Invisible Abuse: ABA and the things only autistic people can see

young child lining up playdough in the colors of the rainbow from red to violet.

If you want to upset a self-described Autism Mom, all you have to do is tell her that ABA is abusive.

This argument breaks out on social media so many times every single day.

Autism is an unusual condition because the community is so sharply divided.

On one side you have the neurotypical parents and families of autistic children, and on the other you have the online community of adult autistic people, many of whom are parents to autistic children.

The two sides disagree on virtually everything, but arguably the most contentious subject is Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy.

ABA Therapists and many families of autistic people hail it as the most effective, most scientifically proven way to help autistic children develop life skills such as speech, potty training, and going to the grocery store without going into full meltdown mode.

Autistic adults– many of whom have been through ABA as children– say that it is abuse.

You can imagine how that statement sounds to loving parents whose children adore their ABA therapist and who would never knowingly abuse their beloved child.

You can imagine how it feels to be told that the gold-standard treatment which is bleeding your finances dry so that you can help your child is actually abuse.

The difficulty is that when people hear the word “abuse,” they think of pain and violence.

ABA has a big history of those things, too. Its founder, O. Ivar Lovaas, used electric shocks to stop children from engaging in their obsessive, repetitive behaviours. He systematically trained them with equal combinations of love and pain to behave more like non-autistic children.

He thought he was saving them, turning a raw bundle of nerve endings into something resembling a human being.

One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is you have to construct a person. You have the raw materials but you have to build the person.


Whenever ABA comes up, so does Lovaas.  Autists point out that he used these same techniques to pioneer gay conversion therapy, which, like ABA, has also been proven to be deeply harmful to the human psyche. They also point out that while fewer ABA therapists use things like electric shock, it is still used and considered important by several institutions.

“But ABA has changed,” people argue. “My ABA therapist never uses punishment. It’s all positive and reward-based.”

That is very true for many people. Most ABA therapists don’t set out to hurt children. And yet, despite making ABA therapy fun and positive, the underlying goals of ABA have not changed.

And it is these goals that, like gay conversion therapy, do long-term damage to the human psyche.

The reason parents and ABA therapists can’t see it as abusive is because they can’t see it from an autistic point of view.

Let’s take a moment to look at some ABA in progress.

So? Did you see any child abuse?

Probably not.

How about here?

Or here?

Sure, the child was unhappy in the first video but the teacher was patient and she recovered, right?

And in the second video, they’re trying to teach children not to be disruptive, but they aren’t punishing the child or anything.

In all of these videos the children are never yelled at, scolded, shamed, or injured. They are praised and rewarded when they get things right, and often the kids seem to be enjoying the games.

No electric shocks, no aversive, nothing to make the experience traumatic, right?


Allistic people can’t see it, because they don’t understand how it feels to be autistic.

Let’s go back to that first video.

While they do not address it in the voice-over, if you watched it again you would notice how often the therapists take the children’s hands and fold them into the children’s lap.

You would also notice how often the child’s feelings are ignored.

In the first video, several of the children begin rubbing their eyes and looking tired, but they do not address this.

In the video with the girl in the supermarket, an autistic person can spot that she was getting overstimulated, exhausted, and was increasingly desperate to escape this environment.

In the video with the crying child, an autistic person wonders why she is so unhappy. Is she exhausted? Overtired? Overwhelmed? And when she stops fussing and goes back to doing the work, we can see the resignation on her face.

She isn’t happier. She’s just accepted that her feelings don’t matter and the fastest way to escape the situation is by complying.

In the last, you can see that ABA therapists deliberately ignore attempts to communicate or produce behaviours that have not been demanded by the therapist.

The child wants his mother’s attention. Would I ignore my child while trying to listen to what his doctor was telling me? Probably. But I would “shhh” or pat his arm to let him know that he was heard, and I would be with him in a minute.

Notice that ABA doesn’t tell you to go back to the child after and find out what they needed or wanted.

