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.


Related Articles

454 Responses

  1. Now I realise ABA is all about abuse.. then also please guide us what to do that helps Autistic Childs need and grow so he can be productive and independent Adult?

    1. Nothing… ABA created a market where none was needed. Child development shows averages, thereby showing there will always be those who do not develop in an “average” or “typical” manner.
      What helps Autistics grow? Time. Our own time. Everything will occur in its own time, in its own way. Comparing Autistic development to typical development and getting worried that they’re not the same makes no more sense than worrying about why those who are AFAB express heart attacks differently (hint: medical research was done on white men of specific ages). Would training those AFAB to express they’re having a heart attack “properly” help? No. Learning about what heart attacks LOOK LIKE in those who are AFAB would though.
      Autistics need our sensory needs accommodated to minimise stress and anxiety, and we need a way to communicate those needs. At most we need a specialist who can help us find a communication method that works the best for us if physical speech does not develop or is delayed (both of which is perfectly ok as we tend not to believe physical speech is superior to any other form of communication).

    2. Look into relationship approaches like Relationship Development Intervention and the SonRise program at the Autism Institute of America.

      1. OR instead of going to a place that branched off of Autism Speaks (bad org. Bad practices. Ableist history. One of the founders just branched off to make their own thing to do the same shit different name). You could INSTEAD go look on ASAN’s (Autism Self Advocacy Network) site for resources. As the org is run by Autistic people with the goal to help us.

  2. This was the most helpful article I have read so far to help me understand an autistic person’s perspective on this topic. The examples were very clear and the narrative was so carefully laid out. Thank you so much.

  3. All the grabbing and holding/pushing/touching in the first video made cringe touch is so hard, painful even.

  4. I agree ABA is abuse. I do not have autism. I have some neurodiversity and developmental complex trauma. I was a teacher and tutor. I’ve seen ABA done in person. All of that brought me to the same conclusion as this author. I cheered for a young girl who saw through the bs and refused to comply. Her parents didn’t understand her or my take on why she was acting that way. I think ABA epitomizes the essence of the rot in modern schooling. I hope ABA falls out of favor and is publicly condemned with a sound argument and evidence. My heart goes out to everyone crushed and violated by this. And I hope parents start getting a clue and some humiiity. Thanks

  5. I just learned at 41 that I am autistic. I’ve worked with special ed and early childhood for my entire adult life and in my adolescence. Watching these videos made me so uncomfortable and I’m not sure that I would’ve felt confident to know why before. It is truly sad to watch people being trained to treat children this way.

  6. I will preface this with an acknowledgement that I am a credentialed BCBA-D and have been working in the field for 20 years. I agree that the things you have written in this article constitute actions that are trauma-inducing and not in consideration of an individual’s needs and are actions that ABA therapists have engaged in with the intention of supporting and helping clients. In the years that I have been in the field, I have seen a shift though and many of the things you mention are only engaged in by poorly trained behavioral therapists. I personally would never remove a child’s communication device or ignore their clear attempts at accessing their mother. I may, as you suggest, tell them that mommy will be able to talk to you in a minute once this is complete as I would to my own neurotypically developing children. As a practitioner, a child’s feelings, anxieties, desires, and needs all matter and play a role in the behavior that we are seeing. Yes, behavior is the primary focus because that is what we observe and that is what we, as a society, react to. That does not mean that the other factors are ignored is irrelevant or meaningless. If a child is anxious, then it is important to identify and understand why they are anxious and help to alleviate that anxiety. Doing so not only helps the child be relaxed and happy, but helps to improve the learning situation providing for more opportunities to teach the skills that the client and/or parent have identified as needed. You make many good points and identify practices that are problematic in the field that I have dedicated my professional life to. Those are practices that I work to eliminate or prevent in young behavior analysts. Instead, when I work with any individual, I strive to make sure they are, as Greg Hanley puts it, happy, relaxed, and engaged by choice, not by coercion or forced compliance. If a child is trying to get away from me or escape a situation, it is my job to identify why that is the case and make a change to the situation rather than child. Yes, there are practitioners who still do some of the things that you have written about, but that is not what ABA is as a field. The goal of all practitioners is to help their clients and provide them with the skills and resources they need to live a happy and successful life of independence and opportunity. Historically, ABA has included some practices that we should not be proud of, but the field is evolving and the science behind ABA allows us to support the clients we work with in a way that is trauma-informed, loving, understanding, and respectful of differences.

