On Hurling Myself Into Traffic to Get out of ABA Therapy

A car is about to hit a boy who is running into traffic to get away from applied behavior analysis therapy aba

I am an autistic teenager who has been forced into attending court-ordered applied behavior analysis therapy, or ABA. These are the experiences that led me to run into traffic to get away from it.

From what I’ve experienced with  behavior therapy, I feel like the RBT therapists who want to “help” me actually belittle me, make me feel incapable of doing what I can do, and constantly push me to do tasks as simple as flash cards, analog clock quizzes on an iPad, and easy reading comprehension way below my ability level.

The flash cards they make me do are like inference and idioms for third graders. I guess this a result of the cheesy stereotype about people with autism taking things literally. They make me take notes in a notebook on how many I got right or wrong. They even collect data on how many times I apologize.

I feel like a lab rat in a maze and the cheese at the end is when I get to go home. I don’t know what I’m doing there. I’ve asked them what were my goals, and they said that they always change until I am eighteen. This was devastating, because I thought if I played along and tried, I would “graduate” out of ABA.

Every time they tell me to work harder, I physically can’t because of all the other children in other rooms screaming their heads off. There’s also the music on the other iPads that the other kids use, too.

I can’t handle hearing young children screaming, and it’s happening all the time. Sometimes, they have very young kids in the room with me, as young as three years old. This is not just because of autism and noise sensitivity. I never see anyone comfort the kids who are screaming.

The sound is constant, like a horror movie soundtrack. They tell me that I’ll “have to get used to it” every time I ask what the children are screaming about behind the gates.

I’m always told that I am “scripting” every time something is difficult; for example, when I said I didn’t like how something made me feel, they said, “You’re just scripting.” Scripting is repeating words someone else said, so telling me that is like saying because I am autistic, I can’t even have feelings or talk about them.

I also have to make physical eye contact with them no matter what I say about how it makes me feel, and that is really hard. They want me to do it all the time, but that can make me feel uncomfortable.

They are actively collecting data on my eye contact in a room surrounded by screaming children, and they tell me that my conversation is “scripted.” What is natural about this setup? It’s all scripted, like a science experiment. And I am the one who needs to learn about irony?

Recently, they made me do a test where I had to answer a bunch of multiple choice questions, such as, “Are you able to count to three?” And then they made me do more inferences on worksheets. Again. Those “autistic people take things literally” stereotypes. I don’t struggle with that at all, and I’ve been doing it for a while.

When I ask why we are doing these things, they tell me, “It will improve your language skills.” But I think my language skills are fine.

They focus on everything I can’t do. They think I’m incapable. Do I seem incapable?

It is way too distracting, and it hurts my head to the point where I can’t talk when my mom asks me, “How did ABA go?”

But really, it’s always the same stuff: inference, idioms, clocks, retell, math, and conversations.

I feel like they are trying to make me less autistic. They describe things and focus on things that are stereotypes of autism, like conversion therapy.

I’ve told everyone who would listen to me– friends, teachers, relatives, counselors, everyone– except the people at ABA about how much I don’t want to be there. I haven’t told the ABA therapists because they will give me a speech about how it’s good for me to be there, or they will tell me that I am scripting. They never validate my feelings.

The most recent ABA drop off was the most difficult, because not only was I dealing with school, I was dealing with other stressors. Mostly, I could not bear the idea that I would have to do this until I was 18. I had a panic attack after my mom dropped me off, and I ran before entering the door to the clinic.

The therapists who always wanted to “help” me chased after me, and I felt like I had no choice but to run into the middle of moving traffic. I could not work anymore for ABA, and that was what I kept repeating to myself in my aching head as I ran into evening traffic. I tried to run back to the sidewalk, but it was too late. I was hit by a car.

The two behavior therapists who had been chasing me slowly backed away, and I watched them leave me there. That was definitely helpful. I went to the emergency room in an ambulance, feeling traumatized. After all, I got slammed on my side by a car and watched people who said they only want to “help” walk away.

I am worried that if I am forced into applied behavior analysis therapy because of court orders, I can’t survive.

Editor’s note: It is not appropriate to defend ABA therapy in the comments of this article. There are many articles on this site regarding ABA where your counter arguments or questions are acceptable and will be addressed. Any comments left in defense of ABA on this article will be removed and the user will be banned. Thank you for understanding.

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93 Responses

  1. The problem is, they thought they were doing you a favour. Well done Alex. Now discover what it means to be one of your own kind and not be made to lie to yourself.

  2. Also, you read very well. I would imagine the therapists never bothered to get you to write anything down to express yourself? Your medium is probably not face to face but via keyboards. See? You don’t make sense to them until then. So use the keyboard to communicate in future, as you may be trying to do things their way a lot. Ordinary face to face talking. Keyboard empowers you I think. Good luck.

    (I think it’s definitely empowered me).

  3. Just wanted to leave a comment here to support you. ABA is a form of torture. It’s horrific.

  4. One would almost wish for judges to have to endure ABA themselves to see why it is so wrong, except that would be inhuman as well. Hopefully, more resources will come your way to help reverse this decision and free you from ABA hell.