And that is the problem with ABA.

Not the rewards, not the silly imitation games. The problem with ABA is that it addresses the child’s behaviours, not the child’s needs.

Think of those happy little children in that first video.

Now understand that sessions like this are not a couple of hours a week. ABA therapists recommend that small children between 2 and 5 go through 40 hours a week of this type of learning.

40 hours a week.

No WONDER those kids are rubbing their eyes.

My allistic eight year old doesn’t do 40 hours a week of school. He goes to school from nine to three and gets a half hour recess and a half hour lunch. That’s 5 hours a day five days a week. 25 hours of active learning. And much of his class time is actually quiet reading, playing with learning materials, gym, or talking in a circle with his peers. So make it less than 20 hours a week of being actively taught.

Imagine asking double that for a preschooler.

Now consider that ABA is designed to ignore any protests the child might make.

ABA is not designed to consider the child’s feelings or emotional needs. 

I’m not making a jump when I say that. You can go to any ABA website and read what they say and you’ll see that there will be no discussion of the child’s emotional welfare or happiness, only behaviours.

To ABA, behaviour is the only thing that matters. ABA considers autistic children as unbalanced kids who need to be balanced out, and if you balance their behaviour, they are fixed.

“…what you need to do is reduce those excesses like the self stimulatory behavior, repetitive behaviors, and increase the skills. And then what will happen is after the child really learns a set of foundational skills; then they will start relating more to other people.”
— Deborah Fein PhD

As you can see from the above video, “self-stimulation”, one of the “excesses” of autism behaviours, is considered a kind of boredom fidget– something useless that replaces real learning and interaction.

When they are erased and replaced with “life skills,” then this is celebrated as a success.

Any autistic person will tell you is that this is NOT what stimming is.

Stimming isn’t just like doodling when you’re bored, or throwing a basketball.

Stimming is a comforting self-soothing behaviour which helps us reduce stress, feel more comfortable in uncomfortable environments, and regulate our emotions.

Many of us feel that our stims are a form of communication – just as a smile or a frown communicates something about our internal states, so do our stims, if you would just pay attention.  Moreso, in fact, since many autistic people smile when they are anxious or frown when they are perfectly content. Studies show that non-autistic people are terrible at interpreting our facial expressions. 

If my husband sees me stimming more than usual in the middle of the day, he frowns and asks if my day is going okay.  But many times he mistakes my emotions based on my facial expressions. My stims are better at translating my emotions than my face is, unless I’m actively animating my face in an allistic way for the benefit of my allistic audience.

Which is exhausting, by the way.

40 hours a week is too much for me so I can’t imagine how a small child manages it.

Grabbing my hands when I stim the way ABA recommends would NOT help my day go better.

It would be an excellent way to piss me off and make me feel frustrated and anxious, though.

It’s one thing to stop a child from hurting themselves by banging their head. It’s another to stop a harmless stim like hand flapping. You’re causing the child emotional discomfort just because the behaviour strikes you as weird.

Go back and watch some of those videos again, noting how often the autistic children are interrupted from hand-waving, making noise, crying, or otherwise trying to express and relieve their emotions.

Notice how often they get the child to make eye contact. Many autistic people find eye contact extremely uncomfortable.  The way the children’s bodies are touched and manipulated so frequently, in corrective redirection, is upsetting the children.  Their faces reflect confusion and sometimes distress.

But learning to tolerate discomfort is what ABA is all about. 

Watch that child enter the grocery store. See how she looks all around? The noise and the lights are stressful and distracting. She wants to please her family and get the cookie pieces so she goes along with the act of putting food in the cart, but after a while she is worn out and can’t stand it anymore.

The mother comments that if they relented at this point and took the child out of the store, her daughter would be rewarded for behaving this way.

That is probably true. If you are in pain, and you scream “Ouch!” and someone comes running and relieves your pain, you’ll probably yell “Ouch” again the next time something hurts you.