    1. “That is not ABA as a field”

      You cannot, categorically, separate the history and origins of ABA from abusive practice. If you are acknowledging the feelings of your clients who are autistic and making sure their needs are met while teaching them skills in a way that shows that their feelings matter and that it is okay to feel discomfort with things and step back from situations. That is, by definition, categorically, based on the origins, no longer ABA. End of. There is no “well it’s getting better! It’s not like that anymore! It’s only poorly trained technicians!”

      As ABA was founded by a man who supported an institution that actively killed disabled people with electro shock “therapy”. By a man who stated, himself, that he did not see autistic individuals as people, but as “components of a person that you have to build yourself”. Who categorically did not see Autistic people as human. And is, still at present, supported by a “charity” known for being dismissive and ableist to autistic people and its community while it searches for a means of which to make use of eugenics to eradicate future instances of autism and “cure” us and who as a result treats autistic people as burdens and people who are afflicted with a disease rather than simply wired differently and having a divergence in our brain.

      The Autistic Community, as a whole, will never see ABA as not abuse. It will ALWAYS be abusive and considered abuse to us. If the “practice” deviates from its origins, then that is no longer ABA.

      It also, categorically, rose up when there was no necessity or NEED for an Autistic person specific therapy. Instead what was needed was a promotion of vetted resources of already well known therapies from orgs like ASAN that while not used specifically for Autism on its own can very much help autistic people gain the skills needed to live independently if possible, or at least decrease the level of dependence if not.

      And to ignore this is just plain ignorant.

      On top of this, you have admitted that ABA gives you a job, it provides your income. You are not looking at this as a result objectively, and are looking at this article in a way to look for holes to poke in order to protect and preserve that means of income. And please, do not insult my intelligence by attempting to say you are not. Anyone who works in the ABA institutions and areas where its practiced unless they actively break away as they have another means of income ready or are willing to no longer have that means of income should it come to it would defend the practice using the same “it’s not all of us” fallacy that relies on the idea of ABA abuse being just a few bad apples and the exception rather than the rule.

      ABA practices where it is not abuse are the exception to the rule, not the way its supposed to be. They are the bug,not the feature.

      ABA practices that are abusive such as the ones in the article and many actual stories and accounts from autistic people are a feature, not a bug. They are the rule, not the exception to it.

      It is not a few undertrained or underinformed bad apples. And even if it were, the lack of accountability doesn’t make those who aren’t like that no longer culpable. Because by defending the practice, I see no instances where you provide showings of those being abusive in these practices or using the “historically done” way of ABA then being unable to practice or having their license revoked. I see no statements on how you can get rid of these “bad apples” or hold them accountable in a way that is meaningful to truly get rid of the abusive practices and environments.

      All I see given how many of the commenters are behaving similar to you and saying these lines are words to use DARVO and attempt to delegitimize and silence the autistic communities voices speaking up about this when no one else has and trying to get us to shut up rather than advocate for ourselves and get rid of a practice that was neither necessary nor actually productive in the long term in helping rather harming us.

      And as an Autistic adult who went through the ideas that setup ABA and who has read similar accounts of abuse and harm. I really think that instead of defending this practice and attempting this “it’s just a few bad apples” approach. That you should take some steps back, look at this from outside of it being a means of income for you, & listen to the Autistic people and community telling you that this is not helping us. It is hurting us. And it is traumatizing autistic children who then must figure out a way to reprocess and come to terms with that trauma as adults.

  7. Or as I put it:

    “Have quiet hands. Table ready.”
    “All done. Good boy.” “Make sure to look at me.”
    “Conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let it show.”
    I’m gonna blow!

    (Sung to the tune of Let It Go by Idina Menzel.)

  8. Functional communication is a huge part of ABA. Teaching children, all children, to self-advocate and communicating their needs and wants.
    This is a very biased representation of ABA.

