ABA and Autism – the thorny problem of control and consent

Content/trigger warning – this blog post discusses applied behaviour analysis (ABA) as an autism “therapy” and includes references to both animal and child abuse. It may therefore be upsetting and/or triggering for some.

Further reading

It may be odd to start a blog post with some suggestions for other posts you should read, but here we are. These posts make some points similar to ones I have outlined below but much more eloquently. As is true for many of the things I write, the main reason I put together and finished this piece is because it was the most effective way for me to marshal my thoughts in relation to this issue.

ABA by Unstrange Mind – if you read only one thing on ABA and autism, this is the post to read. It’s a wonderful, eloquent piece with great examples and written by an autistic person.

Why I Left ABA by Socially Anxious Advocate – I found this perspective from a former ABA therapist fascinating and the post includes links to other excellent resources which address ABA and autism.

Would You Accept This Behaviour Towards a Non-Autistic Child? by Heidi LoStracco, one of the speech therapists behind the terrific AAC app, Speak for Yourself. This post is especially good when it gives examples of how ABA “programming” often does not support the goal of helping disabled children to learn to communicate.

Thoughts about terminology

When you either parent or work with a disabled child you instantly find yourself immersed in jargon and acronyms in relation to absolutely every damn thing. (Which sucks by the way.) When discussing “behavioural therapy” for autism, the two acronyms that most frequently come up are ABA and IBI.

In Ontario, the only provincially-funded autism “therapy” is IBI (intensive behavioural intervention). It consists of a minimum of 25 hours per week and is designed to prepare pre-school autistic children to attend school. IBI programs in Ontario typically resemble the Lovaas model quite closely. You can read here the Geneva Centre for Autism’s outline of what ABA and IBI are and how they differ. Both my children attended an IBI program for a 2 year period. The therapists were uniformly lovely people who adored my kids.

ABA is both a broad term and a broad discipline. ABA principles can be found in fields as diverse as education, corporate consulting and animal training, as well as in many therapeutic settings such as those dealing with substance abuse.

So is it ABA or IBI that I find problematic? Well, it’s both:

  • The foundation that ABA is based on and grew out of, and radical behaviourism specifically, I personally find both reductive and deterministic. Behaviourism denies that human agency and genetics have a role in explaining who we are and what we become. And a fundamental problem with ABA is that it is designed to manipulate and control the behaviour of others.
  • With respect to IBI programs the general concerns I have with the control/compliance core of ABA come into a sharp, autism-related focus. Before we get into further detail on this however, I’d like to share some thoughts aimed specifically at therapists and parents.

Some initial thoughts for BCBAs, other therapists and teachers

  • Please don’t be defensive or dismissive. I have often seen BCBAs (Board Certified Behavioral Analysts) respond to concerns about ABA and autism in the following ways:
    • “Oh, this is just the neurodiversity crowd, overreacting again”
    • “Look, we’re not all like that!”
    • “You’re focusing on an outdated, outmoded form of ABA, we don’t do things like that any more”
    • “I would never use aversives or be abusive to children!”
    • “You don’t understand what ABA is. That’s not real ABA.”
    • “I would never stop kids from stimming!”
  • What the above examples illustrate, to me, is someone who is deliberately focusing on the trees in order to avoid seeing the rather enormous wood in front of them. Criticism of ABA isn’t simply about the concrete examples of abuse that *DO* still occur – like preventing autistic children from stimming (see Julia Bascom’s Quiet Hands for an example) or the use of electro-shock as an aversive or forcing eye contact – although these examples are certainly very useful in identifying problematic therapists. The central fact that I believe all BCBAs must grapple with is, as Real Social Skills has stated, can ABA as an autism intervention be ethical? How do you reconcile the level of power and control therapists wield in terms of modifying behaviour and enforcing compliance, with the rights that a disabled individual has to personal autonomy?
  • Please be kind to critics of ABA. Many autistic people who went through ABA programs as children experienced lasting and profound psychological damage. Some of them suffer from PTSD as a result. A lot of autistic adults are angry and understandably frustrated that, not only are their personal experiences dismissed, but when they seek to ensure that the autistic children who come after them do not suffer the same or similar abuses they did, they are routinely insulted or ignored.
  • Don’t take criticism of ABA personally. It isn’t about you – if you’re reading this post for example, I bet you care deeply for the children you work with. Take some time to reflect on all your therapeutic practices – are they respectful and consensual? What can you do in relation to the power imbalance inherent in ABA practice? Are you teaching useful skills or simply instilling compliance?

