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. I’m so sorry about what you have gone through and are going through. Your feelings and experiences are valid.

    I don’t know if this is helpful potential advice [feel free to completely ignore this], but if you’re interested in trying to sneak hearing protection into your sessions, I’ve found some earplugs that are really really discreet: https://www.earasers.net/collections/autism-sensory-reduction-1/products/earasers?variant=12272459743301

    I am only suggesting this because when I originally put them in, people didn’t even realize I had them in. They thought I wasn’t wearing earplugs at all. It helps that they’re clear.

    I really really hope that you do not have to endure the abuse of ABA anymore after what happened. I hope you pull through and find ways to cope, even if it’s through stoic noncompliance or non-stoic noncompliance. Autistic adults hear you.

  2. I am so sorry you went through this! You are such a brave and eloquent kid! No scripting here!!!!

  3. You are so strong and brave. I am so sorry you are going through this. One day ABA will be seen for the abuse it is. Keep speaking out. Encourage others to speak out against this abuse. From the Autistic adult community, we hear you. We are here for you. We will teach the people with allism some empathy and maybe even find a cure for them one day.

  4. Hey kid,

    You’re obviously very smart, and very strong. And well able to express yourself.

    There will come a time when you are free, and then you will flourish.

    Here’s a challenge to amuse you:
    ‘Nil carborundum illegitimi’! 😜

  5. I’m so sorry that you’re experiencing this. I’m sorry you’re being forced to endure court-ordered abuse. Please, let us know how we can support you. We see you.

  6. That totally sucks, and you don’t deserve for it to be that way.

    Can you send this to some lawyers near you? A good one can help you with getting a new court order to make sure you won’t have to go back to ABA.

  7. I’m very sorry you’ve been forced to endure this. Please know that we are all thinking about you and we hear how awful this is for you. You don’t deserve to be treated this way. Please know that life won’t always feel this negative. There is peace and happiness in your future and you will come to feel that soon.

  8. I am deeply sorry this has happened to you. I hope we can make changes in the knowledge, understanding and acceptance of autistic differences. Courage like you have shown in writing this are what will shine a light on how autistic folks need changes in how they are treated, particularly by the “helping community”. Autistic solidarity.

  9. Hi Alex,
    Your experience is heartbreaking. Even on your weakest days, you are stronger than many to continue to be subject to such inhumane, inequal and unjust treatment. I know you did not choose this path, and it certainly is not fair. And I would validate that it really is an experiment that you did not sign up for. And the only thing that can change this for others is your strength to speak up so the rest of us fortune enough to not have endured this torture can strengthen the voice against ABA. These are the articles I save and bookmark, and will present when met with any attempted force and inflict any(more) [knowing it’s been unapprovingly used. Thank you for sharing.

  10. That’s just plain awful. Keep on writing about it, and maybe even write a letter to the court about what goes on there, and how you feel; asking them to re-evaluate or place you in a different type of program. There is a lot of outcry right now about ABA and the damage it’s doing, so hopefully things will change for the better. Don’t give up! Many people are trying to figure out how to support you and other kids that are stuck in ABA ‘therapy’.

  11. Words can hardly accurately express how sorrowful I feel that you are going through this torment. Please look forward to a time when you will be of age to be free of this torment and those who are inflicting this abuse upon you. Know that you have an Autistic community who strongly support you and who welcome you with open arms.

  12. Is there anything I can do to help? To appeal this court ordered abuse? My heart aches for you and all those subjected to this cruelty.

  13. I’m sorry that adults are ignoring you and putting you through this. As adults, it’s our job to listen and protect. They’re failing you and the other kids, too.

    You are so capable. You can do so many things. You have a bright future ahead of you. We see you.

  14. Hi there, I’m also an Aspergian contributor. I tend to use a lot of profanity, apologies to both yourself and your mom (and the Aspergian).

    My favorite quote is, “You must never give in to despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.” I’m not sure if Avatar is cool anymore, and I’m kind of old, but that quote has stayed with me because it speaks right to the heart of things. Life can throw a bunch of hardship at us, but we can climb the fuck over it with enough audacity and support.

    Should we have to give ourselves hope when other people treat us like we’re subhuman? No. People should not be condescending assholes, truthfully. But some of them are, and they don’t deserve to make the rules. We’re working to change this. You were born into a tribe of rule questioners, and those who value conformity are always trying to break us because our existence makes them question what is comfortable and easy for them. We make them recognize that the world is bigger than themselves, and many of them don’t like that because it’s scary to look past what is familiar and realize just how little we actually understand about ourselves and the universe. But we neurodivergents are brave, and we keep fighting because oppression of any kind is unacceptable to us. Submission to the status quo without question is incompatible with our genetics. You are brave, and you’re built to be a survivor. I know this, because you are like us.

    I saw that someone posted this encouragement above: There will come a time when you are free, and then you will flourish.