    1. It’s a biased representation to give what has been the experience with ABA? Stop defending an abusive practice. Functional communication specifically FOR autistic kids is not taught in this practice. I’m sure an NT version of it is taught, since the goal of ABA is to make one “indistinguishable from their peers”. It’s not to help the kids get better at communicating their needs. It’s to make it easier on the parents who don’t understand some parts of what their autistic child needs bc they don’t need it so why does their child need it?

      If it was actually to help Autistic people, it wouldn’t have the goal of making us indistinguishable from our peers. Maybe sit down and LISTEN to our community for once. Instead of berating us and telling us that we’re wrong for presenting a “biased” (read: negative) view of ABA based on our own experiences with it and the experiences of multiple other autistic people who as kids went through ABA and are now traumatized Autistic adults from it.

      As the fact you defend a practice that harms Autistic people definitely says a LOT about where your head is at with “helping” us.

  9. Hi, neurodivergent RBT here trying to wrap my brain around how what I do is considered abuse to so many, but is seen as a godsend to the family I work with. I would like to describe my client’s situation to you and hear what you think and get some advice. I have been working in the home with the same family, one (mostly) non-speaking boy for several years, about 3 hours each day. I say mostly because he can speak but is limited. I love my job, I love him, he loves me, his family loves me, he is growing so much and it is a joy to go to work every day, he is always excited to see me. I have my background in teaching, now finishing my masters in psych. It wasn’t until a recent discussion I had with a cohort member that I had heard that ABA is abusive. I understand your article, I see how the things you describe are harmful, wrong, and abusive. I know that maybe my experience is limited and perhaps the company I work for is not the “norm?” I don’t know. But what I hear you saying is that autistics don’t need to be changed, I agree with that 100%.
    What I don’t understand is when you talk about not teaching autistic people certain things because they will eventually learn them. But people do need to be taught things right? And people do need to learn how to do some things that might suck or be hard, which is not abuse. Because if that is the case then we should consider a lot of other things abuse, like being made to take medicine when sick, or getting a shot, or doing chores, or going to school. Forcing someone to ignore their emotions or comply with incessant demands, yes.
    My client’s family is trauma trained, I am trauma trained. We never restrain or seclude. We work on identifying feelings and noticing small signs and triggers. When I see that he is overwhelmed or dysregulated, I ask if he needs a break and I honor it. We never ignore his communication- we do ask him to push a button to communicate his needs if we think he is trying to tell us something. His mom, his BCBA, and I all are aware that when he is crying, or hitting, or throwing things, he is overstimulated or trying to communicate a need. We are trying to provide him with ways to communicate his needs when we don’t know what they are. When he says “no,” we don’t force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do (as long as it’s appropriate/not harmful.) For example, I told him he had 2 more minutes to play before washing hands before dinner. He has a visual schedule, he always washes his hands before dinner, usually not a problem for him. I asked him to wash his hands because dinner was ready. He hit me and threw a toy, so I said, “do you need more time to play?” (Understanding that transitions are hard for him and he probably wasn’t ready to stop playing.) He said, “yes” and he played for some extra time. After some extra time, he washed his hands and went to the table. Eating dinner is a need and so is washing hands. What do you suggest we do instead?
    We always honor his requests if possible, but sometimes we can’t. For a month before going on vacation he would ask to go to the beach (many hours away) and he would hit if anyone told him he couldn’t go, or offered to do something else. We would acknowledge “that’s a great job asking for the beach, I know you want to go to the beach. You might be sad or angry, but we can’t right now.” He would ask for the beach 20-30 times per day. We took him to the pool, and to a lake with a beach, play with a sprinkler, but he would hit because it wasn’t the beach and he had to wait, which is very hard for him. What should we do then? Another example is that he was not potty trained until mid-elementary school. I know ABA is not the only way to teach someone something, but using positive reinforcement is often how parents of neurotypicals potty train their kids, they sit on the potty, they get a sticker or an M&M to reward going potty. What do you suggest about potty training? I just am having a really hard time seeing how what I am doing is abusive, we work on life skills and playing, and following directions, recognizing family members, we never stop him from stimming, don’t ignore his emotions or requests… I don’t know. You might say I can’t see it because of cognitive dissonance. I am not saying that no ABA is abuse. I just refuse to continue doing anything that his mom, or he, would say is harming him in any way. I am curious about your response.

    1. “What I don’t understand is when you talk about not teaching autistic people certain things because they will eventually learn them.”

