A white boy looking up and to the right looking concerned, sitting on the floor with his hands around his knees/legs, and a therapist sitting in a chair behind him staring at him with a clipboard. The poster next to the therapist says "autism?"

A Mother’s Fight Against Court-Ordered ABA37 min read

Editor’s Note: Due to the sen­si­tive nature of the con­tent pub­lished here, the writer of this article wishes to remain anony­mous to pro­tect the pri­vacy of her chil­dren. Beyond rea­son­able due dili­gence, the edi­tors at The Aspergian have fact-checked the claims made in this article by viewing court doc­u­ments, med­ical records, police reports, email exchanges with law enforce­ment, and other rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion ref­er­enced herein.

Content Warning: This story con­tains infor­ma­tion detailing sexual abuse, domestic vio­lence, emo­tional abuse, and child abuse.  Reader dis­cre­tion advised.

Hollywood and Shattered Dreams

I’m a Brit expat living in California. I moved out here alone when I was 27 to chase a dream and to run away from a dif­fi­cult past. I changed my legal name and just started over.

But Hollywood is far from glam­orous, and the industry it hosts is even less so.

I take people at face value, and I am far too trusting. I realize now I des­per­ately needed sup­port, and I guess in my vul­ner­able naivety, I thought a partner dou­bled up as a “carer” who would be the back­bone to my weak­nesses, and vice versa.

And my romantic notion was shat­tered into a thou­sand tiny pieces. I was taken advan­tage of, and after years of hor­rific domestic bat­tery, I’m finally living inde­pen­dently for the first time in my life.

For five years now, I have offi­cially lived without another adult, with my two chil­dren who solely depend on me. I’m free, and I’m thankful to be lib­er­ated from that brutal night­mare.

I was granted per­ma­nent res­i­dency on a visa due to being a victim of exces­sive domestic vio­lence here. I am ridicu­lously home­sick, but my mum died of melanoma skin cancer in 2012, and life back home has changed so much.

Fast for­ward to today. I’m a single parent in a country with no family, raising two autistic chil­dren com­pletely alone with not a dime of child sup­port, emo­tional sup­port, nor a present, active father-figure for my chil­dren — and you will still never hear me com­plain and moan about the direc­tion our life took.

When you’ve lived what I’ve lived — and I mean legit­i­mate horror, that I gave birth to my son with broken ribs — raising kids on the spec­trum is hardly pity-party-worthy. And yes, both my chil­dren are diag­nosed with Level 3 Autism.

Bold Activism

I decided to delve into autism advo­cacy within the court system after I was dragged through a con­tentious cus­tody battle by the mon­ster who abused us. This is a true story about how vul­ner­able par­ents and vul­ner­able chil­dren are pushed into exploita­tion, and how hard it is to fight their way out of it.

For example, a domestic bat­terer can get unmon­i­tored vis­i­ta­tions with a child in America as long as they com­plete a 52-week batterer’s inter­ven­tion class. It’s a bitter joke, and it makes a mockery of the entire legal system.

Patterns don’t change. One or two inci­dents can pos­sibly be repaired, but an offender with years of his­tory does not change. Atop this, my abuser had money. He went through six attor­neys attempting to get a 2−2−3 cus­tody arrange­ment.

How can this work for a child with need of order and rou­tine and pre­dictable rit­uals?

The system let us down. The system let down autistic chil­dren and bat­tered women, and it was that simple.

I had to take down six attor­neys in that court­room, two of whom were big-time Los Angeles law firm part­ners. I real­ized I had a skillset and the ability to put forth an argu­ment in ways others could not.

I real­ized I couldn’t be broken during cross-examinations, thanks to my rote approach of answering ques­tions. My hyper-focus during that court battle meant penal codes just stuck in my memory, much like my obses­sion with car number plates.

And if I could help my family through all that, I could help other fam­i­lies, too.

A Difficult Exodus

Getting away from this person had taken the life and soul out of my very being, leaving me deathly scarred by the most potent form of PTSD. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. I suf­fered with a des­perate fear for my children’s safety.

To think the legal system would allow such a person to attempt visits with and cus­tody of their child was hor­ren­dous to me. I do not care WHO made the child; abusers and rapists should not be allowed near them, period.

And with laws as they are, women like me must face our abuser over and over again in the legal system, and be taunted by their very pres­ence and the sheer terror at the poten­tial that he will repeat the abuse on our child.

That is NO life for a child.

And because of this, I will make it my life’s mis­sion to lobby against laws which endanger our most vul­ner­able.

An Unexpected Pregnancy

What I am about to tell you is very hard for me to share.

As of this past June 15, I am now legally free to talk about this pub­licly. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t, but these things should be shared regard­less of other people’s opin­ions. One must expose injus­tice, but it wrenches at my heart, talking about it.

When I found out I was preg­nant with my son four weeks in, I hadn’t been sex­u­ally active in months. I was so con­fused. I was in a seri­ously harmful domestic vio­lent rela­tion­ship, and was making plans dis­creetly with my brother to return home to England.

What people need to know is that leaving an abuser is the most dan­gerous time in an abu­sive rela­tion­ship, and this person had already taken reck­less mea­sures on my life to stop me from leaving him.

Learning of my preg­nancy changed every­thing. This man was never going to let me leave to another country, not now I car­ried his child. I couldn’t risk my baby being hurt phys­i­cally in my womb, used as revenge against me.

Yes, many people told me to have an abor­tion. That deci­sion preyed on me, and what it would have done to my mental health espe­cially at that time to have made that par­tic­ular choice.

I do not judge any other woman’s choice, ever, and we all have rea­sons for making the choices we do. I just had to figure out a way to keep my child safe in this world.

More than 18 months ago, in 2017, a bold com­puter tech came for­ward and sub­mitted evi­dence from a com­puter he had been asked to repair, hurling me into a mas­sive police and D.A. inves­ti­ga­tion which esca­lated to the level of the California Attorney General’s involve­ment.