Thoughts for parents

  • All of the considerations I’ve outlined for therapists above also apply to parents. Don’t react defensively. Don’t take criticism of ABA personally. And especially, be kind to the autistic people who have taken the time and effort to outline their concerns in relation to ABA. Autistic adults want the best for your autistic children and yet I’ve seen some parents be incredibly cruel to autistics, a reaction I will honestly never understand. These are the people your children will become as they grow older – why are you lashing out at them?
  • Focus on helping your autistic child develop their communication skills rather than on modifying behaviour. I wrote an entire post on this a while back.
  • You’re not a bad or abusive person – I’m sure you want the best for your child just as I want the best for my children – but you need to keep an eye on the bigger picture to ensure your child is in fact getting the best.
  • Don’t panic about early intervention. Your child is experiencing developmental delays, not developmental stasis. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is the time and space in which to develop. Expecting a 4 year old to work full-time hours in IBI might not be your best option.
  • When discussing concerns in relation to ABA, a common reaction from parents is, “but it works!”  Please bear in mind a couple of things before rushing to say this:
    • What do you mean, exactly, when you state that ABA has “worked”? If you mean that ABA has turned your autistic child into a compliant child that behaves like a typically-developing peer, then you may in fact have a time bomb on your hands. Lots of autistic people have learned to “pass” as neurotypical – it almost always leads to a breakdown or burnout of some kind later in their life.
    • The ends should never be used to justify the means. Even if ABA has taught your child a useful life skill, if it was done in a way that was abusive (and yes, I consider a violation of a child’s autonomy to be abusive) then you have simply created more problems for your child (and therefore yourself) later on.

The problem of history

Someone is doubtless going to argue that this isn’t relevant because “ABA isn’t like this now”. Well, I have two history degrees, so arguing that the past is irrelevant isn’t going to cut it with me. I believe it’s important that people know the ethics, ideas and practices of those who developed behaviour modification because it informs and explains the key reasons why ABA is still problematic now. Having said that, this *is* a potted history which is, by necessity, brief and incomplete and certainly nowhere near comprehensive.

Pavlov

Most people are aware of Ivan Pavlov’s experiments on dogs, for which he ended up winning the Nobel Prize. Pavlov observed that dogs would begin salivating in anticipation of food, and his subsequent experiments demonstrated the concept of conditioned or conditional reflex by showing that over time, if a bell was rung when food was presented, the dog would begin to salivate upon hearing the bell. Classical conditioning provided a basic explanation for how organisms learn, an explanation which, in the 20th century, became the foundation for behaviourism.

What many people aren’t aware of are the ethical concerns surrounding Pavlov’s experiments. Withholding food (actually meat powder) from the dogs was a vital part of the experiments but Pavlov also operated on them, externalizing their salivary glands and parts of their digestive system. In later experiments he even sought to induce neuroses in his animals. As behaviourism developed, the dodgy ethics would continue.

Pavlov's dog

Diagram showing how dogs were modified to externalize their salivary and digestive systems.

BF Skinner

Behaviourism arose as a branch of psychology that concerned itself with observable behaviour. In their laser-like focus on outward behaviours (rather than thoughts, feelings or other variables) that can be observed, recorded and measured, the behavioural therapists of today demonstrate how behaviourism is still at the heart of everything they do.

There were many scientists involved in developing behaviourist ideas and principles but the reason I’m focusing on BF Skinner in particular is because of his work in relation to “operant conditioning”. Pavlov had demonstrated how many of the behaviours we acquire are reflexive. In contrast, Skinner was more interested in determining how to create or teach new behaviour. Skinner’s work is why ABA therapists focus on:

– antecedents. What happens before a particular ‘behaviour’.

– consequences. What happened after the behaviour occurred. If you’ve ever collected data in connection with ABA therapy, you’ll be familiar with these terms. (The acronym ABC is derived from Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence).

– positive and negative reinforcement

– escape and avoidance

– generalization

What many people aren’t aware of now are the ethical and moral concerns surrounding Skinner’s work and ideas. For example:

  • Skinner believed that human free will, human dignity, even human thought, was illusory.
  • One of his primary goals was to devise methods for the control of human populations. Sure, he sought to do this for noble reasons – like many living through the Cold War Atomic era, he was preoccupied with the idea of humanity destroying itself – but given his focus on benign totalitarian control as a solution, it’s hardly surprising that campus students once hanged Skinner in effigy.
  • You don’t have to be an attachment parenting advocate to see problems in the idea of putting babies in boxes in order to give parents a break.
Ivar Lovaas

In over-simplified terms, Lovaas, like all behaviourists, was firmly on the “nurture” side in the “nature vs. nurture” debate. While John Watson felt he could raise any child to be a doctor, lawyer, artist or thief, Lovaas claimed he could have raised Hitler to be a nice person. Behaviourism has this tendency to deny, or at least underrate, not only human free agency, but also genetics.