    …and that’s absolutely true. I grew up in a really bad situation, and I used to count the time until I could be free. There’s a whole world out there waiting for you to explore it, and there’s an entire army here standing behind you as you soldier through this condescending bullshit. I used to tune out, and just go robotic to get through the shit, and then I’d be alone and I could escape into a book or I’d write on my Angelfire (lol) website – long ranty posts about my special interests. I’d dream about an apartment in the city, where I could disappear into the crowds and no one would know me, and I could just exist, free of oppressive authoritarians and their rigid and cruel expectations. As I entered into adulthood, my dreams and priorities changed, but those first hopes I gave to myself carried me to better times. This shit will get sorted, but in the meantime, do what you can to keep sane. You’re not alone – you are one of us, and we are all fighting parts of this battle in different places and different ways. You are currently a prisoner of war, but one day you’re going to be a general.

  15. I’m so sorry. How horrific that the court can order this abuse. I stand with you I will share your story and I hope someone out there can help.

  16. Thank you for telling us your story Alexander. In the autistic community the horrors of ABA are well known but to the wider world they are a mystery, hidden beneath layers of corporate money and establishment support. Stories like yours will help people considering ABA for their child, or facing court orders like yours to make the right decision and fight back.

  17. Although you are a minor, you should still have rights. I would suggest you contact the ACLU, ASAN, and Haley Moss (a lawyer on the Autism Spectrum and a advocate for persons with disabilities ). Thank you for sharing your story. Your are definitely going through a very challenging experience. But your writing is definitely a good way to process what you are going through and to maintain a sense of self. Additionally keeping a record of your experience could have use in any legal proceding especially if you use a journal and document with times, dates and places. Grateful that you have a forum and community of peers and allies.

  18. Tears also, It is so difficult to reconcile the wonderful aspects of humans with the dreadful tortures people dream up – or nightmares? Almost 20 years ago, I was working as a behavioural specialist, with a variety of youngsters. One of my gigs was with a “PDD” four year old. As his therapy support staff, I spent 8 hours a week with him and his mom for about one year, encouraging and reminding, As Kindergarten time approached, mom and I talked about whether or not he should continue in special needs classes. I saw him as ready for a particular K class with a fantastic teacher. Poor mom! The SE teacher insisted, I insisted… My gold star is that I saved a bright child from being wasted; When he was in 3rd grade, Mom phoned me at home to tell me how well he was doing. I knew we had done the right thing.

    When I needed more clients, the current “supervisor” told me I needed ABA training. She had never mentioned this before. I had seen bits and pieces about this ABA; I considered it child abuse and had no interest in being trained to abuse children. I resigned. I am shocked and appalled that this is still being used to torment people. I hope there are some strong advocates working to rid the world of ABA. It got in the way of my being able to help any more children achieve their potential.

  19. Obviously as I know you, I know that you would NEVER do anything like this unless under intense stress. I think those ABA funking shit* therapists are taking the mick with those simple activities which you can already do. I think you need to find out what they have on record for you and whether they have put you down as a ‘young’ child who is not able to read or write because with the way that they treat you I think that is the case. I hope you can get out of their horrible clinic and away from those crap therapists. Looks like overall they are trying to send you off to the funny farm. And I do also suggest getting a lawyer so you can escape from this shit*.

    * – excuse my language; so outraged with their stupidity.

    1. That could be likely. One of the teachers in my abusive special ed program did something similar. She thought I was “acting like a baby” due to some normal childhood thing I was doing (most likely whining and complaining as kids are wont to do) and she said “Do I have to take you to a playpen?”. And later on, my high school kicked me out of the college prep program they ran, left me on retainer for six months, and then described me (currently a Master’s biology student) at my high school graduation as “she likes bunnies and potting plants” – the kind of description usually given to someone with an intellectual disability. Even though the “likes bunnies” part stems from running a stuffed animal drive for the homeless and I won first place in the Halloween costume contest one year for a flowering bush costume made by pinning (I think) over a hundred artificial flowers obtained from nursery work experience onto a green shirt and won with green pants (and was denied the prize they promised, of course). And yet “she likes bunnies and is good at potting plants” comes nowhere near describing some of my actual achievements.

      I could see how such a blatantly infantilizing mentality could lead an ABA therapist to capriciously put someone down as a young/profoundly disabled child who cannot read or write, as a way to punish a kid for a personality trait(s) the therapist doesn’t like, and to do so in such a way that it cannot be revealed on the official record.

      If Alex can expose this discrepancy and show that this type of academically fraudulent recording of someone’s supposed abilities happens in ABA facilities as a prolonged form of punishment (that isn’t even the operant conditioning definition of punishment but makes sense only according to the lay definition of punishment), that could be helpful. It might cast suspicion on some of their other ability assessments too – even in kids who are truly nonverbal and show clear intelligence. Especially then – if a kid who cannot speak has a savant skill or even several talents they aren’t allowed to practice due to ABA and they cannot talk and have some other condition, ABA folks could have a very easy time convincing society and the kid’s parents that such a nonspeaking child is profoundly intellectually disabled, even if they showed obvious signs of intelligence in some other way. And since kids like those can’t speak, it makes the obfuscation of any intelligence they have much easier.

      So I think Alex exposing possible discrepancies like that could be helpful for a lot of kids.

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