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…
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.