Any discussion of ABA and autism must discuss Lovaas because he was the first person to develop ABA principles specifically as a “therapy” for autistic children – therapy that became IBI. A 1965 feature in Life magazine (huge trigger warning before clicking on that link) provides us with an outline of what this “therapy” looked like at the time. The obviously abusive components involved electric shock, slapping and shouting but there is also a quote in that piece that goes to the heart of the problem with respect to the Lovaas model:

“Lovaas is convinced, on the basis of his experience and that of other researchers, that by forcing a change in a child’s outward behavior he can effect an inward psychological change”

ABA and autism

What ABA for autism looked like in the 1960s.

Lovaas’ goal was always (he was active in the field into the 1990s and died in 2010) to create autistic children who were outwardly “indistiguishable from their peers” in order to inwardly “cure” their atypical neurology. Neurodivergent K does a great job of outlining the negative, real world impacts of “indistinguishability” on autistic people – how it results in denial of disability (and therefore a withdrawal of much-needed supports and accommodations) and how autistics eventually burn out from the exhaustion of “passing” as neurotypical. It’s not coincidental that Lovaas’ research has also been used to underpin the abusive concept of “reparative therapy” for homosexual and trans individuals. That fact alone should give us pause before deciding to use the same principles to “cure” autistic children.

If all you’re focusing on with Lovaas is the obvious physical abuse autistic children underwent as part of his original ‘program’, then you’re missing the point. IBI is based on a fundamentally unreasonable and damaging assumption – that atypically neurological children can be taught to “act normally” and by so doing, they will somehow “become normal”.

The problem with animal behaviourism

SeaWorld trainer and orca

ABA – look, it works!

The first time I encountered ABA was actually when I took my puppy to training classes, a long, long, time ago. One of the first things we were taught was how to use a ‘bridge’. In our case we used classical conditioning concepts to teach our pups that when we said the word ‘Yes’, a food treat was coming. It enabled us to provide immediate reinforcement that the pup had done something right, even if she was at a distance from us.

If you’ve watched the documentary Blackfish, then you’ve seen SeaWorld trainers use a ‘bridge’ – in their case they use a whistle to let a killer whale know that they’ve correctly performed a requested behaviour. In the film, former trainers speculate that Tilikum may not have heard Dawn Brancheau’s whistle during the last routine they performed together before he killed her.

In the companion book (which I highly recommend), Death at SeaWorld, I recognized more ABA techniques at work. For example, orcas in captivity routinely have their teeth drilled (click on this link for more information in relation to this barbaric practice). Trainers described how they would condition the whales to accept having their teeth drilled in a way which was exactly the same as the procedure an ABA therapist advised for cutting my son’s toenails:

  • show them the drill (or nail scissors) and reward calm responses with food
  • turn on the drill (make the nail clipper sounds) and reward calm responses with food
  • place the drill (scissors) nearer and nearer and reward calm responses with food
  • the basic approach is to gradually increase exposure to something frightening and to positively reinforce the ‘correct’ response.

In the SeaWorld example, ABA is being used unethically to force compliance with something that is necessitated solely due to captivity. In my example, my sons have to sometimes do things they don’t like (cut their toenails, brush and cut their hair, clean their teeth). A rigid ABA approach would teach them that they had to suppress their sensory issues in favour of compliance. A more ethical approach, I believe, is one in which I still sometimes use ABA techniques like positive reinforcement (although usually not food) but I also strive to reinforce my kids’ autonomy. If a necessary task is hard for them that day, we make it quick or break it into chunks. If they are having an easier time, we talk about what exactly is hard for them (talk when they feel good, not when they’re in crisis mode!) so I can both understand them better and help them more effectively. If they are having a good experience, it’s also the best time to explain to them why these things are important. I also give the boys as much choice as I can (they choose their toothbrushes, hair brushes, whether or not clippers or scissors are used, toothpaste… etc.).

Simon Baron-Cohen, a psychologist whose work autistic adults typically find themselves disagreeing with, recognized that behaviourism has an ethics problem and used captive orcas to illustrate his point. I also find orcas in captivity to be a useful way to help people understand how injurious ABA can be to autistics, even if “it works” and isn’t considered “abusive”.

