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.

-Lovaas

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?

Wrong.

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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359 Responses

  1. Whilst parenting children without autism is so badly done what hope is there for autistic children. Emotional needs have to be met for a child to flourish and it takes the time that it takes for each child. My grandchildren are 4 and 6. One has had no problems. The 6 year old has has deafness and difficulty with communicating. We thought sh might have autism. The meltdowns were horrendous. Mum couldn’t cope so they moved in with me. We got her hearing fixed with grommets but she had been through a tough time emotionally because of mums anger. She had thought about having her adopted. Her parenting skills were poor as mum was brought up in a childrens home. Also she developed Graves disease which made it hard to keep calm herself. Over the past 2 years we have managed to work together as a team. We help the children to Express their emotions through drawing and giving names to the feelings whilst confirming it’s ok to have those feelings.
    The kind of training in those videos is appalling. I train a horse and would not even treat an animal that way. It is very rushed with no time to process, theres manipulation which is inappropriate, the therapist makes no attempt to enter the childs world to lead the child forward. When my grandaughter used to play I would get down on the floor and join her until I became a part of that world and we started to relate. Having language for emotions is very important but it isn’t all verbal. I guess that’s where the motion part comes in. When a child is expressing with their body because they dont have language it is up to us to let them and try to understand. Luckily 2 years on and both grandchildren are happy. The screaming has all but stopped (even my parrot has stopped screaming). Both children are at school and doing well. They both have horse riding lessons, can rollerscate and ride bikes. The one that was very deaf now plays piano by ear very well, both hands are used. Sing a tune and she can play it. No one taught her. Her art is amazing too with incredible detail. This shows the difference that can be made by meeting the emotional needs rather than using force and smacking in a non autistic child. Surely the autistic child should have the same respect.

    1. One serious problem is that autistic children often have, is Autistic parents.
      I also strongly suspect that people who go into counselling are likely to have problems themselves.
      Brought on ab a feeling that they are solved their own problems and can therefore help others.
      The problem with this is we all have our own problems.
      Both of my parents would have been diagnosed as Asperger’s if they were alive today. But they were both different, We kids and a hard tome growing up, becuase we had no good role model for social behaviour.
      I feel very blessed that I was lucky enough to have some ver very good and undertanding terachers, though people still think of me as ‘on hte spectrum’.

  2. I’m reeling at the knowledge that I was subjected to ABA type “therapies” since I was 3 months old! What do I do with these feelings? This explains so much about me and makes me so sad. The most intensive ones stopped around 13, but it wasn’t until I left home at 18 for college that I finally got to rest.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this and putting the energy into helping us understand. One thing that struck me, as an allistic person (I hope I am using that term correctly) is that I HATE being tickled. If you tickle me, I will probably laugh, just like if the doctor uses that bangy thing on my knee it will kick. I’ve seen kids being tickled yelling “stop, stop, stop” – but laughing and laughing and we trust their laugh more than their words to decide what they want. And I see this with neurotypical children and I think it is bordering on abuse. Seeing tickles used as positive reinforcement – on top of everything else you shared, actually was very uncomfortable for me to watch.

  4. The way some of those ABA therapists in the video were touching those kids was so weird. If any adult did that to a neurotypical kid there’d be hell to pay. I swear these people have no respect for these kids’ boundaries or consent.

  5. Hi there, great article, super informative. As an RBT in training at a facility for young children with autism, I’d like to know your opinion as an autistic person on some things.

    One thing that stuck out to me in your article was your criticism that in ABA, therapists are only focused on the behavior/changing the behavior, and they don’t focus on the WHY of the behavior/the emotion behind the behavior/the thing the individual is trying to communicate or achieve with the behavior. While it is true that changing behavior is the main focus of ABA (hence the name of course), in my experience thus far (and training using the national standard BCBA RBT training), one of the most important interventions that we have been taught to use in regards to behavior is functional communication training and functional behavior assessments (in this context, function means the cause of the behavior). This means in essence that we must always try and understand the cause of/emotion behind the behavior so that we can teach kids to communicate the cause behind the behavior more effectively. (A common example might be a kid demonstrating aggression or self injurious behavior when they are upset about not having access to their favorite toy. When FCT is implemented, the child is taught and reinforced to communicate “I’m sad and I want my toy” or “I want to play”, and the SIB or aggression is not reinforced so that hopefully the communication replaces the harmful behavior). So I guess I’m trying to say in my own personal experience I’ve seen almost quite the opposite than what you describe in this article in a solid portion of what I’ve observed.