Evidence showed that I, along with 5 other women, had been sex­u­ally assaulted while uncon­scious. And this mon­ster had filmed and pho­tographed his heinous acts.

Life After Rape

Woman holding her baby in an over-the-shoulder hold.

Nobody tells you that when you choose life after rape, the offender might attempt to get cus­tody of your child.

The cus­tody case and the crim­inal case were sep­a­rate. Rape alle­ga­tions are hearsay until suc­cessful crim­inal pros­e­cu­tion, so the family law case kept going. I had to face my rapist in a court­room monthly to advo­cate for my son’s rights. I had to cross-examine my rapist as a self-representing lit­i­gant with no money.

This was not the first time my abuser had raped me. Sexual abuse is a major part of the cycle in domestic vio­lence. It was simply the first time of my learning it had been done in my sleep, too, while I was on heavy anx­iety med­ica­tion fol­lowing the death of my mum.

Our family law judge had already found this man cred­ible as a per­pe­trator of domestic bat­tery and rape, but the latest alle­ga­tions of SIX women made the other ‘parent’ a serial offender, and nobody, even me, could quite process that he had that level of psy­chopathy.

I would do any­thing for my son to have a loving, caring, and pos­i­tive fatherly role model, but unfor­tu­nately that just wasn’t the way our cards were dealt. And now I am ter­ri­fied to date again. In fact, I barely leave the internet, as I fear even being approached by a man in real life.

I have hor­ren­dous injuries from the rela­tion­ship, which I allowed to heal nat­u­rally for obvious rea­sons to most par­ents. I would never be able to explain those wounds to a new partner. I am still mas­sively affected by these events. I feel my son was robbed of a real and gen­uine daddy, and it tears me up inside.

And this is where the painful path of ABA began.

Court-Ordered ABA

My son was diag­nosed with autism during cus­tody pro­ceed­ings.

At diag­nosis here, the children’s hos­pital gives par­ents an Autism Speaks First 100 Days kit, which imme­di­ately indoc­tri­nates all par­ties that these people are the offi­cial stamp for autism aware­ness and accep­tance, and that the blue jigsaw piece is the rec­og­nized symbol of autism and autistic pride.

Few people ques­tion this, if any. Why would we ques­tion a doctor who knew so much about our child’s signs? Most people walk into diag­nosis without any pre­dic­tion of the out­come, I’m sure.

We were referred to a list of ther­a­pies, including ABA.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) was exactly that in my mind: the appli­ca­tion of analysing behavior. Otherwise, why call it so? I am a lit­eral autistic thinker.

My son was self-harming and awake all night, having the worst melt­downs. It broke my heart that I couldn’t help him or know how to make him feel better, calm, and happy. I did the best I could to phys­i­cally pro­tect him when he was melting down and self-harming.

I was mas­sively inex­pe­ri­enced, and he was trying to express some­thing I just didn’t under­stand.

If there were “experts” who could come into our life and observe my son’s reac­tions and demeanor, make an analysis of cause, and advise me what he was trying to express or accom­plish, then I was all for it.

I would’ve done any­thing to stop my son from hurting, and there was no doubt in my mind that he was in pain, whether it be phys­ical or emo­tional. I had a lot to learn, and I needed to know more to better help and to better under­stand my baby.

I just wanted to help my son, and therapy referral seemed like a log­ical step.

I now have the advan­tage of being able to view ABA through a parental lens and through an autistic lens.

The Push to Obtain Services

As a parent at the diag­nosis and in the weeks fol­lowing, I can tell you that the paper­work and push to do ABA and obtain ser­vices is the most over­whelming and over­bearing sce­nario, and blown com­pletely out of pro­por­tion to unnec­es­sary degrees.

I wish I had known then what I know now. I wish I knew why Autism Speaks gets to be the authority at doctor’s offices, and if they and the doc­tors are get­ting a kick­back for every ABA referral.

It Wasn’t a Choice

I have NO doubt that my own autistic nature made me a real sucker to pull in and exploit and manip­u­late. All I kept thinking is how I did not want to open my door to these ABA people EVERY DAY and chal­lenge my own com­mu­ni­ca­tion and social dif­fi­cul­ties, but I strug­gled saying NO.

My own anx­iety was through the roof with all the phone calls I was made to make for this non­sense. My exec­u­tive func­tion may as well have been drenched in gaso­line and slinking over a live flame.

Of course, my son was deemed “severe” at assess­ment.

Our home was encap­su­lated in high stress. These people wanted to come to my home for more than 25 hours per week. They were already telling me that when he turned 5, they would still be coming to my home 25 hours a week after he’d had sev­eral hours a day in school.

How was I going to get in the kids’ gro­ceries? How was I going to get our chores and every­thing else in our lives done? Where was the time for my children’s med­ical appoint­ments? Where were the accom­mo­da­tions for single par­ents?

And I was made to feel like a bad parent for even thinking this was too much. I was made to feel like a neglectful mother for even saying the hours were extreme. And these were “pro­fes­sionals” making me feel this way: people who are man­dated reporters, who could at any time report a parent for not doing what is in child’s alleged best inter­ests.

When you come between a busi­ness and their money, they are not above extreme mea­sures. The incen­tives ABA car­ries goes ridicu­lously high in the hier­ar­chical bound­aries of gov­ern­ment and busi­ness.

I know this, because former Regional Center workers move onto becoming Child Custody Investigator’s (CCI) in cour­t­houses. And the California Regional Center noto­ri­ously arranges ABA through mul­tiple orga­ni­za­tions.

A Lose-Lose Situation

Of course, our child cus­tody case reached into the neces­sity of a CCI, because courts have to earn money, too. Before I knew it, our child cus­tody inves­ti­gator was med­dling in our ABA ser­vices.

The judge on our case was stamping off on a court order which man­dated that I make my child avail­able for ABA ser­vices, BY LAW.

