Editor’s Note: Jeni Canaday is a neurodivergent advocate, autistic ally, and mother to an autistic son.
I am just a mom. Everything I know, I learned from my son. I run all of our advocacy by him and he has given me enthusiastic permission to share these words.
What’s my número uno gripe about ABA Therapy?
ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) needs to give its credit for being “scientifically validated” to its lack of consideration.
In ABA, individuality and emotions need not apply; they are not variables. That’s a fact.
I’ve probably watched hundreds of sessions of ABA. Hell, I’ve even implemented it with my own child (which is a nightmare and a horrible parent story for another day).
It doesn’t take long to see that the subject’s personal feelings are not a factor in ABA therapy. According to the model of emotion, it cannot be measured without mutual understanding of the personal meaning that a stimuli has on the subject/experiment. I don’t know why behaviorists can’t acknowledge this.
Right now, I’m talking to you wise souls. Let’s get into this.
Here is an example of what happens when humans are displaced from their emotions (a side effect of ABA “therapy”), from the mouth of an ABA practitioner (and “practice” is an appropriate term here because all ABA is experimental):
In a recently published article, Deric Toney and Linda Hayes explored the intricacies of apologies and forgiveness from a behavior analytic perspective. They provided a functional account of the contingencies that operate in a situation when one person offends another. In their account, the forgiving response ultimately serves as the reinforce[r] for the apology. Accounts like this one might be useful when working with clients…where a behavior analyst has to explicitly teach someone how to identify emotions and interact with others.
-Todd Ward, BCBA‑D
The power to “explicitly teach someone how to identify emotions” should never be granted to a “science” that doesn’t even consider emotions a variable. Those who truly see behavior as communication also understand that they have a responsibility to look deeper than what can be physically observed, and to encourage others to do the same.
BF Skinner, one of the founding fathers of Behaviorism, said it himself in the book Walden II: “We are only just beginning to understand the power of love because we are just beginning to understand the weakness of force and aggression.” He also said that, “Behavior is never the result of experimental study; instead it is the result of good conduct.”
ABA is nothing more than experimentation. Yes, maybe “good conduct” will be achieved for many of the fawns (via submission through compliance training) but all fawns lose their spots.
Of the fighters who were born with their horns and flyers born with wings, they will never be tamed things. Neurodiversity is in their genes.
Think about it.
Anytime behavior modification is the goal, the choice and autonomy must belong to the the individual: no matter what their personal communication modality is at the time, their spirit must be included in the conversation.
So if you don’t understand the rich context of behaviorese, step back and leave the teaching about feelings to the proverbial Bodhisattvas.
Let Neurodiversity speak!