    I’m not saying that the harmful methods of ABA that you described don’t occur in many practices. They clearly do and I believe that this is a problem and we all as therapists need to work harder and do better to understand the emotions and perspective of these kids better than we have been. My main question is that, in your opinion, is this a form of ABA that is acceptable (so long as the goal is not to try and make autistic children “normal” or “indistinguishable” but rather just to teach them effective social and living skills)? Or would you still consider this an undesirable form of treatment? I care so much about the kids that I’ve been working with and would hate to do anything that wasn’t beneficial to them; it breaks my heart to think my good intentions may cause harm in any way.

    I’m curious to know if there are forms or methods under the umbrella term of ABA that you might consider helpful or beneficial or, at the very least, not abusive in nature (such as the methods above)? Or if it’s the entirety of ABA that you believe should be condemned.
    P.S. my facility caps therapy at about 30 hours per week per individual, but most of our kids do much much less.

    1. The very biggest problem is that Autism is not a single diagnosis There are many causes, as well as different behaviours.
      In “normal” people there is also a wide variability in people’s behaviours.
      Who is to say WHAT should be ‘cured’ and what is perfect OK, even though not common?
      Basically anything that makes the child feel that s/he is ‘wrong’ is bad.
      Nothing wrong with rocking when stressed. Help the child feel less stressed.
      Nothing really wrong with hand flapping if it makes the individual feel more comfortable. I know when I start dong this I need some ‘time out’.
      What does need help is self destructive behaviours, including those that will make people behave badly towards the individual.
      This only exacerbates the individual’s stress, so sensible advice about how to behave in public is fine. As id permission tp go off my one’s self
      I haven’t had much to do with brain damaged peopl
      e with Autistic behaviour — mine ‘runs in the family’ 🙁 Mostly we tend to run on and on and on and . . .

      1. I would like to add that autistic “aggression” cannot be reinforced as it is involuntary and reflexive. Refusing to address our problem as a result of behaviors we cannot control causes us a lot of unnecessary distress.

        We strongly warn against places that consider our behaviors to be operant and therefore reinforceable/punishable/extinguishable. Our behaviors are reflexive/unconditioned, and instead we need our emotional expression to be taken seriously. Also, since we have a communication disorder, refusing to acknowledge our attempts to communicate because we have improper emotional tone – ie too angry, too whiny, not complete sentences – is punishing us for our disability.

    2. Ultimately I just don’t believe that operant conditioning is the best way to approach a neurological condition.

      Nor do I think there is anything usefully unique to ABA which is not offered by other forms of therapy which also teach life skills etc

      1. People her might be interested in this video. It is really more about Operant Conditioning than dogs per se.
        Dog Behavior – (BTO Episode #1) Beyond the Operant with Kathy Murphy, Andrew Hale, and Kim Brophey – YouTube

  6. We chose not to do ABA with our son — and were sometimes made to feel we were cheating him. But we knew he would just be miserable and stressed. We were patient, we worked to overcome his health and sensory challenges — and he’s a lovely young man. If he is being less than lovely, we know he is experiencing pain or discomfort. I am glad we stuck with less invasive speech and OT, plus equine assisted therapy. I am glad we gave him hours and hours of down time. He is who he is, and he’s perfectly fine.

  7. We all have to learn to deal with life. GOOD ABA Therapists will work with children and families to help them be able to cope with life. They will have outlets, they will be able to function say in the grocery store…maybe with accommodations but they need to be able to go places safely.
    Of course everyone should be allowed to express themselves, but everyone also has to be respectful of everyone else. There needs to be a balance and that is why ABA Therapists need to continue their own education and be flexible in their approaches. ABA Therapy, as any therapy, is constantly evolving and growing. It is science based and research led. There should be more education available and parents looking into ABA Therapy should go with a reputable company and interview them, not just pick someone without the background training and knowledge to apply it appropriately for their child.