Why? Because father and child were to be reunited, and they decided that intro­ducing our now-two, going-on-three year-old son to his father for the first time since he was 4 months old was best accom­plished with some ‘parent training’ and autism under­standing.

The worse part? I agreed. That was a per­fect way to reunite, I imag­ined, because there would be other adults present… IF only that was the way it went.

Visitations and ABA

When it came to vis­i­ta­tions for my son, ABA was the better of two evils, given it was to take place with our former abuser. My hands were tied.

During all this being arranged, we had already started the ABA in my home, just my son and I… because no way could I have my autistic child be over­whelmed by TWO sets of strangers in one go. I needed him to feel com­fort­able with the ABA process before it took place with a stranger calling him­self “Dad.”

But what I saw take place was hor­ri­fying, and I just could not stand for my child to be hurt. When we say ABA is abuse, it’s not being dra­matic. I have lived the worst ABUSE, and not just in part­ner­ship, either. I was raised with cor­poral pun­ish­ment. It was believed my ADHD could be belted out of me with a strap.

So when we talk about abuse, people pic­ture extreme and hor­rif­i­cally obvious abuse. The truth is, many people have no clue what abuse looks like. I should know. A woman could be standing curb­side with a black eye and blood run­ning down her tem­ples, and people will still not accept that the person she accuses has abused her.

So put ABA into that pic­ture.

Therapists do not knock at the front door and announce, “Hey I’m here to abuse your kid today.” That is NOT how abuse presents. QUITE THE OPPOSITE. In our world today, as far as anyone is con­cerned, ABA is not abu­sive because people who admin­ister and sup­port ABA say it’s not.

The fact that every­body thinks ABA is so per­fect and charming is exactly how real abuse presents. But if some­thing appears too good to be true, take heed.

It prob­ably is.

It could be a man, a ser­vice, a spouse, or a ther­a­pist, and they muscle into your life and family beau­ti­fully– like part of the fur­ni­ture.

But start ques­tioning them or taking away their money and power, and watch that switch flip. This is when par­ents need to engage their instincts and pro­tect their chil­dren.

Compliance Training

ABA ther­a­pists would pull out a chair to our dinner table and have my son push it back in. At first, I fig­ured they were just trying to see if he CAN do it. But they kept doing it over and over again. Then they’d mess up his lined-up toys to pro­voke him and prove he was “rigid” when their act would cause him to have a melt­down.

Then the goals became some­thing more in the vein of, “Stop this autistic child from wanting to do the same thing over and over, the same way each time.” Why? To what end? He wasn’t hurting anyone.

This is stan­dard ABA pro­tocol, to train the autism out of kids.

I wish more par­ents would just ask that very simple ques­tion: Why?

Yes, behav­iors are rigid. Yes, there is some patho­log­ical demand avoid­ance, but making a child push in a chair over and over and over again is not “tough love” of the oh-well-kid,-things-change.-Deal-with-it variety.

They were TEASING him. Provoking him. Plain and simple.

This wasn’t teaching my son life skills or how to stand up for him­self, but how to be a future victim of bul­lying, as we autis­tics are already sta­tis­ti­cally likely to be.

It was bul­lying him to teach him to get used to it.

Their idea was to then take away his secu­rity blanket, and he could earn back his “sym­bolic womb” by NOT get­ting upset over his lined-up trains being turned back-to-front.

He was two, and that blanket was his world since birth, the only thing at that stage that was com­forting to him to cuddle him and make him feel safe, as he rejected human touch.

Young child sleeping in a soft blanket holding a bottle of milk.

And they used it to make him per­form against his nat­ural wiring. They took it from him and forced it from his clutch. I inter­vened and got “written up.” Seriously. We par­ents get warn­ings, too.

Puppeteers.

He wasn’t allowed to com­mu­ni­cate with ther­a­pists until they had “set up” and were ready for him. All chil­dren get excited to show things to known grown-ups entering the home, but the ther­a­pists would ignore him. I would inter­vene and tell them how my son was just trying to show them his toy car, and they would pre­tend I had not spoken, either.

It was the most uncom­fort­able and strictest type of “therapy” I had known. I was infan­tilized, and he was expected to behave beyond his devel­op­mental capacity. The irony is wor­ri­some.

Bear in mind my daughter was on a heart mon­itor for two years and with gross motor delays, so I was very well-acquainted with both phys­ical and occu­pa­tional ther­a­pies. This ABA seemed dis­mis­sive of the human being who was my son, and my home became a cold and unwel­coming space when­ever they were present.

When he was finally allowed to show them a toy and com­mu­ni­cate (shouldn’t they be encour­aging that, by the way?), they would kneel to his level and keep moving their face with his face and very close to it as he avoided eye con­tact.

They would not respond to him until he had been forced to turn his eyes to theirs for approx­i­mately 5 sec­onds; then they would com­mu­ni­cate back.

They said I was ruining his chances of a healthy and suc­cessful future by asking that this stop.

My Second Write-Up

One morning, my son started to harm­fully stim, and the ther­a­pist pulled out her jotter to make notes, counting and timing how often he pounded his head into the floor. I jumped up and rushed over to pro­tect his face, absolutely livid.

The BCBA (board-certified behavior ana­lyst) was called in as an emer­gency, and I went bal­listic, telling her of my dis­gust at the reg­is­tered behavior tech­ni­cian (RBT) standing idly by. I was told I would need a second write-up for inter­fering with the process.

You know when you think you’re imag­ining some­thing because it’s so bizarre, and it takes some time to process what just hap­pened? Yeah, well, that’s how that morning went.

Apparently watching one inju­rious moment and let­ting it play out spares the rest. It’s like that little adage that its okay to kill one person if it saves ten more. What if that one time ended up with us in the ER, led to a seizure, or my son had a brain hem­or­rhage?

Pull and Tug

Then came the day when there was a pull and tug over my son’s blanket, and he wasn’t backing down, so they yanked harder. He hit the ther­a­pist, and then she grabbed on his arm.

DONE.

Get out of my home.