Is that… bad?

The parents say the ABA really helped their daughter.

Did it really help the child, though? Or the parents?

The grocery store isn’t any less noisy or bright or overwhelming. And the child obviously still finds it difficult to go in. Instead, she has learned to keep her feelings to herself, to try and focus on pleasing her family, and bottle up her stress inside until she can’t take it any more.

That’s a healthy thing to teach a child, right?

With time she may become excellent at this. She may be able to go to the store, put items in the cart, and go home without a meltdown.

But the meltdown WILL come.

It will come over something minor, some silly thing that seems like nothing and pushes her over the edge where she was already teetering. And they will wonder where it came from.  They’ll talk about how unpredictable her meltdowns can be.

It isn’t unpredictable to us.

We can see it coming. We can see that her autism hasn’t been treated to improve her life so much as to improve her family’s life. And while that is important too, wouldn’t it be better to find a solution that works for everyone?

Did they try ear defenders, and dark glasses?

Did they try encouraging her to stim if stressed?

Did they teach her a polite way to let them know when she has had enough and needs to leave the situation?

I don’t know. I don’t know them. I don’t know their child.

But I do know what autism feels like.

I know that ear defenders are not part of standard ABA protocols.  Instead of teaching them to understand their sensory needs and self-advocate for having their needs met, they are taught to ignore them.

I know that ABA demands the child’s attention but refuses to give attention back when the child demands it.

I know that ABA aims to be positive and rewarding for the child, but doesn’t allow the child to tap out whenever they need to.

I know that ABA considers vital emotional regulation tools to be problems that must be extinguished.

I know that neurotypical pre-schoolers are not usually expected to learn for 40 hours a week.

I know that neurotypical children are encouraged to express their emotions, not smother them.

I know that ABA believes in removing a child’s language tool like the iPad when they are naughty.  I notice that the ABA therapist working with the 8-year-old boy only handed him his communication tool in between “discrete trials.”

I know from activists like Cal Montgomery that even adult autistic people have their communication tools routinely taken away from them if they don’t “comply” to the demands of their therapists and caregivers.

I know that if I ask someone if they think it is abusive to remove a child’s only way of contacting their parents, or to ignore a child in distress, or to force a child into a situation that they find uncomfortable/painful, or refuse to help a child when they are suffering and overwhelmed, they will say yes.

As long as I don’t mention that the child is autistic, anyway.

Autistic kids are different, apparently.

Whenever autistic people protest ABA, we are told that we don’t understand, that we don’t know how hard autistic children are to live with. They talk about improving the child’s independence and argue that it isn’t cruel to teach a child to write or play with toys.

They don’t see how weird it is to try to systematically shape a child’s behaviour to teach them to play with a toy the “right” way.

They don’t see that 40 hours a week of brainwashing a child to put up with stress and discomfort without expressing their feelings might be a bad idea in the long run.

They don’t see how wrong it is to teach a child that their way of feeling comfortable and soothed is wrong and that ignoring your feelings and physical needs is good and gets you approval from your teachers and parents.

They don’t see that it is abusive to ignore a child’s attempts to communicate because they aren’t “complying” with a demand that makes them uncomfortable.

They don’t see how dangerous it is to teach a child to do whatever they are ordered to do, no questions asked, and to never object or say “no.”

They don’t think about the fact that 70% of people with ASD have experienced sexual abuse by the time they are college age.

They don’t think about how this person will learn to stand up for themselves or advocate for their needs when they were systematically trained in preschool never to disagree, speak up, or disobey.

Do what I say. 

Put your hands in your lap.

Don’t cry. Don’t complain.

Listen to me.

I won’t listen to you.

This is not abuse.

…But, you know, the kid gets bubbles and tickles so it’s obviously safe and totally okay.

What do we know?

Our feelings don’t matter anyway.


