav­iors that will help a child in an often judge­ment and some­times close-minded society?”

          So, in other words, the article linked (over and over and over) by Amanda Catherine admits the main point of Millman’s article, that the focus of ABA is on making autistic people act neu­rotyp­ical to cater to an ableist society.

          Amanda fur­ther out­right ADMITS that ABA does not focus on emo­tional well-being, meaning that things like meeting chil­dren’s basic needs is unim­por­tant no matter how mis­er­able these behav­ioral inter­ven­tions may be making the clients (if we define the clients as autistic children/adults) and how little it might be doing to address the causes of socially unac­cept­able behavior. As long as the clients *act* right (i.e. neu­rotyp­i­cally), the job is done as far as ABA is con­cerned.

          There’s also a fun­da­mental dis­con­nect in that Amanda works with adults while Carol Millman is addressing ABA for chil­dren, who have very dif­ferent capac­i­ties and com­fort levels in advo­cating for them­selves than adults who vol­un­tarily seek help in addressing a spe­cific task like a job inter­view or a date.

          Amanda also engages in a neat bit of straw­man­ning in saying: “Millman essen­tially says we should accept chil­dren for all their tantrums, mis­be­havior, and phys­i­cally aggres­sive behavior.” This is the false dichotomy that ABA pro­po­nents engage in all the time, that it’s either ABA or no therapy/intervention at all. What Millman actu­ally said is that focusing exclu­sively on changing behavior can come at the expense of well-being of the autistic person and that it’s best to try other approaches first such as meeting fun­da­mental needs.

          Also speaking of behavior, Amanda, do you think it’s socially accept­able behavior to spam a com­ment sec­tion over and over with the same link? Do you think it’s accept­able to lie about the posi­tion held by someone you dis­agree with? What kind of mod­i­fi­ca­tion does ABA pro­pose for this kind of rude, annoying, and intel­lec­tu­ally dis­honest behavior?

          1. No lies here, you can attack with ad hominem fal­lacies all you want. I’m merely trying to clear up some mis­un­der­stand­ings and present an alter­na­tive view of ABA and how it can help others. If you took time to read my article you would realize that the pur­pose of ABA is NOT to change an indi­vidual. The pur­pose of ABA is to teach socially sig­nif­i­cant behav­iors to poten­tially improve the quality of some­one’s life. Also, I did men­tion the four func­tions of behavior, which directly relate to a child’s basic needs. I agree that meeting a child’s fun­da­mental needs is impor­tant. As far as dealing with spam, a behav­iorist would rec­om­mend ignoring the extinc­tion bursts, which is what I plan to do now that an alter­na­tive per­spec­tive is out there. So feel free to do the same to me, thanks.

          2. What is “socially sig­nif­i­cant,” Amanda? That we be able to gaze into NT eyes of our creepy peers and smile through the dis­tress it causes? That we be reg­i­mented to go against the neu­rology of our brains and down­play the self-regulatory mech­a­nisms that keep us in our best state? That we “play” like a neu­rotyp­ical so people accept us, but we don’t accept our­selves? That we learn to tol­erate dis­tress with a smile? That we learn to need rewards from another person every behavior, even though the root of “autism” is “auto,” meaning “self” because we are self-motivated?

          3. Which therapy other than mental health ther­a­py­fo­cuses on emo­tional well­being? Occupational and phys­ical therapy can be hell for example but in the­long run it pays off. Many people are in pain and emo­tional tur­moil having to stretch limbs after surgery etc.

          4. Right… but in this case we’re talking about autism therapy. If autism therapy doesn’t help the autistic person, then how is it good therapy? Autistic people want to be com­fort­able and happy. ABA therapy is asso­ci­ated with high rates of PTSD and sui­cide.

          5. Author

            I also said that ABA does not aim to ensure the well being of the child and she somehow coun­tered with the argu­ment that the child’s feel­ings are out­side the realm of ABA.

            I do not feel dis­proven.

        2. If I’d read it, I’d only be encour­aging her mal­adap­tive behavior. When she starts com­mu­ni­cating like a person instead of a spambot, I’ll take her seri­ously.

    2. I have read both arti­cles thor­oughly as well as every com­ment, and I fail to see how your article con­flicts with this one. Your article lists methods that have been effec­tive in teaching pos­i­tive behav­iors. Millman also states that ABA is effec­tive in her first few para­graphs. The ques­tion that Millman addresses is whether the methods used are eth­ical.