I thought my son can learn soon enough about life when he gets to preschool and sees real-life reper­cus­sions with kids his own age. Teaching him now with an adult in unnat­ural sit­u­a­tions won’t be absorbed.

very sad little boy

It’s com­pletely coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, and making him earn his own blanket was bar­baric. Ignoring him while he kept trying to get their atten­tion, and then meeting his phys­ical com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a phys­ical reac­tion, was ABUSE.

Get out of our life.

I charged into the court cham­bers, citing our judge to be in vio­la­tion of the ADA for ordering ABA for the sole pur­pose of parent reuni­fi­ca­tion, and demanded he reverse his orders. I told him the ADA was bigger than he and the entire cour­t­house put together, and this order was not in line with my son’s rights.

I knew the judge had likely never read the Judicial Spectrum Primer, which I had studied for kicks, and I knew he had no time to refer to the ADA to dis­prove my alle­ga­tions of him. It’s fair to say I am not — still to this day — this judge’s favorite person.

But he has also never ruled against my favor since then. So his opinion of me is hardly world-breaking. I knew I was lim­ited in how long I could buy time on this, espe­cially after now aggra­vating this pow­erful man of law who clearly needed to assert his dom­i­nance over me. But my son was non­verbal and too young to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tively in other ways, as he does now.

And so long as my son could not tell me what he’d seen or expe­ri­enced, even through art or sign lan­guage, then I couldn’t risk my son being left alone with his abu­sive “father” and a second ABA agency, away from me. Definitely not now.

I might have gone over­board on buying time, avoiding finding a second agency. But did my son not deserve a rest?

Apparently not.

Contempt of Court

So that spring of 2016, I found myself held in con­tempt of court, and it was one of the scariest expe­ri­ences I have ever lived through. But I would do it again if I had to pro­tect my child. That judge was so angry as he blew up at me ver­bally, I’m sure I felt the chamber tables shake.

To cut a long story short, I fired the first ABA agency with every will­ing­ness to believe it was just an abu­sive agency, and an abu­sive bunch of exploita­tive ther­a­pists, and not the ABA itself. And because I was court-ordered to find another agency, I was held in con­tempt for “blocking father” from visits.

I hired another agency as ordered and started our prac­tice run at my home all over again.

When the Wave Breaks

I’m sure people thought I was an over­bearing mother trying to make trouble for this man who just wanted to be in his son’s life, but I knew it was only a matter of time before he snapped and revealed his true colors. I was right. Thank God.

Though it came at a very, very heavy cost.

Under the judge’s orders, my son was harmed. I was right, and the court system was wrong. My son had to endure months of police inter­views this time last year regarding the case involving our abuser. The worse part is that the rape case became entan­gled with abuse involving the second ABA agency, which I will explain shortly.

But I am far from done with making the people respon­sible pay, because my son was put through unnec­es­sary abuse on every level, and ABA were present during some of the worst parts. Am I sup­posed to think it’s just another bad agency?

How many bad agen­cies must we go through before we can all agree these are just money-making vul­tures?

Self-Doubt

I blamed myself for a stressful preg­nancy and how I had been unable to nurse my boy past two months, because I had been phys­i­cally bat­tered so badly that my milk soon became green due to internal bleeding.

I knew my stress had likely had some impact, and while much of the preg­nancy was spent des­ti­tute, and bouncing between var­ious bat­tered women’s shel­ters, it didn’t ease the burden I felt. It really chal­lenged my autistic nature, having to go and live with strangers, over and over again, for our safety.

Plus, if someone dan­gerous is deter­mined to find you, they will, espe­cially since bat­tered women adopting names isn’t as easy as it was prior to September 11.

Without Choices

I blamed myself for being in that predica­ment and for it bearing on my off­spring. If I could ease my son of any internal or external suf­fering, I would have, because that would stop his need to self-harm. At least that is what my naivety assumed was the case. And that guilt ate away at me daily.

I can under­stand any parent starting ABA with no former knowl­edge of the therapy, and no word-of-mouth advice from autistic adults who had endured such ther­a­pies, and other parent accounts from those who had wit­nessed them. I do not judge par­ents who simply follow doc­tors’ orders at one of the most chaotic and over­whelming times.

It hap­pens back to back. ABA comes with diag­nosis, as a package deal these days.

I did not have any feed­back, even if biased, before our first agency. It was all so new to me. And I had one friend in America, so it’s not as if I had a large net­work of con­tacts in real life to advise me. Even social media back then was pop­u­lated with friends from my schools in England.

I WISH, gen­uinely, I had known about Twitter and the autistic adults who could have advised me about ABA. I do not know if any­body on Twitter could have nec­es­sarily advised me how to pre­vent my son from self-harming to the extreme he was back then, or explain his very vio­lent middle-of-the-night wake-ups of the most heart-wrenching, brutal bat­tery of him­self. Especially as I do not upload public videos showing my son’s dis­tress.

And maybe I still would have been at my wit’s end about what to do, but I would have at least been able to talk about it and hear of other autis­tics’ harmful stims and have under­stood it all more. And that would have been price­less. Because at that point, no pro­fes­sional had been able to do that, either.

What Could It Do, Really?

It took me get­ting my own diag­nosis to under­stand that what I do to myself is no dif­ferent. It’s just that he was an autistic tod­dler, and my self-harm pre­sented dif­fer­ently, but it was aggra­vated by the same trig­gers.

And staying calm was para­mount, but not calmly onlooking or taking notes for goals as ABA did, or grab­bing a cell phone and making a sen­sa­tional Facebook video for “the cause” or for YouTube fame.

It’s a fal­lacy to think one can stop this harm without inter­vening phys­i­cally. This isn’t the Three Little Pigs, and brick houses won’t solve the issue. It’s not a fairy­tale. Pragmatic realism needs to be applied. But diving on top of a child and phys­i­cally restraining them pinned to the floor is cer­tainly not the answer.