    1. Sweetheart, I am so sorry you are being tortured.
      I wish they would listen to us when we tell them it hurts us, often for life in the form of PTSD and C-PTSD.
      Hang in there.
      It will get better.
      As an adult, you will not be subjected to this.
      Things are changing. More Doctors and researchers are listening. Autistic researchers are doing studies that support and prove #ActuallyAutistic assertions that ABA is bad for us.
      Change is coming, hang in there.

  5. The ‘therapy’ they are doing to you is child abuse. I’d file a police report or however one is supposed to file a complaint. I’ve been trying to look up and understand all the various ABA therapies just to avoid this sort of c**p happening to my kid. I don’t see how any of what they are doing can be called therapy and don’t see at all how it is supposed to somehow help you to function ‘better’ in the world. What a load of hooey!

  6. My heart is with you. I sincerely hope that you can find a way to escape this court order, as it sounds like they are torturing you. Whatever happens, hang in there! You may need counseling to heal, but you will make it to 18. And people love you and need you. I’m speaking as a mother whose oldest son died far too young.

  7. I don’t know what to say first. Perhaps these points of mine should carry equal weight – I don’t want any of them to appear more important than the others.
    1. I find it courageous of you to write about this.
    2. The edifice of ABA is crumbling, slowly but surely.
    3. The fact that you had to run into traffic is awful, but entirely understandable.

    I am confident that you will have the last laugh on these ABA buffoons.

  8. This is abuse and should be illegal. You are so much better and smarter than the people doing this to you. Your feelings are real and valid and you deserve to have the chance to express them, and don’t let anyone tell you differently. I hope that in the near future you and others who have suffered this type of torture can sue those ABA scumbags and the judges who forced this on you and get a whole lot of money. So, how about it? Any lawyers here willing to represent these kids who have no voice? This has to be stopped. We can’t just be content with posting a comment about how terrible it is. Let’s do something about it.

  9. I think your best option is to get a lawyer. Do you have the support of *any* adult who can help get you a lawyer? File a police report regarding the torture, and the other tortured children in the torture facility, and sue for emancipation to get out from under the court order. Crowdfunding might be possible. You’re articulate, you should be able to represent yourself in legal filings and beofre a judge.

    Unfortunately this needs to be executed by people geographically local to you, due to the locality of the court system — it depends massively on where you are.

  10. I went to this summer day camp back in my elementary school years. I don’t know if it was actually an ABA Therapy, but it was compliance based. They used this point system. You earned points for good behavior and lost points for “bad” behavior. If you earned enough points, you were allowed to go on the field trip at the end of the end of each week. If you didn’t, you had to stay at the school where the camp was held and do chores until all of the kids who were allowed to go on the field trip returned. You could lose points for just about anything. (Literally) walking out of line, whining and complaining, and violating activity rules were just a few of the behaviors you would lose points for. Going to that camp for three summers was more than enough!

  11. Why court ordered? That seems extremely unusual even for ABA therapy. What in the world was the courts reasoning for making it mandatory?

  12. How are you? This post is almost two years old, I’m wondering if you’re okay? Did things change?

  13. Oh my God. I’m horrified. I was never in a situation this extreme, but I’ve had people like that as therapists and aides. If you say you don’t want to do something, they force you to do it. If you try to escape, they chase after you. I don’t think they even realize that they’re traumatizing people like us. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I hope you recover from the car accident and can end ABA soon or have already done so. Best wishes.

  14. “They focus on everything I can’t do.”

    Not to deny anything you’re saying, but it seems to me that they’re actually focusing on things you can do due to their ignorant belief that you can’t. Why ABA doesn’t have an assessment phase even now I shall never know.

    @ mindwarp: Actually, making a judge go through ABA would be more inhuman seeing how judges are real people, but we will never be until we’re fixed. /s

  15. I am crying after reading this. It is simply abhorrent.

    My son was diagnosed right after our divorce when he was 5. It changed nothing to how I perceived my child, I was just very happy to be able to look into specific tools to help me support him and meet his needs. On the other hand, his father was devastated by the diagnosis, acting like he was grieving the “normal” child he would never have, and refusing to mention it even to the school so he could get adequate support, because he didn’t want his child “labeled”. No, he was just ashamed of our beautiful, spirited, loving, sensitive boy. And he had the audacity of putting him in ABA therapy behind my back. I was livid when I found out , because of everything I had read about it from the perspective of autistics. We had joint legal custody and he was not allowed to unilaterally make medical decisions that weren’t a matter of emergency to preserve life or limb. I had to go to court to make it stop. Our boy is now 21 and a wonderful, personable, hard-working young man — who fortunately doesn’t seem to remember his time being subjected to ABA. Still, he carries around a lot of trauma and I can’t help but think that deep down ABA had a least a small part in it.

    I am deeply sorry you had to go through that, and I hope you are doing alright now.

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