      This is a misnomer. We’re not saying don’t teach them at all, we’re saying the way ABA *teaches* is not the way to do it and is harmful. Because ABA teaches based on the principle of indistinguishable from peers, which means pushing a child faster than they can go in order to have them meet averages that not even NT kids will all meet regularly.

      “And people do need to learn how to do some things that might suck or be hard, which is not abuse. Because if that is the case then we should consider a lot of other things abuse, like being made to take medicine when sick, or getting a shot, or doing chores, or going to school. Forcing someone to ignore their emotions or comply with incessant demands, yes.”

      They do need to learn harder things or things that suck. The issue is as you said IS however that ABA forces someone to ignore their emotions and needs to comply with the wanted behavior. If your company is not doing this. It is not ABA. It’s likely using the label in order to be covered via insurance. Bc that’s the only way medical insurance would pay for it if it’s under that umbrella.

      “I just am having a really hard time seeing how what I am doing is abusive, we work on life skills and playing, and following directions, recognizing family members, we never stop him from stimming, don’t ignore his emotions or requests… I don’t know.”

      I’m going to say this with 100% honesty and bluntness. Just because you don’t see it in your actions, doesn’t mean that the harm isn’t happening. It’s also liable that the kid your doing this on may not have the words to express things if you do cause harm or do something that would be abusive if he is mostly nonverbal.

      1. You’re… not a good person. Every reply here is trying to convince us we’re doing bad things. Maybe you’re too autistic to see it, because a lot of us have this terrible habit of getting obsessed with something/seeing it from one perspective and not actually being willing to learn/change but “if it’s not abusive it’s not aba” has to be the DUMBEST possible response.

        You’re not smart. You’re not helpful. You’re providing nothing other than some weirdly angry online criticism when these people are receiving help. We’re redefining ABA and, unfortunately, we can’t erase the origins! Just like Planned Parenthood was started by a woman who believed in eugenics but is now the #1 most helpful low cost option. Things can be complicated. Learn to see things in grays instead of Black and white. Maybe some new aba would’ve helped you with that.

  10. I have an ASD diagnosis, and while I never was specifically placed in ABA, I do agree that it is abuse, now I’m sure most parents/guardians who place their child(ren) with Autism in ABA don’t intend to harm their child(ren) in any way, shape or form, and I’m sure most ABA therapists don’t set out to harm the children they work with, but any tactics that focus on teaching a child to be docile and compliant is abuse, even if it’s not intentional. ABA also does not address the root cause of the behavior, nor does it help to teach the child why the behavior is or is not appropriate.

    Although I never was specifically placed in ABA, I can recall a couple of years in school (I think 3rd and 4th grade) where I had a special schedule binder, and if I behaved well during a given time of the school day, I would earn a token in my book, but if I did something wrong, I would not receive my token. If I had earned enough tokens by the end of the day, I would earn a small prize. Now, I’m sure that whomever came up with this idea for me did it with the best of intentions. However, the tokens and prizes did not teach me why my behavior was or was not OK, nor did it address the root cause of the behavior.

  11. I still don’t see what the problem is. Pushing your feelings down, sucking it up, and doing what is expected of you is just how the world works, autistic or not, child or adult. This isn’t major heroics, it’s a given and a fact of life for literally everyone. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to write reports, attend meetings, or whatever. You keep your negativity to yourself and you do it, or you don’t keep a job. You don’t keep a job, you have no money and can’t pay your bills. You can’t pay your bills, you are homeless and starving on the streets.

    You just have to learn to cope as best you can. Plenty of alone time outside work where you get to do what YOU want to do really helps. Even with that though, you’re better off not talking about it to others.

    1. The issue is the autistic person is being taught to push it down in a manner that is inhumane, to the point where they become afraid of ever taking the mask off even when by themselves, bc they are taught explicitly that their feelings don’t matter at all, even privately at home. That they cannot even do small things such as stimming to alleviate the stress in a manner that helps. It’s not just “sucking it up” or “dealing with it”, it’s outright saying “you can’t have any feelings in ways that aren’t typical at all” with helpings of compliance training and tenets of gay conversion therapy (also known to not work and is abusive) to enforce that narrative. Which can lead them as autistic adults or autistic teens into not speaking up for themselves when their boundaries are being violated or pushed at due to that narrative message and how vehemently it gets pushed.