    1. There are other science-based, research-led therapies for autism which don’t involve any of the tortures listed above.

      The links and videos included above ARE of “good” ABA. Did you see any children being electrocuted? Starved? No, because THAT’S what “bad” ABA looks like.

      “Good” ABA is as pictured above.

      We can have science based therapies which respect autistic needs AND actually help us.

      1. What I saw was children being abused. The child was given no space for input into the treatment. The child was not even being asked politely, just TOLD WHAT TO DO!
        The child had no say in whether or not it wanted to attend the “therapy sessions”. Nobody apparently even bothered to ask the child what the problem was.
        Put yourself into a similar situation. You are in a place where you do not understand the language, and the cultural expectations are entirely different from what you know!

      2. Actually, l when I hear people talking about “Science-based”, I realise they have absolutely NO idea about science, but are relying on nothing more than socially pushed therapies by those in Authority.
        “Behaviorism” is a very outdated concept. Sure behaviour relies on feedback from the environment, but it is mostly caused by internal/ physiological actions in the body of the subject.
        When ‘using’ ‘Behaviorism”, the most important thing to assess is IF the offered whatever is going to reward that individual and this reinforce a behaviour — not that it had worked for others!
        Or in other words they MOST important thing a therapist can do is get to know the individual they ae tying to help. (Not the parents of the individual/not the teacher/ not the doctor/not your superior/supervisor.)

  8. What are some other strategies or interventions you think would be appropriate or effective in teaching what ABA claims to teach?

    1. Until ‘they’ diagnose the underlying cause of the autistic behaviour, there can be no one size fits all ‘interventions’ for autistic children (or indeed adults).
      It is as bad as the old ‘lunatic asylums’, where no matter what problem an individual had, they were all treated as ‘mad’.

    2. Well, first of all, most of us agree that we don’t want to learn what ABA claims to teach. ABA is focused on “life skills”, e.g. helping us “catch up” to typically developing children. Except that we don’t need help with that. We develop at our own pace and would like to be allowed to do so.

      Therapies that many autistic people do report finding useful include occupational therapy, mindfulness, communication-based therapies, etc.

      1. “The links and videos included above ARE of “good” ABA. Did you see any children being electrocuted? Starved? No, because THAT’S what “bad” ABA looks like.” Ummm.
        Doesn’t look ‘good to me’. It used force, and negative reinforcement, ie “If you do what I tell you to do, then I will take away THAT aversive.”
        As for “occupational therapy, mindfulness, communication-based therapies, etc.” I suspect that you are confusing ‘Autism’ with mental retardation.
        Now I know that it is becoming increasingly common to describe mental retardation as “Autism”, because people with mental problems (retardation/injury) often have “autistic behaviour”.
        but many many people with very high intelligence show what is describes as “Autistic behaviour” and we can be really really pi**ed of by people with pedestrian brains trying to tell us what to do and how to behave!
        Please modify any ‘help’ you want to offer to the individual NOT your idea of “Autistic”.

        1. Please refrain from using abelist slurs in your comments. If you are referring to cognitive and intellectual disabilities, many autistic people have ID/CD and many of us do not. They are considered separate diagnoses and their criteria are quiet different.

          Perhaps you should refrain from espousing opinions about things which you are not up-to-date on, such as outdated terms for disabilities.

          And no of course “good” ABA still doesn’t look good. Thats the entire point of this article. Nevertheless, the videos posted here are from modern training videos and are often lauded and referred to as examples of ABA done “right”.

          1. CL Lynch. To whom are you talking???? I thought we were talking about Autism — not intellectual disabilities!
            I did NOT equate Autism to mental retardation — it is, though, a common euphemism used by people with brain damaged kids or mental retardation, to call them Autistic because they behave in autistic ways. And it sounds better than intellectually retarded.
            I am actually horrified that people do this!
            I am also horrified that. Autism is being talked about as a diagnosis. it is NOT. it is a symptom that occurs for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is that we are NOT mind-bogglingly boringly ‘normal’. And yes my parents worried about me as a littlie and yes I did have therapy. Luckily NOT with people who tried to physically manhandle me and force me into doing things that gave me the bloody creeps!
            Autism though is nothing more than a description of behaviour and is NOT a diagnosis it has very many different causes some of them heritable, some of them due to physiologic conditions and some due to brain damage.
            The ALL need to be treated for what they are — not for “Autism”.
            Speaking as an “Autistic” myself — social problems and different ways of thinking — basically not believing in things because I am told it by an authority figure.
            IF anybody had treated me, as a child, they way I see in the above videos I would have totally freaked out. And I mean that!. The teacher who tried top pick me up as a toddler got roundly kicked in the stomach by me, and I was proud of it!
            Luckily we didn’t have failed academics then calling us Autistic and trying to model our behaviour physically.