ABA ignoring a tod­dler trying to com­mu­ni­cate isn’t the answer, either.

Padding the wall with your own body, com­pres­sion of your child’s arms safely against their body sides while you rock, or just hold them to calm the emo­tions, is a very simple and effec­tive way.

Because if you don’t start while they are young, you’ll be the pan­icked par­ents on YouTube with videos of your adult off­spring in dis­tress, being plas­tered over vul­tures’ Twitter pages to push an anti-neurodiversity agenda.

But you def­i­nitely don’t pub­lish those pic­tures of bruising or wounding caught while saving your child’s head. That is not a parent respecting their child. Not at all. That’s exploita­tion and shaming of a med­ical con­di­tion.

It is one thing doc­u­menting an inci­dent once a child is calm, for pur­poses of a diag­nosis and to show doc­tors. But par­ents calling their autistic child “domestic bat­terers” makes my blood boil.

Our chil­dren do not inten­tion­ally hurt us; our abusers do. Autistic chil­dren are not abusers.

ABA Agency #2

The second ABA agency we began with seemed nice enough and not nearly as strict as the other agency. I was very relieved.

It was a refreshing change until I saw the neg­a­tives in leniency were just as bad as the strict. Therapists would ask if, instead of my can­celling a ses­sion when we had pending appoint­ments else­where, they could just turn up, set their log-in timer, and then leave with my sig­na­ture of ser­vice.

It was insur­ance and timesheet fraud, and they just turned up and put me on the spot, and I felt awful and pres­sured.

I saw reality when I tried to report them to insur­ance who were paying for ser­vices. But our spe­cific insur­ance LCSW wouldn’t put it through to insur­ance inves­ti­ga­tions, and that’s when the penny dropped.

I put a stop to so many of the agency’s goals that I was a “dif­fi­cult client,” and they threat­ened to stop ser­vices. They thought I would be so scared of the judge on my case, I’d have to agree to their terms and to them turning up for my sig­na­ture without us having a ser­vice.

Essentially, they were right: I was afraid of the judge and had good reason to be. But they made a mis­take, threat­ening me.

It would all make sense if they all made a com­mis­sion, but I don’t have affir­ma­tive phys­ical proof of such yet. But at the time, you’re made to feel like such an awful parent for saying no to behavior therapy for your child.

This second agency’s answer to my son’s eloping was that all therapy ses­sions, for 3 hours straight, should stay cooped up inside of our home. They said if I was dri­ving, they would meet us at the super­market or park, but walking there for 15 min­utes was a no-go.

Calendar showing Monday-Friday where all days except for Wednesday are booked between 9:30am and 5-6pm.

And their answer to my son picking his skin off his face was to remove his fin­ger­nails. Are we sensing a pat­tern here? I can hear anti-neurodiversity critics (anti-NDs) at this stage decry how per­haps ABA just isn’t meant for very high-needs autis­tics.

They’ll say any­thing to dis­credit our expe­ri­ence, but we are one of many thou­sands of fam­i­lies, not all with high-needs autistic chil­dren, who are hor­ri­fied by these ser­vices.

I am autistic. I rub the skin out across my chest until I become con­scious of doing it, usu­ally due to painful carpet-burn-type injuries. But it is com­pul­sive, so I move to rub­bing out my shoul­ders instead.

You could remove my hands, and I would still find a way to harm­fully stim on my chest and shoul­ders. ABA cannot stop harmful stim­ming.

They also requested that I put my older child in another room, alone, during the three to four hours each day after her schooling so she did not affect their training. My declining was not appre­ci­ated. They weren’t being paid for two kids, after all!

But what mes­sage would this send to my older child? You are not worthy, you are not impor­tant, you are a problem, too, but in a dif­ferent way. You go to soli­tary because we get no green bucks for you.

They enjoyed working in “Father’s” home much more.

And when that time came, I put them out so fast, they left behind their super­visor ABA hand­book. I’d like to see any REASONABLE indi­vidual dis­pute abuse after flicking through Skinner’s work used today.

Notebook of ABA guidelines with a table of contents and powerpoint slides on the next page.

It was only days after the second ABA tran­si­tioned to the other “parental” home that my son started to return home with huge, red, grated skin burns across his face. It took me more than a week to figure out that he was doing it to him­self, as he was calmer at home with me. Tics and com­pul­sive behavior ratchet up in inten­sity in times of high stress.

I can only assume it was dan­ger­ously high levels of anx­iety and stress while there. He had devel­oped this extremely notice­able throat clearing tic, too, which was hap­pening every 3–10 sec­onds a day, and in sync, he would do a quick swiping whoosh of his arm across his cheek.

His sweater rubbed out his skin after mul­tiple swipes. He couldn’t stop, either, regard­less of raw pain, and both the vocal and gross motor tics went for months without inter­rup­tion.

He had Tourette’s Syndrome added to his list of co-occurring con­di­tions. And I demanded to know why nobody, including so-called ABA ther­a­pists, were stop­ping my son from harmful stims or redi­recting them.

And you bet I took that to the judge, too, who ini­tially just thought I would try any­thing to paint “Father” as cur­rently abu­sive.

The Evidence

But when the evi­dence was brought forth of the uncon­scious sexual offenses the offender had doc­u­mented with video, there were more than five months’ worth of ques­tion­able pic­tures of my son undressed and on the toilet, exposed, during ABA at “Father’s” home.

The pic­tures spanned beyond typ­ical proud parent snaps or “first moments.” This dis­gusting evi­dence was the first I learned that ABA behavior tech­ni­cians were making my son remove his clothes and diaper in Fathers’ home.

When a person is under inves­ti­ga­tion for sex crimes, ABA should not be allowing all these pic­tures of nudity or watching it occur, and indeed not inviting the oppor­tu­nity. And I specif­i­cally requested no toi­leting or dressing in “Father’s” home, but they went over my head.

Not for nothing, but my son will now never use a public bath­room. His school has been very ded­i­cated to helping me, and for 12 months, we have tried many things, to no avail. It is in my son’s IEP.