      It would seem that you are defending your methods and use of ABA. Reading your article, it would seem that what you do is eth­ical, effec­tive, helpful, and con­sented to by able adults that are seeking skills they need in the real world. However, your work is not a com­pre­hen­sive rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all ABA therapy. What Millman is arguing is that the overall def­i­n­i­tion, direc­tion, and imple­men­ta­tion of ABA is not defined well enough to pre­vent the abu­sive use of its ther­a­pies. I don’t believe she is saying that all ABA needs to be stopped, but rather that it needs to be con­sid­ered as a whole to iden­tify the proper use of it.

      I’m not sure I ever went through ABA therapy because it was always just called therapy, but I can attest to the fact that nor­mal­ized behavior does not nec­es­sarily equate to a well-adjusted indi­vidual. By all accounts, I have been the epitome of what a cure for autism would look like. I have excelled in all of my classes through grad­u­ating col­lege. Since third grade, I have never done any of the problem behav­iors you refer to in your article as exam­ples of when ABA would be used. I have inter­viewed and received jobs without issues. I have super­vised and trained others in man­age­ment roles. I have excelled in careers. I own a house. I have done every­thing that would be expected of a typ­ical person my age and more.

      However, I always felt flawed, unwanted, and scared to show any­thing but per­fec­tion to those around me. I never showed my autistic side to friends or family. At 24 years old, I finally met someone I could feel safe with. She became my best friend and for the first time in my life, I did some­thing autistic in front of someone. And because I finally felt safe, I was able to do things I had never been able to do before. I was able to say hello to people I rec­og­nized without feeling scared. For years, I was forced to do things that ter­ri­fied me. I was not given skills, I was given tasks that had to be accom­plished. But when the under­lying fears (the emo­tions that you state are uniden­ti­fi­able) were finally resolved, progress came easily. It was easy to do the desired behav­iors because I had nothing holding me back from them. Maybe you can’t address what you are not qual­i­fied or trained to address, but this article is saying that you should at least try. If someone had tried with me, maybe I would have felt safer ear­lier. Maybe I would have made progress quicker if someone had tried to under­stand rather than just tried to get me to do “what I needed to learn to do.”

      This article is not saying that ABA is inef­fec­tive or needs to be aban­doned alto­gether. It is simply saying that maybe there is a better way. Maybe there are other things you can try as well. Maybe you are not get­ting the whole pic­ture. Rather than viewing this as an attack, try looking at it as a sug­ges­tion of how to improve what you are already doing. ABA can be effec­tive and ben­e­fi­cial, but that does not mean that there are no flaws with it or with how cer­tain people prac­tice it.

      1. Author

        If I could have one wish for autistic people I would wish non-autistic people could under­stand how much effort it takes for us to act like them, and how dam­aging it is to our emo­tional health in the long term.

        1. We do under­stand that it takes a lot of effort to “mask autism” and hon­estly I can write that a lot of us in the field are trying to change soci­etal per­cep­tions. The work that I do focuses on training employers to learn more about what envi­ron­mental changes and uni­versal design can help indi­vid­uals with autism feel more com­fort­able. I’ve also con­sulted with teachers, behav­ioral spe­cialist con­sul­tants, par­ents to try to help them under­stand how to pro­vide better envi­ron­ments for indi­vid­uals with autism, but many time envi­ron­mental improve­ments simply ben­efit everyone. I’ve said mul­tiple times, ABA ther­a­pists focus on changing the envi­ron­ment not the indi­vidual with autism. I’ve written a dif­ferent article I’m sharing below, once, if anyone would like to explore dif­ferent per­spec­tives.

          1. Can you pro­vide ANY sources to back up your claim that ABA focuses on changing the envi­ron­ment not the person? Because every ABA site dis­agrees with you.

        2. whether i’m autistic is up for grabs (40+ and a hyper­verbal white girl so nobody tested me as a kid, and the bipolar II/TBI/“yeah lithium/gabapentin/seroquel/20+ years of tremors” combo adds up to “maybe, but it’d be really hard to sep­a­rate out” as an adult).

          i am neu­ro­di­ver­gent enough that i’m never passing for NT and it’s less tiring social­izing now that I’m pretty much at “no, I’m not wasting my lim­ited spoon count on trying to ‘fake normal’ because for me this is normal”.