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371 Responses

  1. OK. The very very real and big problem here is WHAT constitutes Äutism?
    Let’s stop diagnosing “autism” from a grab-bag of different behaviours.
    Diagnosing Autism and then treating it from a set prescribed treatment, is as silly as diagnosing lameness, and then treating all lame people similarly.
    Autism is merely a description of behaviour, It has many many different causes and all need different approaches,
    Most of us Asperger’s people don’t consider we NEED help. We think all you so called ‘neurotypical people are boring, and uninteresting.
    People who cannot live alone and need help need help — but for their own particular problem.

  2. You hardly need another comment, but I want to thank you for writing this — especially about the grocery store, my lifelong nemesis to this day at age 44 (the music, and the motion-activated talking ads in the aisles, and the announcements, and the detergent aisle…). This has been a source of great shame because the grocery store is almost emblematic of “normal” American life, not least because consumption is so normalized.

    What always strikes me about these kinds of videos is that we expect of children what we would never ask adults to tolerate, or accept without question. Let’s take the grocery store. Today, one doed not have to physically go into a store to obtain food, in many parts of the U.S. anyway. There is grocery delivery of every kind in most metropolitan areas; there is ordering online and curbside pick up with almost no interpersonal interaction. There are food subscription boxes galore, in which one can receive the same things every week, or different things, or a combination. Indeed, for adults this is praised as simplification, automation, reducing mental overhead. There are neighborhood bodegas and farmers markets that can be far easier to manage and comprehend, spatially and size wise.

    All a long way of saying: There is less *real need* than ever before to force a child to suffer the abundant miseries of unbridled capitalism as presented in a large grocery store. Why is this “skill’ still being so forced on them? Why not teach going to the grocery store as a sort of emergency measure one may need to do if necessary, while also teaching kids the many far easier, pleasant, and even automated ways to get food — which are the same as “all of the ways we assume adults know of”?

  3. I am currently working as an interventionist in ABA…I am getting my masters in early childhood, and nothing I am doing agrees with what I already know about children. When I am in session and a child is crying, I want to hold them and hug them, tell them it will be okay, and ask them what is bothering them, some may not understand but that should be the type of goals we are working on. Not making them look us in the eyes, or tell us who is doing what in the picture for an hour and a half 4 days a week. This is not the way ABA is, you cannot give a reaction or you will reinforce “bad” behaviors. You cannot give any type of anything but praise, or a preferred item unless they do the behavior you want. Some kids try so hard and give their best effort, they can’t give anymore, and they do not get the preferred item or reinforcement. “Sorry kid, you gave it your best shot but you did not do it exactly as I asked so you’ll have to try harder and wait till next time” is legitimately what ABA does to a child. I cannot get down with this, not every child is the same, and making a child wait for reinforcement, praise, or a toy for an entire session is going to be too long for some kids.

    I can sit there and tell a child is acting out because they’re either over stimulated by devices, TVs, all the noises or overstimulation from the environment around them, tired, or don’t feel well. They burn through so many bachelors holding individuals because nothing the interventionist does is ever right, or good…Or a child acting out is always there fault. I sit and witness parents screaming in their small children’s faces and want to cry. I know why these kids are struggling, or they say..”It’s attention seeking behavior.” When I watch one sibling get constant praise because he’s the baby and soooo cute, and precious and I watch the child I’m with act out, throw things, revert to babyish behavior, or scream…I can see he just wants to be as “good” as everyone thinks his little brother is, and as cute and everyone says Little Brother is. The only time my kid gets attention is if he’s acting out. I got bit because a child was exhausted and my manager had the audacity to blame me for being bit. I was there thinking I was helping kids, but it goes against every fiber of my being when I know a child needs to be heard, taught to understand their feelings, and emotions, rather than repeatedly going over topics that will not help them develop mentally, or emotionally. Speech is one thing, but all of this other stuff I can see is doing more harm than good for most of these precious kids.