And when­ever he is asked why he will not eat or use the bath­room for seven hours at school, he tells them, “People watch me.” And that’s in my son’s IEP, too. So those pro-ABA activists who blame me and our not being in ABA as the reason for my son’s bath­room avoid­ance can go suck an egg.

Yes, I one hun­dred per­cent blame that second ABA agency for that trauma and lack of progress. When pro-ABAers shamed me for my son not using a bath­room, saying ABA fixes that, I had to take a social media break so as not to explode.

Because ABA CAUSED IT.

And vile bul­lies dis­cred­iting my son’s trau­matic expe­ri­ences are a reflec­tion of the ABA field’s dis­re­spect for autistic autonomy.

Furthermore, after police had been informed of sex crime evi­dence and raided said home for more, they found more than two dozen mar­i­juana plants being grown in the home ille­gally and without proper elec­trical care, nor child safety mea­sures.

It was a fire hazard, and the buds growing had a strong, notice­able, and unmis­tak­able stench.

ABA had failed to report it. With all of this evi­dence, of course the agency was sub­se­quently inves­ti­gated.

We see movies depicting hero cops, but I just could not trust the police depart­ment to inves­ti­gate and cross-examine the way I would. I know that sounds arro­gant, but I think I’ve earned it after get­ting a judge to reverse on his orders when most attor­neys can’t.

So strategy came into play. When you have a weak­ness and dis­ad­van­tage, espe­cially when you have the spe­cific learning dis­abil­i­ties I have, strategy is the only way through.

I made the ABA agency inves­ti­gate itself. I had the com­pli­ance officer do the basics, because I knew they would lie. All com­pa­nies inves­ti­gating them­selves will have each other’s backs.

I knew they would be com­pla­cent in thinking I had reported it to them because I was too naïve to know I could report them to author­i­ties. I knew they would be more open to me about their prac­tice of toi­leting and dressing.

A response to concerns the mother raised, basically saying that the agency isn't held responsible for anything and didn't do anything wrong.

And then I reported them, because I knew I now had two pieces of con­tra­dicting evi­dence. I had dis­cred­ited their nar­ra­tive before they even spoke a word to the police.

Sometimes we just have to take things into our own hands. It got the job done, and that is all I cared about.

Overlooking child abuse, child neglect, and child endan­ger­ment for fear of losing prof­itable busi­ness makes ABA one of the most uneth­ical lia­bil­i­ties a dis­abled child could be involved in… and this needs to change.

My Perspective on ABA

ABA is early inter­ven­tion, basi­cally helping to raise your child, but not in a nat­ural and warm parental way. It’s a processed and robotic reg­imen, and par­ents also receive parent training to rewire them and their nat­ural parental approach.

The whole family gets brain­washed and ther­a­pized, and it’s a million-dollar industry. Some par­ents see it as a break and respite, and are happy to allow their child’s exploita­tion because they get to nap or self-pamper, which of course they do deserve, as any parent does, but not at the expense of their child’s well­being.

I was alert and never in another room. They wanted me to leave the room or take a break, but I wouldn’t. They made me sign an agree­ment that I would never install a nanny cam without informing them, too. If there was a nan­nycam, it had to be turned off while they were there.  I hear this is a stan­dard prac­tice, by the way.

Ask your ABA ther­a­pist why you cannot install a nanny cam without noti­fying them.

There were other parts of the therapy they wanted me to be super inter­ac­tive in, which then impeded gen­eral life, espe­cially for two young, growing chil­dren.

Their whole life was ABA. Of course a child is excited when a ther­a­pist pulls out some Silly Putty and Play-Doh, and a matchbox car to hide in it — yeah that’s right, I know all their tricks!

But being stuck indoors working, “com­pli­ance training,” with a grown-up for 4–8 hours a day IS NOT A CHILDHOOD.

From the ABA guidelines notebook, Parent Training Manual, Chapter 3: Compliance Training.

From the ABA guidelines notebook: Steps for Gaining Compliance. 1. Deliver an instruction one time, and then pause and wait for the child to respond. - Goal is to teach the child to listen when you talk. 2. When the child begins to comply with the instruction, deliver specific praise ("I like the way you are going to get your shoes!"). 1) Refrain from using consecutive verbal prompts. When you give multiple verbal prompts, you may be accidentally teaching your child to ignore you unless you repeat yourself over and over.

They sent col­lege kids with little more than babysit­ting expe­ri­ence as our ther­a­pists. They weren’t par­ents, and they weren’t autism experts. I ques­tioned this imme­di­ately. The BCBA trained them and me. Why the middle person at all?

I had nat­ural parental warmth and con­cern, and they demanded Mama Bear stay gone.

Middle person is inten­tional. The RBTs are used as scape­goats each time any­thing goes “wrong,” and the RBTs who are par­ents them­selves seldom last.

It’s not the same as school ABA either. Those social media autis­tics sup­porting ABA have no clue what they’re talking about. You have to under­stand the psy­chology of ABA inten­tion­ally per­formed at client’s home.

Their safe place.

It’s easier to gain the child’s trust. They are “Mommy’s friend.” The child feels com­fort­able in their safe and nat­ural envi­ron­ment. But how com­fort­able is it when they must earn their OWN belong­ings?

It’s one thing to gain a new treat or reward from a parent for picking up child’s own trash, but a stranger making a tod­dler WORK to earn his own baby blanket is emo­tional abuse.

A baby's foot.

I am not refer­ring to UK ABA schools, of which I have no expe­ri­ence. I am ref­er­encing American public schools imple­menting 15–20-minute ther­a­pies one to three times per week.

Sorry, that’s not the same as the two lots of 3‑hour inten­sive ses­sions my son was forced into DAILY. I’m sure a whole school ded­i­cated to the cause is absolutely hor­rific, though, and to think the parent isn’t even there to safe­guard.