          2. CL Lynch.
            I wonder what your qualifications are! Sometimes you seem to be completely contradicting yourself.
            You might use an English word that is meaningful rather then “Abelist”
            Abelist?? Like Abel?? Or do you mean a socially competent person (which though I would still dislike it would be better spelled ‘ablist”).
            You also seem to have no [problem accusing people of “using slurs’ yet you seem to slut anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with you.
            I REALLY would like to know your qualifications!
            You accuse me of not being up to date! But you seem to be pretty ignorant yourself, not to mention not at all intersted in fingdingh out why so many people disagree with you
            .

          3. “Autism is a constellation of disorders with multiple causes, meaning that targeted, individualized treatments will be needed to assist people who seek them, Page says. Prevalence of autism diagnoses has been rising steeply since the 1990s. Research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates 1 in 59 children have an autism spectrum disorder. The mutations to Dyrk1a that cause autism appear to be sporadic, meaning they aren’t typically inherited, but rather appear randomly, Page says.”
            Autism Gene Study Finds Widespread Impact to Brain’s Growth Signaling Network – Neuroscience News

          4. Not “”abelist”” (Bloody stupid word!.) Intelligent and educated and from a family rife with Äspergers. I’ve always thought that we are the intelligent people on this planet, Einstein, Newton. Mozart Da Viinci, . . . .

  9. I think that ABA is trying to force square pegs into round holes 🙁 And as a child who excelled at posting boxes when I was three, I know what a losing battle you people and fighting — not to mention damaging both the pegs and the holes in the process

  10. This is all really fascinating to me and I cannot stop reading autistic perspectives on ABA. I am a special education assistant. Before I finished my certificate to work in the public school system (in Canada), I did some Behaviour Intervention work as some people in my program suggested it would be great for experience. I instantly hated it. I always thought I was uncomfortable for my own reasons and that I just wasn’t that good at it. That may be true, it was too structured and unnatural for me (I hated having to take data constantly) but I think I was also responding to the negative aspects of it that have been pointed out in this article. Although I didn’t end up doing much DTT in the short time I was a BI, videos similar to the one in this article were very much a part of the training. There were no punishments, only positive reinforcements, but there was just…something…not…quite…right about it. I had considered going on to an ABA degree to become a BCBA at one point because there was a degree program at the same school as my SEA program and some credits would go towards the degree. I’m so glad that I didn’t go down that route.

    I am focusing instead on specializing in communication supports. I think it is so important for all of us to be able to communicate our thoughts, feelings, ideas, wants, needs, etc. and to feel heard and understood by those closest to us.

  11. I’m neurotypical and my husband is autistic. We’ve recently figured all this out so we’re in the process of learning. I just came across these ABA Therapy videos and by the time I was done watching I was crying. I’m horrified and frankly enraged that adults are somehow getting away with abusing children because the fields of psychology and psychiatry say this treatment is okay. If I saw someone treat my child, or any child, the way these children are being treated in the videos I would call the police. I don’t know how long ago these videos were recorded but I’m concerned for the children in them. I think that (some) people who are not autistic actually can very much see that what is happening is wrong wrong wrong. We neurotypicals may not see everything those with autism do but this is so obvious and it has to stop. It reminds me of those very disturbing and now very illegal ‘psychological’ experiments that were done on children and adults back in the 40s and 50s. HOW on earth is this ABA ‘therapy’ still happening in 2021?? Though my husband wishes his parents had been more aware and educated on autism when he was a kid decades ago, we’re SO thankful he wasn’t subjected to this creepy, should-be-illegal ABA Therapy MIS-treatment!!