    This isn’t what I signed up for, and most of these places barely train you, and just throw you out there and reprimand you for every single thing you do, when they haven’t bothered to teach you anything. I see a lot of schools and teachers hate ABA and don’t want it in the school, I agree with them.

    1. Hmm… I would love to hear what program is teaching you those things. Those responses are not behavior analytic in nature, and frankly incorrect. As an analyst, if a child is engaging with any academic stimuli, direction, or activity, you are going to provide high levels of reinforcement. Correct responding is what earns preferred items or activities. I would also like to respond to the comment regarding having children wait for an entire session to receive these things. In actuality, most children are receiving continuous reinforcement. This means after EVERY response they will get access to a preferred item, social praise, a break, or whatever else is desired by the learner. I am all about questioning the implementation of ABA and acknowledgment of lived experiences from autistics, but please make sure you are educated on the topic prior to sharing misinformation.

  4. I work in ABA and totally agree with this article to a certain extent. The good thing about the company I work for is that we do address the child’s needs and we don’t have rigid techniques like other companies. So all companies are not the same. I have seen other companies work with children where children get trained like dogs. And I never agreed with this or liked it. The main problem I run into is the teachers, they don’t understand how to deal with the child’s behavior and that’s why I am there but they always try to intervene which makes me crazy. I had a kid who would walk back and forth and do the hand flapping and I allowed him to do this as long as it was a time he wasn’t he was interrupting others like circle. His teacher didn’t like it but I saw it as no problem if he did it during playtime. I noticed how it calmed him down and how he had less meltdowns if he was allowed to do this. Of course realistically he could not do it all day because there were times he needed to learn and not be disruptive to other kids. I believe in addressing the child’s needs but I also believe the child needs to learn to respect others. This does not mean it’s abusive to teach a child how to behave. I have seen kids improve dramatically with aba when it comes with interacting with others such as not hitting throwing things at other kids cursing etc. I understand the point of the article but all aba is not like this and some techniques do help a child function in society which is very important because we don’t want these kids to grow up and get into trouble or mess their lives up. The focus should be we want to address the child’s need’s but we also want to teach them how to function in society.

    1. ABA doesn’t teach any skills that can’t be taught in other non-abusive ways. The foundations of ABA (as a “therapy”) are abusive themselves, meaning that if it has changed to a point that it’s not abuse, then it’s no longer ABA.

      Have you ever tried to find -why- this child is stimming? “Allowing” him to stim sometimes but not others isn’t addressing his needs. If he’s stimming due to distress or overwhelm, then figure out why he’s distressed and overwhelmed and eliminate those sources. If he’s stimming to process what’s going on (including processing and taking in new information that comes from learning times) then you’re doing him a serious disservice stopping him.

      Did you problem solve with him to see if there were other stims that he could utilize to regulate during times like circle time? Was he -actually- not learning while pacing and stimming? Was his walking and flapping really that distracting and keeping everyone from learning?

      Millions and millions of people learn how to “function in society” sans ABA. Nothing about being Autistic means that we need ABA to learn how to do this.

      – an Autistic adult, who’s functioning fine in society, while flapping and pacing.

      1. A good book for just about everybody is

        Passing for Normal is Amy’s emotionally charged account of her lifelong struggle with these often misunderstood disorders. A powerful witness to her own …
        The question IS WHAT is normal. Many of learn how to behave on public. Or how many people that ARE considered normal have their own private quirks and coping methods which they try to keel private.
        I just generally rock — when I start flapping, I know it is time for me to work on ‘calming down’.
        The important thing is for oneself to recognise when I time out is need, and for other people to recognise this

      2. I am also a Behavior Support Specialist that utilizes ABA in our field. First of all I agree with much of what you said. I’ve been using ABA for 7 years and I’ve learned that it can not be successful in the long run unless that individuals needs are met and their emotions validated. That said, ABA is a science, science changes all the time, that’s the entire point. When we learn new information we change our understanding of what it is we are studying. Science is fluid not solid. Math has changed dramatically in just the last 100 years, but it’s still math. ABA is the same, we change it as we discover new information.