I would send my child into school with a watch securing a hidden cam, per­son­ally. I don’t care how pro­tec­tive anyone thinks that is, after all I have heard and now have seen.

The blogs from Americans who talk about ABA and praise it are often ref­er­encing neu­tral and edu­ca­tional envi­ron­ments and resources. It is NOT the same psy­chology.

While any behav­ioral therapy is harmful because it attempts to rewire nat­ural autistic ways, do not under­es­ti­mate the damage caused when prac­ticed inside a child’s own home.

People argue how ABA teaches life skills, and go on to detail their being code­pen­dent on a ther­a­pist instead of par­ents, or detail how a child is now doing some­thing a parent could have been teaching. Do they hear them­selves?

“My child can now put on his pants, thanks to ABA.”

“My child no longer thinks an oven is some­thing to climb into, because of ABA.”

And they are praising people who have less par­enting and autism knowl­edge than them­selves, and a therapy which was learned in less than two full days of screen time. It’s embar­rassing.

For me, though, it was the ABA con­cept that they must “push the child to their absolute limits so we know what goals to work on” which is crim­i­nally abu­sive. I cried when they did it, too. They tried to ensure me it was “just to see how bad he gets.”

Was my word not enough? We had more than 25 hours a week to plough through, and they couldn’t just wait for a nat­ural melt­down? I wasn’t sure what they were trying to see, either. Both agen­cies TEASED my child and humil­i­ated him to BREAK HIM.

No, I am not calling it a “tor­ture chamber,” as accused by the igno­rant, but I am calling it emo­tional abuse.

There is a little girl we know who’s still in ABA.  She was recently told she has a “dark heart” for having an upside-down smile.

And don’t even get me started on the non­sense of focusing on how a kid holds a pencil at age three like it’s a life-or-death sit­u­a­tion. And what can ABA do that a parent cannot? If anyone can answer that ques­tion, I am all ears, and so far, NOBODY CAN.

A child rubbing her eyes  and a woman writing in the child's notebook next to her.

Why, when autism fac­tors in, do par­ents sud­denly become incom­pe­tent?

If an ABA ther­a­pist can achieve some­thing which a parent appar­ently cannot, what in the world must they be doing to milk those achieve­ments?

ABA are nan­nies, but unpleasant ones, hired to raise a child in a cold and sys­tem­atic approach which does not come nat­u­rally to most loving and caring par­ents.

They come into the homes of chil­dren and uti­lize a “child’s nat­ural envi­ron­ment” to rewire them using their own toys, food, and com­fort as rein­force­ments to behave the oppo­site of an autistic person’s nat­ural dis­po­si­tion.

Teaching them to “get by” in life, by being someone they are not.

It is an invented therapy which appears to grasp at any­thing they can “work on.” Child likes to stare at a fan spin­ning? Oh, we can work on that goal. Child doesn’t like brushing his teeth? Oh, let’s make it a goal. Child pro­cras­ti­nates when choosing lunch? It’s a goal!

It is a myth that ABA ther­a­pists are pro­fes­sionals. The pro­fes­sionals are the BCBAs, and they visit only once a month for an hour. Ours spent the time asking me about my monthly Sephora sub­scrip­tion boxes.

It is a myth that a child wouldn’t be happy to go to ABA if it were abu­sive. Most abuse hap­pens before our eyes, and we don’t realise until later– and that is from an adult’s mind, who has expe­ri­ence.

The Nature of Abuse

I loved my abuser once with all my heart and sought approval from him. I thought I needed him, which was my mishap, but I am lim­ited in what I can do without help. I need sup­ports. I thought he was helping me, too. Being far away from it, I can now see the level of abuse I endured from day one.

Being code­pen­dent on an abuser is the worst sort of life. One becomes reliant on an abuser to the point, for me, that my face lit up when mine got home even though I knew it was going to be a dif­fi­cult and chal­lenging evening. I craved and lived for the good moments, becoming more depen­dent on the increas­ingly rare praise.

And those kids are wholly depen­dent on those ther­a­pists, not their own par­ents, but a turn­around of agency ther­a­pists. We try to please our abusers and get their approval. It’s classic Maslow’s Hierarchy.

It’s not just autis­tics given ABA, either. Business is expanding. Epilepsy is now being used for this pseudo-science, as behavior alters imme­di­ately after a seizure, according to our former ABA BCBA.

I’m real­izing that many people are avoiding saying ABA and are using the euphemism of “behav­ioral therapy.” It’s true that many ther­a­pies call them­selves ABA these days for funding pur­poses. School therapy and phys­io­therapy, etc. are NOT the ABA I refer to and many refer to as being extreme abuse.

If par­ents need help, why not hire a non-harmful alter­na­tive instead of ABA? Why not get a nice nanny to help with toilet training and feeding, if the child has no real severe devel­op­mental delays or eating dis­or­ders (which ABA admit they can’t help)?

Mary Poppins puts these ther­a­pies to shame. I would never judge a parent investing in extra (non-harmful) help.

I am still being bugged by the insur­ance LCSW to join a third ABA agency, can you believe? This busi­ness prac­tice is relent­less. And NO means nothing to ABA pushers. Exactly as they teach the chil­dren: NO is not an option.

ABA’s Roots Run Deep

Recently, I found out my son’s school IEP speech therapy was actu­ally social skills in dis­guise, making him give eye-contact and fol­lowing a behavior-based ide­ology.

I was not happy and fought the dis­trict for six months straight, because my son was regressing and being told, “Look at me.”

Much like the court-ordered ABA, the dis­trict said they find my son to have severe needs for therapy, and that if I do not agree, they will take legal action to go over my head in a reverse due process hearing to con­tinue to imple­ment his IEP.

Of course, it would come out that I, too, am autistic and shouldn’t be deemed capable to decide. This could then inter­fere on other levels. Again, these people are man­dated reporters.

I record my IEP meet­ings, so I have audio evi­dence of threats to drag me through a legal battle if I pull the plug on my son’s therapy.  I know now to always be pre­pared.