    1. so how to improve unwanted behaviour ( self biting, pinching, shouting ) of autistic child?

      1. Probably find out just WHAT is stressing t individual and then try to ameliorate that

    2. My parents couldn’t help me — ‘they were BOTH Asperger’s. I do wish we had lived close to my Grandmother

  12. I wanted to reflect on my experience, and share for any parents considering ABA. If i was a parent, i would heavily research any company or individual or therapy you are placing your child in, and think about what you are trying to achieve through this kind of therapy.

    As a previous ABA therapist, I feel that most of these videos are pretty accurate to ABA. Thank you for sharing your insight and promoting voices of people who actually experience ABA.

    I am a college student studying health and worked in as an ABA for about a year while studying. I feel really conflicted about this topic :/ I had always felt really uncomfortable at my position, and rather unqualified. as a student interested in medicine, ABA therapy was one of the best quality jobs available at the time. I’m not sure if the field ever did in the first place, but it seems that many big name companies in the field are shifting away from using therapists with a bachelors or masters degree, or even people with certification and really trying to hire college students as a way to get cheaper labor and avoid hiring full time employees with benefits and experience. I think a lack of education, low level training, and little understanding of what children and their families are experiencing contributes to the occurence of these horror stories and abusive situations that shouldn’t happen.

    As a therapist, I wasn’t taught to stop a child from stimming, but offered different activities that children would tell me they enjoyed to participate in of their own choice. I wasn’t taught to take a communication device away from a child, although i believe that this could happen. Part of me wants to think this was a mistake, but i think i am only beginning to understand the full scope of ABA and it’s history. different levels of physical restraint and physical guidance was frequent across therapists. There is often very little oversight of how a therapist actually interacts with children on the daily. i always tried to be as respectful as I possible to children’s comfort zone, and never tickled a child?? some kids directly ask for tickling or hugs, but most cases this seems an invasion of space.

    In some situations, it really did seem that ABA was more about easing stress for a parent than easing stress for a child. I tried to incorporate jokes and art projects and preferred reading, build confidence, and ask what kids liked and what they were interested in. But sometimes we had to do homework, or practice having physical boundaries with other’s, practice taking turns in games, and crossing the street. Some of these thing’s i feel like are essential for the child’s own safety and for the safety of those around them, even if kids don’t likes to do them. I am still learning about stories from people who endured ABA and the statistics on PTSD and anxiety following ABA. I feel embarassed to have participated in this industry, but i’m also glad to know the reality of what people experience. I feel like these are clear indicators that there is something wrong with the program. Children are one of the most vulnerable populations in our community with usually only their parents to advocate for them. they deserve a caring environment where they feel listened to and can learn at their own pace through play and experiences. there were many kind and well intentioned employees. Sometime’s intentions aren’t good enough, and children shouldn’t be subjected to psychological trauma through medical care. I hope a better solution can be found and its conducive to healing stress for both parents and children together

  13. If ABA is not right therapy so which type of therapy should be given ? pls explain.

  14. I am finding this site annoying –n ewe comments come in, but I cannot find them on the page because my e-mail notification does NOT lead me to the comment.
    Additionally, I am FED UP.
    We are a” “on the spectrum” aka normal distribution of human behaviour.
    At what quartile/decile/ percentile of the normal distribution does one ‘diagnose”.?
    Which characteristics out side ‘your’ chosen cut of point are considered?
    What degree avoiding crowds? What degree of coping with loud sound? What degree of avoiding certain textures?
    What degree of hair twirls? What degree of rushing to the nearest public toilet and bawling?/
    For most of us we ARE perfectly within the “able to operate” normal.
    Some people might find us difficult to cope with — however we too find some people difficult to cope with. Who has htre ‘autism’? the one who loves crows, noises, bright lights. or those of us who like quiet, being alone with one’s thoughts and the gently sounds on nature?
    If we can operate in society then stop diagnosing ‘Autistic’.
    I think those who love crowds, noises, bright lights and aren’t worried by the dirt and stinks are totally mad!

    If someone cannot operate alone in society, then they need help and support — NOT a diagnosis of Autism (a symptom of their problem) but the problem itself..

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