        Part of ABA is examining the Function of behavior and the antecedents that cause behavioral reactions. I think too many people in our field ignore the significance of these factors. We cannot influence a behavior or even decide if a behavior SHOULD be influenced without understanding why the person does what they do. This is where I super agree with what you said about “Did you problem solve with him to see if there were other stims that he could utilize to regulate during times like circle time? ” and “Have you ever tried to find -why- this child is stimming? “, because these are both fundamentals of ABA that are often ignored.

        In the case that Carol and you discussed, the behavior of interest is not “Self Stimulation” it should be “Disruption”. Because the person self stimulating is not an issue as you’ve said, the issue is how it effects other children in the classroom. So the solution is not to stop the stimm, but to allow him to go outside the classroom when he needs to self stimm, and to recognize the antecedents to his self stimulation so that the teacher can prompt them to take breaks before it gets to a point the child is over whelmed.

        1. ABA isn’t a ‘science’, any more than Mengele’s experiments were. It’s simple behavioural modification, using the same techniques that have been in use for thousands of years, from slave markets to brothels. Punish non compliance, reward compliance, extinguish the individual in order to please the group.

          I’m guessing you’re allistic, as only an NT person would say ‘the issue is how it effects other children in the classroom’. If you want to talk science, then empirically speaking the ACTUAL issue is the ‘classroom’, the generic ‘learning’ environment aimed wholly at engendering social compliance.

          The actual solution is to tailor life experiences for what helps each and every person, not just provide ones that brutalise children – allistic and autistic – into becoming good little consumers.

    2. I will be very brief here because I think that your sum is very well done. Misuse of ABA i do not accept, where I mean when it is used to teach ASD children to behave neurotypically because, I agree with the writer of this article that they’re not and that there is no problem with that. However, I have worked with late teens with ASD who, as you say, have little language, struggle to wear clothes, attack their peers at a moments notice, and will not be able to function without supervision for the rest of their lives. I often wonder, if their parents had access to modern ABA therapies would they be able to live more independent lives? Would they be able to better express to those around them what their interests or thoughts are?

      Most neurotypical teaching methods also include the conditioning principles of ABA therapy, right or wrong. Until our society becomes more accepting and open to the disruption of difference, unfortunately it’s how we will be.

      – someone forever learning how to teach, listen & behave better herself.

  5. I understand that every child with and without autism is different, but what are some other options out there that people have tried. We are trying to stay away form ABA and have been trying to learn about speech therapy, play therapy, RDI, occupational therapy, and a few others.

    1. As an adult i learned breathing techniques to calm myself down. I found that this work marvellously. I gto mine from Paul Owens “Complete Breahting”. He is a dog trainer and these help calm our dogs too. Many yoga breathing techniques are similar,
      I would expect that these techniques would help you cam your child as well.
      Remain calm yourself, and listen to your child

    2. As someone who has worked with Adults with developmental delay for 7 years. I’d recommend trying everything you can, including ABA, and finding what fits your child the best. Like you said, every child is different. As someone that utilizes ABA, I do not agree with using it for anything other than dangerous behaviors.