  12. I’m sorry that you had such a negative experience with ABA. However, I do not believe that you have a right to speak for every Autistic person across the entire spectrum. There are many autistic adults that keep beautiful relationships with their ABA therapists well into their adulthood because of their positive experiences, and are grateful for the skills and tremendous confidence they’ve developed along the way. I myself am a neurodivergent adult who is actually now an ABA specialist. My own struggles and feelings throughout everyday life are different than that of the next, and I do not put that onto my clients. ABA looks at everything a person does as a behavior, and the purpose is to figure out the function of the behavior and then work with that. Anyone trying to repress a child’s needs in the process is doing it wrong. You say that these children with learn certain things like functioning in the community in time. Well how do you suppose that will happen if they are always allowed to escape uncomfortable situations. Neurotypical people in one shape or form are all forced to grow out of their comfort levels. If one cannot do that, they will probably remain stuck in the same position in life and the rest of the world will move on with them. You know the expression, “if you wait until you’re ready, you never will be”. These hurdles in life are absolutely harder for someone with Autism, and that’s unfortunately something that comes within the territory. But human beings as an entire collective are ALL faced with things that we have to overcome, with excruciating anxiety in the process. A ND child will not always have their parents around, or someone to take care of them forever, and ultimately many that do not have families end up in group homes/assisted living facilities. Seeing the excitement and positive body language from a ND child when they realize they are capable of accomplishing/overcoming that really hard thing is a beautiful thing to witness. ABA is supposed to use positive based language only, even during high intensity behaviors. For example, if a child is hitting, you’re not supposed to say “you don’t hit,” You instead relay the behavior you want to see and say “lets use nice hands”. The fact that you are relaying that ABA ignores how the child is feeling is a misrepresentation, and flat out wrong to force that belief on people. The goal is to teach them alternative methods of processing their feelings, in lieu of expressing them through challenging, destructive, or self harm behaviors. And yes, this is achieved through different types of reinforcement.. In one of your responses to a previous comment, you say “Just because you don’t see it in your actions, doesn’t mean that the harm isn’t happening. It’s also liable that the kid your doing this on may not have the words to express things if you do cause harm or do something that would be abusive if he is mostly nonverbal”. This is PURE speculation on your part, and you’re deciding that you can make this circumstance up to support your argument. You are deciding for another child that you don’t even know, and are determining AND UNDERMINING their abilities. This is very negative based language, one of the things you are accusing ABA of supporting. So now you are just contradicting yourself. There are so many positives to ABA when done right. It may not be the answer for everyone, but allow the parents and children to work that out for themselves. You have a right to share your own personal experience, but you do not have a right to shove that experience down everyone’s throat and decide that everyone else’s experience will be the same.

    1. You’ve just put words in my mouth. You’ve also just completed ignored me. The exact thing that is stated ABA specialists do. It’s also not underminding when this is aview frequently spoken up on by others. The fact you keep going “I’m sorry your experience with ABA was bad, BUT” honestly speaks for itself. Believe it or not. We speak up about the harm so people KNOW. Also, if your ABA therapy doesn’t have comoliance training or tenets of conversion therapy. It’s not actually ABA. It’s marked as it so it gets coverage for insurance.

      Just the fact alone that you commented on an article saying “hey, this is harmful” to “actually, it can be very beneficial I’m also autistic and say it isn’t I’m working as a specialist for it now” speaks for itself. You say not to shove opinions down people’s throats, but that’s what you’re doing. There are plenty of articles out there by misinforned people singing ABA’s praises and about how much it “helps”. There’s also now articles showing that, no, it doesn’t, and in fact, many of the autistic adults invilved in it as kids have been traumatized by it and have only gotten worse.

      I want this to be very clear. You are defending a practice created by a man who did not think autistic people to actually be complete people. You are defending a practice that is supported by a false charity that is a hate group made solely to promote the eugenics of autistic people. A practice that while you think the benefit provided outweighs the harm and trauma it is causing. Because you do not want to view the practice you went into as abusive.