      2. Hi! I think this is a great response and I’m a believer in ABA. It is super impor­tant to always evolve and con­sider opin­ions and a dis­cus­sion. I think too thinking about some of the adults that may have expe­ri­enced it when they were younger is that ABA has changed A LOT over the years. A lot of that old school ABA is not the norm any more and what I think most of the people here have a problem with. There is TONS of dis­cus­sion going on in the ABA world about not forcing kids to look people in the eye, not stop­ping chil­dren from stim­ming, etc. Many times people that work in ABA are trying to edu­cate others, including the par­ents of the chil­dren, that its ok for their child to stim or rock for­ward and back­wards. People stand there and sway side to side all of the time, so why is it an issue to sway back­wards and for­ward instead? Are there still people that make these mis­takes? Absolutely. Unfortunately in all pro­fes­sions that serve chil­dren there are going to be people that don’t do things cor­rectly.

    3. Amanda, there’s some­thing really big that you’re missing in all of this, which is (among other things), that the goals of ABA, and the goals of Autistics, are not the same. In fact they sit in oppo­si­tion to one another.

      I’ll see if I can illus­trate it a little below:

      1. You said, “ABA methods are used in var­ious ways to increase or decrease the like­li­hood cer­tain behav­iors occur in var­ious edu­ca­tion, social, and voca­tional set­tings.”
      — Autistic people want you to con­sider the idea that this isn’t nec­es­sary.
      — Autistic people want you to con­sider the idea that this is ableist.
      — Autistic people want you to con­sider the idea that this can be harmful to autistic people.
      — Autistic people want you to con­sider the idea that the ABA ther­a­pist’s goals, or those of NT par­ents, might sit in direct con­tra­dic­tion to the goals of the autistic indi­vidual.

      2. You’ve made it clear that you are working solely with adults. This is totally dif­ferent to working with chil­dren. Adults can give con­sent. They get to set their own goals or agree to yours. They get to com­mu­ni­cate when things aren’t okay for them in the ther­a­peutic process. While your work with them might be eth­ical and caring, if you can imagine what that would look like if it were forced on your clients, the goals were deter­mined without their input, and they were silenced or ignored if they protested. The latter is what chil­dren and young people expe­ri­ence under ABA.

      3. You say “ABA does not employ inter­ven­tions based on any person’s per­ceived emo­tions.”
      — Why not?
      — You seem to be expressing that you see emotions/feelings as behav­iours. This out­dated view is straight out of the rad­ical behav­iourist hand­book.
      — The omis­sion of con­sid­er­a­tion for a per­son’s emo­tions leaves the therapy open to uneth­ical prac­tices, with com­plete dis­re­gard for the emo­tions of the par­tic­i­pant, by your descrip­tion, being totally per­mis­sible.
      — ABA, within its model of dis­creet trials and “empir­i­cally based behav­ioral obser­va­tions”, has room to account for the emo­tional impacts of the therapy.
      — It is rea­son­able to expect that a ther­a­pist would take into account the emo­tional state of an indi­vidual when assessing responses to any therapy.
      — Nobody is saying you have to study, work on or fix the emo­tions of your client, only that basic human empathy should be an essen­tial ele­ment to your therapy. That is, if your therapy upsets the client, then the therapy needs to be dropped or mod­i­fied.

      4. The eth­ical expec­ta­tions as out­lined in the ABA code of ethics does not insist upon having empathy for clients. The code of ethics for dog trainers does require trainers to be empa­thetic towards their ani­mals. This is the core mes­sage of the orig­inal article. You seem to have missed it alto­gether.

