A car is about to hit a boy who is running into traffic to get away from applied behavior analysis therapy aba

On Hurling Myself Into Traffic to Get out of ABA Therapy4 min read

I am an autistic teenager who has been forced into attending court-ordered applied behavior analysis therapy, or ABA. These are the expe­ri­ences that led me to run into traffic to get away from it.

From what I’ve expe­ri­enced with  behavior therapy, I feel like the RBT ther­a­pists who want to “help” me actu­ally belittle me, make me feel inca­pable of doing what I can do, and con­stantly push me to do tasks as simple as flash cards, analog clock quizzes on an iPad, and easy reading com­pre­hen­sion way below my ability level.

The flash cards they make me do are like infer­ence and idioms for third graders. I guess this a result of the cheesy stereo­type about people with autism taking things lit­er­ally. They make me take notes in a note­book on how many I got right or wrong. They even col­lect data on how many times I apol­o­gize.

I feel like a lab rat in a maze and the cheese at the end is when I get to go home. I don’t know what I’m doing there. I’ve asked them what were my goals, and they said that they always change until I am eigh­teen. This was dev­as­tating, because I thought if I played along and tried, I would “grad­uate” out of ABA.

Every time they tell me to work harder, I phys­i­cally can’t because of all the other chil­dren in other rooms screaming their heads off. There’s also the music on the other iPads that the other kids use, too.

I can’t handle hearing young chil­dren screaming, and it’s hap­pening all the time. Sometimes, they have very young kids in the room with me, as young as three years old. This is not just because of autism and noise sen­si­tivity. I never see anyone com­fort the kids who are screaming.

The sound is con­stant, like a horror movie sound­track. They tell me that I’ll “have to get used to it” every time I ask what the chil­dren are screaming about behind the gates.

I’m always told that I am “scripting” every time some­thing is dif­fi­cult; for example, when I said I didn’t like how some­thing made me feel, they said, “You’re just scripting.” Scripting is repeating words someone else said, so telling me that is like saying because I am autistic, I can’t even have feel­ings or talk about them.

I also have to make phys­ical eye con­tact with them no matter what I say about how it makes me feel, and that is really hard. They want me to do it all the time, but that can make me feel uncom­fort­able.

They are actively col­lecting data on my eye con­tact in a room sur­rounded by screaming chil­dren, and they tell me that my con­ver­sa­tion is “scripted.” What is nat­ural about this setup? It’s all scripted, like a sci­ence exper­i­ment. And I am the one who needs to learn about irony?

Recently, they made me do a test where I had to answer a bunch of mul­tiple choice ques­tions, such as, “Are you able to count to three?” And then they made me do more infer­ences on work­sheets. Again. Those “autistic people take things lit­er­ally” stereo­types. I don’t struggle with that at all, and I’ve been doing it for a while.

When I ask why we are doing these things, they tell me, “It will improve your lan­guage skills.” But I think my lan­guage skills are fine.

They focus on every­thing I can’t do. They think I’m inca­pable. Do I seem inca­pable?

It is way too dis­tracting, and it hurts my head to the point where I can’t talk when my mom asks me, “How did ABA go?”

But really, it’s always the same stuff: infer­ence, idioms, clocks, retell, math, and con­ver­sa­tions.

I feel like they are trying to make me less autistic. They describe things and focus on things that are stereo­types of autism, like con­ver­sion therapy.

I’ve told everyone who would listen to me– friends, teachers, rel­a­tives, coun­selors, everyone– except the people at ABA about how much I don’t want to be there. I haven’t told the ABA ther­a­pists because they will give me a speech about how it’s good for me to be there, or they will tell me that I am scripting. They never val­i­date my feel­ings.

The most recent ABA drop off was the most dif­fi­cult, because not only was I dealing with school, I was dealing with other stres­sors. Mostly, I could not bear the idea that I would have to do this until I was 18. I had a panic attack after my mom dropped me off, and I ran before entering the door to the clinic.

The ther­a­pists who always wanted to “help” me chased after me, and I felt like I had no choice but to run into the middle of moving traffic. I could not work any­more for ABA, and that was what I kept repeating to myself in my aching head as I ran into evening traffic. I tried to run back to the side­walk, but it was too late. I was hit by a car.

The two behavior ther­a­pists who had been chasing me slowly backed away, and I watched them leave me there. That was def­i­nitely helpful. I went to the emer­gency room in an ambu­lance, feeling trau­ma­tized. After all, I got slammed on my side by a car and watched people who said they only want to “help” walk away.

I am wor­ried that if I am forced into applied behavior analysis therapy because of court orders, I can’t sur­vive.

Editor’s note: It is not appro­priate to defend ABA therapy in the com­ments of this article. There are many arti­cles on this site regarding ABA where your counter argu­ments or ques­tions are accept­able and will be addressed. Any com­ments left in defense of ABA on this article will be removed and the user will be banned. Thank you for under­standing.

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  1. Just wanted to leave a com­ment here to sup­port you. ABA is a form of tor­ture. It’s hor­rific.

  2. One would almost wish for judges to have to endure ABA them­selves to see why it is so wrong, except that would be inhuman as well. Hopefully, more resources will come your way to help reverse this deci­sion and free you from ABA hell.

    1. Sweetheart, I am so sorry you are being tor­tured.
      I wish they would listen to us when we tell them it hurts us, often for life in the form of PTSD and C‑PTSD.
      Hang in there.
      It will get better.
      As an adult, you will not be sub­jected to this.
      Things are changing. More Doctors and researchers are lis­tening. Autistic researchers are doing studies that sup­port and prove #ActuallyAutistic asser­tions that ABA is bad for us.
      Change is coming, hang in there.

  3. The ‘therapy’ they are doing to you is child abuse. I’d file a police report or how­ever one is sup­posed to file a com­plaint. I’ve been trying to look up and under­stand all the var­ious ABA ther­a­pies just to avoid this sort of c**p hap­pening to my kid. I don’t see how any of what they are doing can be called therapy and don’t see at all how it is sup­posed to somehow help you to func­tion ‘better’ in the world. What a load of hooey!

  4. My heart is with you. I sin­cerely hope that you can find a way to escape this court order, as it sounds like they are tor­turing you. Whatever hap­pens, hang in there! You may need coun­seling to heal, but you will make it to 18. And people love you and need you. I’m speaking as a mother whose oldest son died far too young.

  5. I don’t know what to say first. Perhaps these points of mine should carry equal weight — I don’t want any of them to appear more impor­tant than the others.
    1. I find it coura­geous of you to write about this.
    2. The edi­fice of ABA is crum­bling, slowly but surely.
    3. The fact that you had to run into traffic is awful, but entirely under­stand­able.

    I am con­fi­dent that you will have the last laugh on these ABA buf­foons.

  6. This is abuse and should be illegal. You are so much better and smarter than the people doing this to you. Your feel­ings are real and valid and you deserve to have the chance to express them, and don’t let anyone tell you dif­fer­ently. I hope that in the near future you and others who have suf­fered this type of tor­ture can sue those ABA scum­bags and the judges who forced this on you and get a whole lot of money. So, how about it? Any lawyers here willing to rep­re­sent these kids who have no voice? This has to be stopped. We can’t just be con­tent with posting a com­ment about how ter­rible it is. Let’s do some­thing about it.

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