      Just because you refuse to see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Because the person in this article isn’t bringing up nameless people they don’t know. The article is speaking of the experiences given by those who have been harmed by ABA therapy. And are speaking up about it now only to have people like you attempting to silence them because it wrecks your worldview of this being helpful.

      ABA is abuse. End of. If it is not involving the practices that are abusive, it is no longer ABA.

      Also, saying “Let’s use nice hands” instead of “don’t hit” is infantilizing. You are infantilizing the person who’s hitting. Tell them not to hit. Tell them that if they feel the urge to hit if they have a hitting stim, to then redirect it into a non-harmful stim. Explain that hitting can hurt them and others. Using language like “Let’s use nice hands” is just plain demeaning. You don’t even have to say that. You could say “how about we do a different stim?” Or “How about we try stimming a different way you like?” And then you can bring up a non-harmful behavior for the stim for them to use. Redirecting the kid without treating anyone like they’re a baby.

      “This is PURE speculation on your part, and you’re deciding that you can make this circumstance up to support your argument”. Actually, it’s not speculation. I had a friend who’s cousin was this kid. There are several nonverbal autistic adults who can text who were this exact example when they went through ABA. There were several verbal ones who were this kid as a child who only became verbal properly after they got out of ABA and unlearned the behaviors. I’m not pulling it out of nowhere. The parent doesn’t know everything about their child. You can’t read a kid’s mind. It’s speculation on your part or even just plain assumption that you think there are no stories out there that prove this exact circumstance I stated and that this article stated. Children will not always have the words to figure out to communicate harm. Especially when they’re constantly being told that the thing harming them is helping them. That’s just fact.

      “ABA looks at everything a person does as a behavior, and the purpose is to figure out the function of the behavior and then work with that. Anyone trying to repress a child’s needs in the process is doing it wrong.” I want you to reread your own sentence. Twice. ABA looks at everything a person does as a “behavior”. Then figures out the “function” of it to “work” with it. Do you know what that usually entails? Stopping the “behavior” to teach them a “better” way to behave for the “function”. You know what usually gets taught? NT methods of dealing with the function related to it. Thereby equating ND behavior as “not good” or “not appropriate”.

      Also, “anyone trying to represent a child’s needs in the process is doing it wrong”, no, the people who do that are doing it the way that ABA is supposed to function. The way Lovaas wanted it to function because he didn’t see us as human beings, just the pieces of one that needed to be put together “properly”. The ones who actually consider the needs of the autistic people they’re working with are actually doing it wrong, because they’re deviating from the original way ABA is supposed to function as a model. Which then makes it not ABA.

      ABA is also completely unnecessary. It rose up out of a need that didn’t have any absence of solutions. There are plenty of therapies that do the things ABA is proported to do to help without using the practices of ABA. ABA was made because Lovaas didn’t like that those therapies treated the autistic people like people. You cannot divorce ABA from its origins and then say it’s helpful when the founder of it didn’t believe us to be human. It’s quite frankly disingenuous.

      What’s also disingenuous is the fact that if you’ll notice. Every single comment in the negative is not an ND person singing ABA praises. There are also plenty of former ABA specialists who agree that the practice is abusive. There’s an autistic person who is a professional dog trainer who took one look at how ABA works and said if they did that to the dogs they train that they would lose their license because its inhumane.

      All of the positive reviews speak on how it helps, but they’re from the perspective of NT people. ABA itself is advertised as a way to make the person “indistinguishable from their peers”. That’s not an advertisement of help and benefit and taking needs into account. That’s an advertisement of “we’ll make your child so that they behave no different than their NT peers and it’s more comfortable for you (the parent/caretaker).”

      “You say that these children with learn certain things like functioning in the community in time. Well how do you suppose that will happen if they are always allowed to escape uncomfortable situations?” First off, this is infantilizing again. You’re assuming that letting the person go at their own pace means that the will never go out of their comfort zone and that they will be enabled to not grow. This is insulting. And it’s harmful. Your insistence that anything outside of ABA will result in lack of growth and enabling of the escaping discomfort (which, you know, is normal, NT people don’t like being in discomfort either) speaks a lot on where your mind is at. It shows how little of a positive view you have on autistic people who aren’t as able to communicate as you, who may not be as independent as you.