      5. “So what dic­tates whether a behavior is socially sig­nif­i­cant or not?” “Socially sig­nif­i­cant behav­iors improve the life expe­ri­ences of an indi­vidual.”
      — Autistics want you to under­stand that they don’t usu­ally get to decide what are socially sig­nif­i­cant behav­iours in their lives. Instead, ther­a­pists and well meaning family mem­bers usu­ally pater­nal­is­ti­cally tell them what needs to be worked on. Often this is done at the expense of every­thing else in the indi­vid­u­al’s life, including edu­ca­tion and well­being, all to meet someone else’s behav­ioural require­ment
      — For autis­tics, this is a dehu­man­ising and dis­em­pow­ering expe­ri­ence, often leading to learned help­less­ness and PTSD.
      — Autistics also don’t gen­er­ally get to have any influ­ence over their envi­ron­ments. There is very little, if any, give and take. Autistics are usu­ally required to modify them­selves to fit in, instead of having their needs met.
      — Autistics want you to under­stand that often, what you might class as socially sig­nif­i­cant behav­iours, are nec­es­sary for the autistic indi­vidual to mod­erate their own ner­vous system, anx­i­eties or sen­sory prob­lems. Being forced to sup­press those behav­iours can cause a great deal of internal dis­tress, resulting in such long term prob­lems such as cor­tisol dys­reg­u­la­tion, chronic fatigue, height­ened anx­iety and much more.
      — All of the above is ulti­mately expected in order to make NTs feel more at ease around autis­tics. Autistics want you to under­stand that this is not rea­son­able or equi­table.

      I was going to say more about the lan­guage in your article, and how you inevitably dehu­manise the autistic indi­vidual as someone whose feel­ings you don’t have to worry about in your ther­a­peutic model, but hope­fully the above says enough about that.

      Please have this as your take­away mes­sage — ABA, by def­i­n­i­tion, lacks empathy. Your article lacks empathy. Your responses lack empathy. Autistics deserve better, and they are asking you to do better. Their opin­ions about their expe­ri­ences matter more than your opin­ions about their expe­ri­ences. I hope one day you under­stand all of this.

        1. Amanda, in all of the times that I have enacted vio­lence throughout lit­er­ally my entire life, it has been after someone (not nec­es­sarily the person I am vio­lent to) has enacted behav­iour to me that is not only ABA-like, but for all intents and pur­poses might as well be ABA.

          I do not give two shits about your arti­cles. I am autistic, and the times when I have been sub­jected to things that would be called ABA today…

          Let us just say there is a reason why I fre­quently wish I could go back in time and fatally injure some people who abused me during my child­hood. Teachers. My own parental units. Just to name a few.

          I have a vision of an Autism Civil Rights Act. It is based on what it would take for me to feel safe in my own home, nay, in my own SKIN, around people like you. A world where people like you can be thrown in prison for even saying the word “autism”, and not get out until you con­vince a panel of autistic people including ones in a sim­ilar sit­u­a­tion to me that we are safe around you, is just for starters. In a world where I feel as safe as you appar­ently take for granted, the staff of the Judge Rottenberg Centre would be dead, and I would have carte blanche to shoot people like you in the head without so much as a “please explain” from the author­i­ties.

          That is how far people like you have been allowed to push the autistic.

          Autistic people either vio­lently oppose ABA, or they are the autistic equiv­a­lent of some­thing black people call by a deri­sion that rhymes with the phrase “mouse rig­gers”. That is lit­er­ally all there is to it. A world where the autistic no longer have to wake up screaming “help, help, Hillary Clinton is coming to get me” is one where people like you are seg­re­gated and con­tained away from people like me. Or what you might call “worse”.




  11. What is missing from your article is your def­i­n­i­tion, or plural def­i­n­i­tions, of ABA and its appli­ca­tion in the field of autism. Applied Behavioral Analysis is a field SCIENCE. It is not a spe­cific method­ology. I don’t under­stand how you have a degree in psy­chology that didn’t encom­pass BF Skinner and the sci­ence of Applied Behavior Analysis.

    There are both good and bad appli­ca­tions ABA cloaked under the umbrella of the sci­en­tific field. Some of the most hor­rific abuses of people with autism and their fam­i­lies came from the field of psy­chology under the guise of ther­a­pies. In some cases, abu­sive “ther­a­pies” used the term ABA to lend legit­i­macy to the therapy.

    Because I had learned to train dogs using ONLY pos­i­tive rein­force­ment methods years my daughter was born, I was well equipped to teach her with pos­i­tive method­olo­gies from legit­i­mate ABA sci­ence. The key to sound ABA teaching method­olo­gies is to give pos­i­tive rein­force­ment for offered behav­iors. It must be fun, or the stu­dent won’t par­tic­i­pate. This puts an added burden on the teacher to engage the stu­dent. I have used singing and musical instru­ments to engage stu­dents with autism who like music. It’s easily rec­og­nized as ABA method­ology where the musical response is a nat­ural pos­i­tive rein­force­ment.