  6. I feel certain that the problem is NOT so much Applied Behaviour Analysis, so much as the way it is used by people who really do NOT understand what it is.
    Going back to Skinner (must we? yes, probably) his theories said nothing about usefulness or kindness or solving behaviour problems.
    He was a theoretical Psychologist and discovered certain rules of learning that affected behaviour.
    Now one can use his theories to reinforce a behaviour that you desire in an animal, You can use Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement , Positive Punishment or Negative Punishment. (see Skinner’s theories).
    But we can only tell what quartile our intervention was in, AFTER we have seen the results. But even this tells us nothing about whether the interventions we used were cruel of unking, or even if the behaviour we ‘punished’ (aka suppressed) was replace by a better or worse outcome.
    Now I see here, some of the “ABAists” holding the hands of children to stop them flapping (or something).
    Now ,IF this worked, was it because the child found that the therapist holding their hands was aversive?. I would guess, most likely. So the behaviour was punished. The child stopped flapping hands when the therapist was near to avoid getting their hands held.
    Was the outcome positive for the child or only for the therapist (parent/teacher) who found flapping hands annoying?
    Did the child become any calmer? Or did it just mean another stress response came instead? Was this different stress respond better for the child or worse????
    Speaking as someone who WAS a stressed child and suffered from stress related illness, I would suspect that in a true case of ‘autism’ it was a worse outcome.
    Sometimes I’m sure that the alternate behaviour was far worse for the child, but because adults viewed the child as sick it was ‘acceptable’. Blocked sinuses, asthma, indigestion, – I was always jealous of my sister who could get asthma at the drop of a hat to get her own way, while I with sinusitis and indigestion and eczema was seen as sulky ☹
    Certainly teach an alternative behaviour as far as possible. I always wanted to run away and hide) which I did frequently, but if my mother found me, I was hauled out and told how horrible I was 🙁 There is nothing wrong with withdrawing from a situation which you find stressful.
    We do NOT all have to like crowds and socialising. Or excess noise, or jollity.

  7. ABA is a set of tools scientifically proven to work, we decide how and when it is appropriate to use them. It Is the responsibility of specialist using ABA strategies to ensure that these tools are being responsibly utilized to promote the wellbeing and safety of the individual we serve.

    A doctor prescribing a patient 300mg of cyanide doesn’t mean Biology or Chemistry are bad sciences, it means the doctor is a bad doctor. ABA is a tool, like every science, that can be used for good or bad depending on how it is used.

    “We can use a hammer to build a house or to smash a finger; it is our responsibility to ensure the hammer is used to build the house.”

    1. “ABA is a set of tools scientifically proven to work.”

      And laudanum cough medication is scientifically proven to work as intended (stops the coughing). That doesn’t mean it should be used under any circumstances.

  8. Your view of aba is outdated. Practices evolve e.g. dentist, psychology. There is a massive change from the way dentist used to work 30 yrs ago to now. Same for most profession. Your videos are old. The people who has had bad aba experience are probably over 20 yrs old. While their experience is valid, it is outdated. To make your argument credible, find someone who is doing aba in this day and age from a qualified professional. Someone with more than a month experience of doing the therapy.

    1. Well if course any autistic adult will be mostly over 20 years old if they are telling you they were abused under the ABA therapist, you have to be that old to have escaped.

  9. May I ask that as a parent who is new to these ABA services for my child with Autism, what are the main things to look for when first starting. I am trying to do my research on the pros and cons, and to better understand the outcome in the way it could help my son succeed in certain areas of his life. I am here to be a listener and take in the positive, and also the negative that people feel they could share to get the most out of ABA so I am ready with the questions, or concerns going forward. I am fully committed to my all 3 of my sons, and I want to include everyone in on his progression so we can as a unit help him succeed into a comfortable setting in society. Some information I gathered already is to be very focused on the way the therapist is relaying the techniques and make sure, that his emotional needs are met. Along with the learning to transmission some of his behavior into a more effective but comforting for his personal space way of communicating, without making it seem like it is work or forced upon. Questions a mother can give to his specialists when I feel, they are not working in a way that my son is going to see as positive influence. How to address the situation, without making it seem as if I am high jacking the activity, but gets my point across we want to stop the way of tactics, and try alternatives that will ease his mind and better his progression. Anything given will be appreciated, and I thank you in advance for giving me the advice as to better understand what will best help my son in life moving forward.