      No, the parents will not always be there, but in circumstances of dependencies, one does not need ABA in order to grow and learn how to do certain things for themselves. There are other helpful therapy methods out there that help teacher the skills to be independent that allow the person to go at their own pace without forcing them to thrust into the skills too much too fast. Because there’s a limit to how much people can step out of the comfort zone before there’s too much stress involved in the process. And the way ABA is setup to make you indistinguishable from peers means that there are plenty of kids and have been plenty of kids who had that exact thing happen. Too much. Too fast. Lots of stress to make them behave and be more independent.

      Speech therapy helps nonverbal people. If it’s still too much even during that, you don’t force the kid to speak. There are other ways to communicate. AAC devices are a version. Text to speech is another. No, they shouldn’t escape every uncomfy experience. But if you’re forcing them to experience every uncomfortable thing just to make them function more “normal” so that they can fit in with their peers or for your own comfort, then you’re causing stress and harm.

      And you’re trying to make them act like something or someone they’re not because the societal standard of “living well” and being happy is dictated by how independent you are, how many friends you have, how well you can talk to people, and how well you can pretend to be polite for the sake of others. Anyone who can’t live independently who can still work should be helped to be independent so they can work and “pull their weight”.

      You’re also missing the point of the fact it’s being called abusive by Autistic people. Who are then shouted down by NT people. Who justify the process of ABA as good and helpful because they do not see anything wrong with it. They do not see the fact that it can destroy your sense of self esteem and self worth because when you show distress how you know how you are not met with help but instead being told “no, do it this way. It’s better.” Or just being told “This is uncomfortable but you have to learn to do it. Ignore your discomfort”.

      They cannot see how this wears down boundaries because they do not see a problem with them learning how to deal with “uncomfortable” situations. Even when in some cases, the discomfort is causing physical pain and not just emotional distress. Seeing all actions as behaviors with a function in mind dehumanizes the person as a whole. They just become a cluster of behaviors that you need to adjust so they do behaviors that are better. Knowing the “function” does not give you the why of the function. If a behavior happens because overstimulated, you don’t know why the overstim is happening, you don’t know if it’s causing physical pain to be overstimulated, you just know. Overstimulated, does a behavior that’s “inappropriate” that needs to be guided and redirect through reinforcement to one that is.

      And don’t lie to me and say that’s not what happens. There’s enough stories floating on the internet of people’s experiences and how that’s what happens to know it does. I’m not stupid and neither should anyone else be stupid. If you want the autistic kid and their parents to make the decision for themselves on if they should do the non-ABA version of ABA, they need to hear the negative stories. They need to hear how it can be harmful. They need to hear more than just it can help their kid. They need to hear more than just this is the thing that “works”.

      The first thing they’re going to hear is how it works, how it helps, how it teaches autistic kids skills and is good. They’re also likely going to have it show up on their first time researching as the therapy for autism. So they won’t hear about how it can be harmful how it can destroy the ability to form boundaries for yourself how it can make you feel like you and your feelings don’t matter when you’re upset. They won’t hear about how it was made by a guy who wouldn’t think their kid is human how it’s inhumane and would get a professional dog trainer’s license revoked if used for dogs but it’s ok for kids despite that. They won’t hear how the guy who made it used tenets of conversion therapy. They won’t hear how it was endorsed by a group who wants the eugenics of autistic people to “cure” it because its genetic.

      Because thats not what comes up when you search for help with it. It’s not even what comes up when you search about what ABA is. Because people who practice ABA don’t bring up the horror stories they don’t bring up the articles written by autistic people about the harm it causes. Because they want to have them as clients. They want the money associated with being paid to provide the service.

      Acting like this negative view of ABA is being shoved down people’s throats ignores the actual reality. The positive, it’s not harmful view is shown forward and shoved down throats. The negatives are buried. You have to specifically search ABA with the word harm of even abusive to get these stories. And even then these articles are flooded with people defending it and shoving it down people’s throats that it’s not harmful. Because “I’m sorry you had a bad experience with ABA” always ends with a “but it’s not harmful and is helpful, it’s just not for everyone”. Even if not directly stated, you did this same thing. You looked at this article, saw it was portraying your job,which you get paid to do, negatively. And you leaot to its defense because if less people use ABA, that means you’re out of a job even if you have supposed good intentions.

