Behave OR Be Well3 min read

Ask any Board Certified Behavior Analyst, and they will likely tell you that ABA therapy is the go-to treat­ment for self-injurious behav­iors (SIB) IF the indi­vidual is diag­nosed with an Intellectual or Development Disability.

What they won’t tell you, though, is how ABA uti­lizes abu­sive and inhu­mane prac­tices like “blocking” a vul­ner­able child from accessing their own per­sonal self-regulatory strate­gies (like flap­ping and rocking) in order to inten­tion­ally trigger duress. They do this so they can ana­lyze the behavior in con­text of the “social envi­ron­ment” without ever fac­toring in per­sonal rela­tion­ships. Why?

Because you can’t mea­sure human con­nec­tion.

What is humane about “blocking” Little Bobby’s hand flapping/sensory reg­u­la­tion tech­nique (coping mech­a­nism) by restraining his wrists with the pre­med­i­tated pur­pose of inten­tion­ally trig­gering an episode of self-injurious behavior?

In ABA, you only ana­lyze what you observe, and you are trained to observe for one of three things to be hap­pening.

But don’t worry, no inves­ti­ga­tion is too dif­fi­cult for an ABA ther­a­pist. They all know that all behavior is almost always moti­vated by one of four func­tions:

1. Attention Seeking

2. Demand Avoidance

3. Access to Tangibles

4. Sensory Stimulation

I’ll note that although Sensory Stimulation is listed as a fourth moti­vator, I would argue that the first three moti­va­tors all have some­thing to do with sen­sory reg­u­la­tion. Hypersensitivity is reported con­sis­tently across the spec­trum, not to men­tion, neu­ro­science has shown us vis­ible proof.

When sen­si­tive chil­dren are mis­un­der­stood, dis­em­pow­ered, and patron­ized with treats like jelly beans, it dam­ages their sense of self.

It is also ABA.

A simple lens switch could pre­vent so much trauma. In mental health, for those who are not Intellectually or Developmentally dis­abled, those with Self-Injurious Behaviors (like cut­ting and addic­tion) are viewed from a human­istic point of view. What moti­vates SIB from this per­spec­tive?

1. Insecure attach­ments

2. Inadequate self-regulatory skills

3. Over sen­si­tivity to emo­tional dis­tress

Why is it that when a kid has an ID/DD diag­nosis, their inter­ven­tion doesn’t con­sider that they are human beings with thoughts and feel­ings and value? Instead, they are exposed to abu­sive com­pli­ance training, often dis­guised as “Skills Training.” The lucky ones will learn to tol­erate things that they should not have to tol­erate, and the most spir­ited end up on the…

ABA-to-Institution Pipeline.

When you look at the moti­va­tors iden­ti­fied in mental health, you see that the oppo­site is done in ABA.

From a mental health per­spec­tive, building a safe rela­tion­ship with the ther­a­pist is key.

ABA cre­ates inse­cure attach­ments because the ther­a­pists inten­tion­ally form manip­u­la­tive rela­tion­ships when they use their clients as sci­ence exper­i­ments. They use a tech­nique called pairing which asso­ciates the ABA tech­ni­cian with rewards and toys only avail­able when they’re there.

ABA ther­a­pists also inten­tion­ally block self-regulatory skills (stun­ning) and with­hold com­fort objects in order to do their sci­ence exper­i­ments.

Here is a break­down of how that works in behav­iorist…

“One expla­na­tion is that SIB may pro­duce both rein­forcing and aver­sive con­se­quences, and self-restraint occurs to avoid or escape the aver­sive con­se­quences SIB pro­duces (see Fisher & Iwata, 1996, for a detailed dis­cus­sion). When an FA [func­tional analysis] of SIB is con­ducted, if self-restraint occurs to the exclu­sion of SIB, it may not be pos­sible to iden­tify the func­tion of SIB. In these cases, blocking self-restraint may be nec­es­sary to observe SIB and deter­mine its func­tion” (Fisher, Grace, & Murphy, 1996; Lerman, Iwata, Smith, & Vollmer, 1994).

In other words, if a child is keeping from self harm by using some other tech­nique, the ABA prac­ti­tioner will have to block that tech­nique to drive the child to self-harm.

ABA therapy does not address a child’s mental health needs, but it cer­tainly causes a lot of emo­tional trauma.

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting. The “therapy” sup­pos­edly intended to help autis­tics “fit in” in order to avoid a life­time of bul­lying & abuse by neu­rotyp­i­cals… *con­sists entirely of bul­lying & abuse by neu­rotyp­i­cals.*
    This is my shocked face.
    ‑_-

    Do you all really still believe this is just a coin­ci­dence? Do you really?

    The goal of therapy is not actu­ally to help any­body, there, I said it. It’s merely to enforce con­for­mity, at the expense of health or hap­pi­ness.
    Look at NT society (I refuse to include us in “society” because the truth is, we are NOT included, & we should not WANT to be!).
    Neurotypical society has been con­trolled by so-called “mental health experts” for gen­er­a­tions now, and look at it, really LOOK AT IT. It’s no coin­ci­dence that it’s chaos. The goal of “mental health & therapy” is not to make people well, it is to harm them make them con­form to a harmful society.
    NT society is nothing but a meat-grinder. And the harder autis­tics try to con­form to that, the more it’s going to hurt. We need to stop trying to be like them, & stop let­ting them force us to try to be like them.
    WE ARE NOT LIKE THEM.
    WE WILL NEVER BE LIKE THEM!
    AND WE SHOULD BE DAMN PROUD OF THAT!

  2. This is a good point. Taking away kids’ coping skills is only going to make their behavior more “dif­fi­cult” in the long run because the emo­tional cost is huge.

    Tearing away at emo­tion reg­u­la­tion in the name of con­for­mity doesn’t help kids fit into society; it breaks them.

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