    So, when you and some other par­ents who have a neg­a­tive reac­tion to ABA, are you talking about the entire field of the sci­ence of ABA or spe­cific method­olo­gies? If you refer to spe­cific method­olo­gies, are any of those prac­tices that involve exclu­sive use of pos­i­tive rein­force­ment?

    1. Hi, a few things: Even through grad school in psy­chology, Skinner is a punc­tu­a­tion mark in a single chapter in a single course. He doesn’t fit in the APA Ethics Code except for some trauma ther­a­pies with ADULTS if they con­sent.

      If you’re in mar­keting, how­ever, you can get lots of Skinner. His tech­niques are good to get people to engage in behav­iors whether or not they’re good for the person.

      In fact, the entire gam­bling industry is based on Skinner’s methods. You can get impres­sion­able people to do a lot of things!

      Using mixed methods teaching is not ABA. Using music because a kid likes music to edu­cate is not the same thing. Did you read the damn article? Is it not abun­dantly apparent that the author has done her research?

  12. AhJohn here (u.k.) 72-diagnosed Asp at 68. In order to ‘con­form’ (ages 0- 13 in par­tic­ular) I wonder if (from 1947–1961 if I was sub­jected to an ‘ABA’ mild type of con­di­tioning :- a Norland Nanny-strict feeding/sleeping rou­tines= a ‘playpen-treated like a dog?!-well not quite,+ later 3 AuPair ‘girls’, and lim­ited con­tact with Mother. Later still it was strict boarding school-low marks in all sub­jects except Music (I’m a music savant)-with small classes=intense teaching, and a very strict musical training (resulting in effi­ciency but lim­ited expression-however I am over? empathic strangely). Be really glad if anyone can respond /comment. Thanks Ahjohn.

    1. AhJohn, I think any kind of strict “training” that focuses on changing the core of someone could be con­sid­ered like ABA. And yes, most of us are overly empathic. Do you think that this kind of envi­ron­ment sti­fled your cre­ativity and dam­aged your poten­tial?

      And, do you com­pose?

      1. I used to have whole sym­phonies buzzing round in my head ‑but too fast to write down-all dried up now. I think they came at ‘dream speed’! Ac tually I got into the pro­fes­sion as a bit of a fluke as the training was rather mechan­ical. Thanks for your interest Terra.

  13. Ok. there is some­thing here I don’t think anyone has pointed out. This article seems to make the assump­tion that the TRAINER is the one in charge. They’re not, the parent / owner is. It’s true, almost everyone that goes into animal training or clin­ical psy­chology do it with a deep love for the sub­jects the work with. The same can’t be said of all par­ents / owners and they are the ones in posi­tion of ulti­mate con­trol.

    Parent / owner comes in. They want the sub­ject mod­i­fied to please them. Trainer refuses based on eth­ical rea­sons. What do you think is going to happen? Well the person will likely leave in a huff, leave a nasty neg­a­tive review that’ll hurt the influx of cur­rent clients, and run off and find someone with less scru­ples OR they will just LEARN TO DO IT THEMSELVES. Too many hits like this and while the trainers might still be eth­ical they’ll def­i­nitely lose some of their liveli­hood. So who has the power here? The trainer or those that modify the trainers’ behavior with the incen­tive of $$$$$?

    People modify ani­mals GENETICALLY to suit their needs without any con­cern for what it does to their men­tality, “purse dogs” comes to my mind, next are cer­tain “therapy dogs” who sole pur­pose is to exist as secu­rity blan­kets or anx­iety sponges for their owner. Some chil­dren are born with even LESS respect than an animal gets, yet the people who have genetic ties with it are typ­i­cally the ones that start out with the most con­trol­ling interest no matter how uncaring they are.

    (could rant for another 2 pages but I’ll stop here)



  14. Unfamiliar with this sub­ject but a very inter­esting read. So, def­i­n­i­tions need to be changed and there def­i­nitely needs to be reg­u­la­tions put in place for the things men­tioned above. If the reg­u­la­tions fit to comply with more eth­ical stan­dards, would ABA be a suit­able therapy for people with a diag­nosis? Also, I’m curious how ABA dif­fers from public school where kids are forced to sit still and work (ref­er­encing their “needs” as men­tioned above). There are set sched­ules of when they can learn and when they can play but each kid should be indi­vid­u­ally tai­lored to their own needs. If not, is this uneth­ical to the stan­dards of the article above? Great work btw. I can’t even grasp how much work was put into this 👍🏻

    1. Re: public school, I’ve seen sev­eral teachers talk about man­aging autistic kids in class. Autistic kids, and any kids with spe­cial needs, will have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that is specif­i­cally designed to address things like this. For instance, one autistic person has described how their teacher, when noticing they were on the edge of a melt­down, sent them out to run around the playground/gym. Some teachers/schools des­ig­nate a quiet space/room where an autistic kid who is dealing with sen­sory over­load can get up and go to when they need quiet for a while.