  13. I’m a mom to a daughter who is almost 7 years old and is newly diagnosed with ASD level 1. She is very verbal. She will have a tantrum when she doesn’t get what she wants or has trouble doing something herself. She got upset because she didn’t understand a game and hit the cards and screamed. Sometimes she hits her head with her fists and calls herself stupid. This is what I would consider problem behavior. The BCBA who evaluated her told us to ignore her negative behavior. I will correct her like saying “you need to ask before you take something that’s not yours”. Then if she gets upset I will ignore that behavior. She has a calming corner in our living room. If she gets upset I will ask her if she needs to go to the calming corner, where she has a calming bottle, fidget toys, stuffies and pillows. But it is not used as a punishment for her behavior. It only gives her a safe space to calm down. When she is done, she comes back to whatever she’s doing with the family.

    1. “She will have a tantrum when she doesn’t get what she wants or has trouble doing something herself.” It’s not a tantrum, she’s upset and getting frustrated by not getting what was asked for which while sonewhat unreasonable is still a valid response, or because she doesn’t know how to do something which is not her fault and so her frustration and upset is reasonable. Calling it a tantrum downplays her feelings about it. A better way to have said this would have been to say “she will get upset and frustrated when” and then the examples. Acknowledges the feelings are important and doesn’t then downplay them. Also acknowledges that she’s 7. She’s bound to get upset and frustrated right now when not getting what she wants or not knowing how to do something.

      “She got upset because she didn’t understand a game and hit the cards and screamed.” Then tell her not to hit the cards and say that you can explain the game to her and then teach her how to play at a pace she can learn it and understand.

      “Sometimes she hits her head with her fists and calls herself stupid. This is what I would consider problem behavior.” This is problematic, but you can redirect the behavior by figuring out why she’s doing it. Since she’s verbal, you can ask her pretty easily why she does it and how she’s feeling when I happens. Should also not be that difficult after that to then redirect it into non-harmful/problematic ones. Giving her an outlet for what’s going on in a way that’s healthier.

      “The BCBA who evaluated her told us to ignore her negative behavior. I will correct her like saying “you need to ask before you take something that’s not yours”. Then if she gets upset I will ignore that behavior.” This is literally just the BCBA telling you to do a correction and then negative reinforcement that teaches her that the actual things she is feeling don’t matter if she doesn’t communicate it in a way you want it to be communicated. It’s a horrible way to redirect things, and it could lead to her since she’s only 7 developing some bad habits regarding her feelings about things.

      “She has a calming corner in our living room. If she gets upset I will ask her if she needs to go to the calming corner, where she has a calming bottle, fidget toys, stuffies and pillows. But it is not used as a punishment for her behavior. It only gives her a safe space to calm down.” This is fine, actually. It might be even better to have her have a room where she can calm down with all that stuff. So she can go when she gets overstimulated or overwhelmed too or just needs a break. This is actually the one good thing out of this response. The BCBA’s response of telling you to ignore the behavior is honestly just plain insensitive. There’s a reason she’s doing it. You’ve shown you know why it’s happening. When evaluated. It would have not been in the slightest bit difficult to suggest ways to redirect the behavior without ignoring it in of itself and therefore still acknowledging the feelings associated with the why of it. But the BCBA didn’t tell you to do that. Just told you to ignore the behavior to likely provide negative reinforcement to redirect it.

  14. We do this to non-autistic children all the time. We make them go to bed when they’re not tired. Eat everything on their plate even if they’re not hungry. We put down their feelings as “tantrums”. We treat them like slaves. It’s unfortunately part of our culture. Interestingly after studying anthropology and hunter/gatherers which live much like many speculate our species has for thousands of years a majority of this comes up after the advent of agriculture. In truly fierce egalitarian societies people don’t tell others what to do unless it is harmful to another or the tribe. Autistic people were in some tribes considered better than others, more connected to the natural world because they could sense things others could not. I’m not speaking for ALL but some.

    The fact that humans come from these people and share most of our DNA with bonobos that are very peaceful is boggling to me! With all of the bull shit I’ve put up with in my life as someone who has been diagnosed-professionally-I don’t even feel human anymore-dehumanization maybe.

Talk to us... what are you thinking?

Skip to content
%d bloggers like this: