ABA stands for Applied Behavioral Analysis. Behavior analysis is a science that seeks to understand, predict, and change behavior. Most professionals who work in the field of behavior analysis work in behavior intervention for autistic children, an approach used to shape the behavior of autistic children. We will only be addressing ABA as an intervention therapy for autistic children.
ABA uses operant conditioning and positive reinforcement (praise and rewards) to “program” desired behaviors. While positive reinforcement may seem harmless, autistic advocates and allies contend that rewarding children for behaving in a way that is unnatural to them is a grooming technique that will result in internalized shame and trauma later in life.
ABA is often criticized because the goal behaviors it teaches are selected without consideration of autistic needs, such as sensory sensitivity or overwhelm. Autistic children are taught to perform behaviors regardless of whether those behaviors cause them pain. ABA practitioners are not trained or equipped to understand autistic sensory, social, and emotional needs and work to change those behaviors instead of reducing the stress and demand on autistic children.