      So the short ver­sion is: ABA dif­fers from (good) public schools because (good) public schools do take into account the needs of the kid and create and indi­vidual plan for helping the kid get what they need while con­tin­uing their edu­ca­tion.

      This system doesn’t always work. Some par­ents abuse the IEP system on behalf of their kids, and some schools don’t have the resources to give kids what they need, and some teachers don’t want to work with kids who have spe­cial needs. But it works a good part of the time and there are alter­na­tives in place (like schools specif­i­cally for spe­cial needs kids) if it doesn’t.

      My kid is autistic and has an IEP. Every year I, his main teacher, his spe­cial needs teacher, and his advisor all sit down and review it, with a focus on what is the best way to address *his needs*. Yes, he needs ot keep up with school work, but (for instance) when I went to the teacher ear­lier this year about a spe­cific problem he is having with writing assign­ments, she said that since he is doing well on writing assign­ments (mostly 100%s) but since they are such a struggle for him, she’s excusing him from a bunch of assign­ments so we can spend more time on each assign­ment. This way he isn’t as stressed out and rushed. That is a change specif­i­cally addressing his emo­tional needs, he clearly doesn’t need it to meet the class­room goal — he was already meeting it.

      So yes, the public school system has a set up designed to help autistic and spe­cial needs kids in a way that is eth­ical by the stan­dards of this article. Not every school or teacher is able or willing to abide by that set up, but it exists and when the stan­dards aren’t met, there are ways to address the issue, either by going to higher authority to force the stan­dards to be met or by moving the kid to another envi­ron­ment.

      ABA pro­po­nents insist that there *is* no other option, that nothing else has been proven effec­tive, and it’s ABA or nothing.

      Re: changing ABA… I have a very knee jerk reac­tion against ABA at this point. But I think that is ABA shifts in the ways out­lined in this article and begins incor­po­rating other cog­ni­tive behav­ioural approaches when appro­priate, that I would be willing to re-evaluate my opinion.

  15. Interesting article and per­spec­tive. Thank you for sharing! As someone who’s been heavily involved in both the vet­eri­nary field as well as working with chil­dren on the spec­trum, I always find it valu­able to take in per­spec­tives from those who have dif­ferent expe­ri­ences, espe­cially regarding ABA and behav­ioral mod­i­fi­ca­tion. I think one thing everyone can agree on (hope­fully) is that we all share a common com­pas­sion for improving the lives of people, their pets, and fam­i­lies. Keep up the great work!

  16. Fantastic article, Carol, and so very much appre­ci­ated by this autistic, mom, teacher, and some­times writer.

    Always love your work.

  17. This def­i­nitely an opinion of ABA and not fac­tual infor­ma­tion. The well being of the humans in therapy is of the utmost impor­tance! Additionally Lovaas, is not the father of ABA and it is based off the philo­soph­ical view of deter­minism, which formed behav­iorism. The prin­ci­ples are sci­en­tif­i­cally sound and the same as gravity if you will. Everything you do is a behavior and all of them are rein­forced or pun­ished by others or the envi­ron­ment everyday! It is lit­er­ally why you do the things you do.

  18. I think I get it. Say there’s a kid in a class­room who every day yells “AAAAAAAAA!!” There are lots of legit­i­mate and non-legitimate rea­sons to want a stu­dent to not yell in class. So the teacher pun­ishes the kid when they yell. The teacher gives the kid praise or a candy for every day they don’t yell. But the teacher never looks into the fact that the kid yells because the other kid in the row behind them just spat on the back of their head. The teacher has taught the kid to sit there qui­etly while someone spits on the back of their head. The teacher has taught the kid that yelling is worse than spit­ting. The teacher has taught the kid that teachers will not help them with their prob­lems. The teacher has also taught the both kids that spit­ting on people is okay.




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