    1. Michelle,

      It is refreshing to see a parent take the perspective that you have. I am a neurodiverse ABA professional and would love to see parents questioning the reasoning behind interventions. When first starting, I would ask questions to the BCBA if they use response interruption for harmless behaviors (stimming), and most places do not. But their response to this question should give you some insight on how the company operates. I would ask questions regarding the use of punishment, and the protocols in which behavior plans are reviewed by parents prior to implementation. Setting up weekly/monthly meetings with the analyst to review data, goals, and any concerns either of you may have would be beneficial. You should also have access to all of these things on your own, but it is nice to speak with the analyst directly to walk you through goals without the jargon provided in the goals. I want to let you know that all analysts I have met in my career DO consider emotions. Most anti ABA individuals do not fully understand the science behind behavior analysis. Thoughts and emotions are widely considered in behavior analysis, and measured in objective ways. Keep in mind behavior analysis is not just for autistic people, it is for all people. Behavior analytic principles are throughout life everywhere you look, in your job, social media, marketing, ect. However, in behavior analysis, there is something happening in the individuals learning history, that behavior modifications at home are not feasible. A majority of therapists are now obtaining assent from clients throughout the session in addition to consent from parents. The more parental involvement, the better during session. Ask questions, ask for reasoning behind programs. Be involved!

  10. As someone that has been working in the field for 10 years I find this whole article to be a gross overstatement of what ABA CAN BE. The foundation of ABA is dark and shameful. Find me any science that didn’t start out that way. ABA is a tool, how you decide to use it will determine if it is good or not. Were kids abused in the past? Absolutely. But you know what’s changed since then? The people working in the ABA field. The newest generation of ABA practitioners is nothing like those of the past. Go read online all the posts about how therapists today try so hard to be more in-tuned with their clients. We don’t just demand compliance and block all behaviors because they aren’t “functional.” You want to take a break during therapy because you’re tired? Here are 5 different ways you can tell me that. I’ll take a break with you. You want to run around and stim? Go for it, get it out. I need to get up and move too. You don’t want to do something and can tell me in some type of way? Cool, we don’t have to do it. But if you’re going to have a tantrum because you don’t like something? Chances are I am not going to coddle you and make you feel better. Just like I wouldn’t coddle a neurotypical child who tantrums because they don’t like something.

    To any parents that read this article and are now fearful of ABA. Please do your own research, seek out therapies/therapists that you feel comfortable with. Stay involved. Talk to your child, talk to those in your community that are in therapy. Just like Autism is a spectrum, so is ABA Therapy. There is most certainly bad therapy out there where they will drill your child for 40 hours a week on the most mundane, non-functional things. But there are also those of us that just want to help you get through the day and maybe connect better with the people around you.

  11. Thank you for writing this article. I worked as a Behavior Therapist for 4.5 years. I never liked ABA therapy–I said I felt like I was training dogs instead of helping children–but I could never really put my finger on WHY. Not as articulately as you have. It wasn’t until I left the company (thanks, COVID!) that I found out autistic people consider ABA therapy to be abusive. And I immediately felt terrible. The company I worked for was not as rigid as some therapy centers, but there was still that sense of aloofness, and it felt like all we cared about was changing the kids and making life easier for their parents.

    I tried really hard to be a good therapist. I often did things my own way and responded to the kids how I would my own. I have two autistic children and an autistic younger sister I was often responsible for when I was younger, so I felt like I was well-equipped to be able to help my clients. I saw some really good things, saw children make really important strides in their therapy. Now I’m questioning the whole thing.

    I will say this: Good training is SO important. Where I worked, we were not trained very well, and I saw many people come and go who were just awful therapists. But on the other hand, there were a few really great ones, people who saw the children as more than their diagnoses.

    I hope, as more and more people speak out about ABA, things change.

  12. I was attempting to read a story to my group at the end of the day. My little autist sat at the back singing Christmas songs at the top of her voice. I asked the children if they could hear the story. “Nooo!!!” They chimed. So I put down the book and we all sang Christmas songs. Happy New Year!

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