Do you know how many par­ents would be intim­i­dated by that? Do you know how many autistic par­ents might fear they’ll lose their chil­dren alto­gether over it?

It’s a cruel world.

For about a weekend, I depres­sively and heartachingly con­tem­plated signing. If I’m deemed inca­pable of choosing what is right for my child, that could encroach on my legal cus­tody of him. If they removed him from my phys­ical care, he would undoubt­edly be placed in an insti­tu­tion.

Do you see how they get people?

Don’t come in between a therapy money-making busi­ness and not expect a dirty fight. They also shouldn’t come inter­fere with an autistic Mama Bear pro­tecting her child. When I even­tu­ally responded to their threat, I said, “So when are we going before a leg­isla­tive panel, then, this month or next?”

Consider my cus­tody battle good prac­tice. Consider the crim­inal inves­ti­ga­tion good prac­tice. Do I seem like a walkover?

There might be a lot which goes over my head in terms of my com­pre­hen­sion, and I do see my learning dis­ability affecting me a lot.

But my fight never leaves.

I dare any person or orga­ni­za­tion to go up against me in a court­room after all the cases I’ve had to fight and self-represent in. And I have yet to lose a court case. I ain’t about to start now!

One gets really good at these things after a few years.

This is now THREE ABA/ BT inci­dences of abuse and/or trying to force changes painful to autis­tics that my son has had to endure due to his autism diag­nosis. A diag­nosis should help him, not hurt him. Just a bad ther­a­pist?

No, a bad therapy. Period.

Final Reflections

With all this said, I antic­i­pate that there will be people out there who are going to mock my mental health, past expe­ri­ences, PTSD, and mock my talking about leg­is­la­tion.

They will also likely con­tinue to belittle and min­i­mize my son’s expe­ri­enced abuse in ABA and even go as far as to blame me for it all, then still harp on about how I know nothing about “severe” autism.

But the joke is on them.

Police are lim­ited in what they can do towards helping in the pros­e­cu­tion of a rapist, as they are bound by so many laws and reg­u­la­tions. Rape is a sen­si­tive sub­ject.

I was not bound by those same rules, and they uti­lized my ability and that loop­hole, because the other 5 women did not want to tes­tify in court. The work I did with police in those ten months will mean that man will never rape another woman again.

And it was ME who got the atten­tion of the Attorney General, nobody else.

ABA agen­cies in my county will now think twice before watching a child in an inti­mate set­ting repeat­edly over the span of sev­eral months, diaper down. And no family court in my county will ever order ABA in cus­tody bat­tles again.

Though she be but little, she is fierce.
‑William Shakespeare

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14 Comments

  1. So how does a parent tell if the in-school “ABA” pro­gram is abu­sive– or is, in fact, even an actual ABA?

    I’m not asking if ABA is capable of being non-abu­sive under some hypo­thet­ical con­di­tions. But how do we ID what abuse is going on, if any, and how do we know if the pro­gram is an actual ABA pro­gram?

    1. Most school ther­a­pies adopt a behav­ioral therapy approach, even speech, as the article says. IEP goals and your reports should tell you enough to read between the lines. Eg. a goal of eye con­tact, or a goal of making a child approach 6 chil­dren a day, and holding a con­ver­sa­tion etc. That is a LOT of work for a child and the eye con­tact will hurt an autistic person. Any skills stop­ping a per­son’s nat­ural autistic man­ner­isms, said to help child achieve in future life, is going to be harmful to some degree. But you have can have parts removed from your child’s IEP.

  2. Hey, who­ever you are… You’re a really brave mom, fighting for your kid’s well-being and trying to pro­tect him from abuse. The things your family has been through sound incred­ibly dif­fi­cult.

    The phrase “autism war­rior mom” is some­times used to describe mothers who try every­thing to destroy autism. But I think that true “war­rior moms,” good war­rior moms, are ones who are willing to fight the world to pro­tect their chil­dren from ableism and abuse. And that is you.

    Your family has been through so much, and those strug­gles will undoubt­edly have a lasting impact. But one thing that’s going for your son is what a good mom you are. I hope you don’t forget that.

    1. Warrior moms who pro­tect their kids from the abusers are: Noble strong women.
      “Warrior moms” who are deter­mined to erad­i­cate Neurodiverisity are:B words

      1. I think it’s impor­tant for a war­rior to make sure they are fighting the cor­rect battle. Are you pro­tecting your child or are you fighting who they are?

        A war­rior can be a hero or vil­lain based on what they choose to fight.

      2. I think it’s impor­tant for a war­rior to make sure they are fighting the cor­rect battle. Are you pro­tecting your child or are you fighting who they are?

        A war­rior can be a hero or vil­lain based on what they choose to fight.

  3. Phew, what an article. Well done to you. Something that stood out to me was that page of the ABA manual, con­taining the same spe­cific jargon I see in posts from ABA advo­cates.

    1. A page of bullsh*t

  4. “I know this, because former Regional Center workers move onto becoming Child Custody Investigator’s (CCI) in cour­t­houses. And the California Regional Center noto­ri­ously arranges ABA through mul­tiple orga­ni­za­tions.”

    Mon Dieu!

    This is bureau­cracy and carcer­a­tion at work. [the latter is a big issue in one of Yusuf Smith’s posts — look for Indigo Jo if you want to/can].

    Child Custody Investigators play tricks on our lit­eral and log­ical minds. [in Australia there is a man called John Hirst who exposed Family Court and its machi­na­tions — some close com­par­isons — par­tic­u­larly as Australians have learnt a lot good bad and ugly from California and its legal system].

    Let me think: Centre for Autism Research; var­ious schools and insti­tu­tions like the ones in SB?

    It would be very inter­esting to see where these Regional Center workers go after the Center spits them up and throws them away [not that I would argue — they are vic­tims too].

    And this article took me 7 min­utes to read in the Safari easy-reading style and 5 min­utes to write a com­ment on.





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