  • With respect to both orcas and autistics, we equate the capacity to speak with a capacity for intelligence.
  • The artificial environment we expect orcas and autistics to function in is harmful. SeaWorld places Orcas in a concrete bathtub in which, they not only have insufficient room in their acoustically dead environment, they are subject to higher forces of gravity and UV radiation exposure than they would be in the wild. We know that autistic people typically have challenges with respect to auditory, sensory and motor processing and yet IBI environments replicate the sensory environment that kids encounter in schools (the whole point of IBI is, after all, to train autistic kids to be “school and table ready”). Autistic children are forced to train their bodies and senses to adapt to a hostile environment rather than taught self-regulatory techniques and how to advocate for supports and accommodations.
  • Both orcas and autistic children are placed in unnatural social situations. Orcas are social animals who live their entire lives in the wild with their mother and other family members but in captivity, not only are mothers and calves separated but orcas are either left alone or placed within groups that are both artificial and stressful for them to live in. In IBI, our kids are so often made to do things they aren’t comfortable with – stimming is suppressed in favour of “table ready hands”, they are separated from the people and things they enjoy, “comfort” with groups of people is enforced and they are trained in “social skills”
  • Both orcas and autistic kids are asked to perform unnatural behaviours, over and over again. In the same way that orcas in captivity are asked to perform behaviours they don’t do in the wild, autistic children in IBI are expected to continually perform behaviours that are either unnatural for them (like forced eye contact) or are pointless other than to test and ensure ongoing compliance (touch your nose).
  • This report outlines how placing orcas in captivity leads to psychological damage, self-injurious behaviour and aggression, both between orcas and towards trainers. Autistic adults have written about how traumatizing ABA intervention was for them (both in the short, medium and long term). We simply have to acknowledge that, to the extent our autistic children express “problem” behaviours, this may, in certain cases, be the result of the stress and/or trauma they are currently experiencing or have experienced in the past as part of ABA programming. Responding to their challenges by again focusing on ABA-solutions and behaviour modifications is only likely to make the problem worse.
Image is from an excellent Amy Sequenzia post about talking to Autism Advocacy organizations. Click on the picture to read.

Image is from an excellent Amy Sequenzia post about talking to Autism Advocacy organizations. Click on the picture to read.

The problem with a focus on control and compliance

I am not in anyway asserting that ABA is useless or uniformly harmful – in fact, when my children were on the waitlist for IBI, I learned a number of techniques and strategies from ABA therapists that were extremely useful in helping me understand my children and teach them life skills. Things like:

  • data collection
  • pairing
  • planned ignoring
  • chaining and reverse chaining

If I could make my decisions over again I would still choose to learn about ABA strategies and techniques but I wouldn’t put my children into IBI.

In talking about the problem of compliance, I’m not advocating that we let our kids go full-on “Lord of the Flies” – in the case of my children we still have rules, there are still things that the boys have to do that they don’t want to (like cleaning their teeth) and there are often things they want that they don’t always have access to.

The issue I have is that compliance for compliance’s sake is drilled into autistic children – and it’s not just sufficient for children to comply, they have to do it unquestioningly.

An example can be found in this video:

As the mother explicitly says, the point of this isn’t to teach a skill or anything useful:

“you’re not teaching them new information, you’re teaching them to be compliant”

This video is a great example of a parent who, I believe, loves her child very much. Her intentions are certainly good ones (she talks about keeping kids safe in the community and giving them the ability to pay attention in school), she’s not using any aversives and doesn’t even raise her voice. But she’s infantilizing her son (remember, he’s a 29 year old man) and, in teaching him to be unquestioningly compliant to authority figures she has turned him into an easy target for abuse by others.

This is Skinner’s ideal of control made manifest – and it scares the heck out of me.

Image is from a Tumblr post that also provides some (terrifying) data on the prevalence of abuse of disabled people. Click on image to see post.

Image is from a Tumblr post that also provides some (terrifying) data on the prevalence of abuse of disabled people. Click on image to see post.

The problem of consent

I’m hoping to find the time to write a separate post about consent but for now I’d like to explore the issue in relation to ABA and autism therapy. When you have a program that is, at it’s core, about creating control and enforcing compliance then you are teaching autistic children something that will ultimately make them fundamentally unsafe.

A friend recently pointed me to this article which does a great job of outlining a number of practical things that parents can do to help their children understand the meaning of consent. Coincidentally, it’s also a laundry list of things we routinely deny to developmentally disabled children. Not all of this can be blamed on ABA of course; ableism is widespread and deeply rooted in our society. But in its focus on control and compliance, I believe that ABA programming runs completely contrary to best practices for teaching children consent.

  • Asking permission. I know of a nearly-10 year old autistic boy who, at random, kisses peers, adults and even strangers. In line with the way we tend to infantilize the disabled, the boy’s teachers and therapists think this is adorably cute behaviour – no consideration has been given to teaching him that he needs consent before he touches, hugs and kisses others.
  • Disabled children and adults are denied personal autonomy. Flopping to the ground is seen as “non-compliance” in ABA programs and children are often physically moved to where they are “supposed to be”. Hand-over-hand is routinely used to enforce compliance with instructions.
  • Disabled children’s right to privacy is not respected. It can take developmentally disabled children a lot longer to learn toileting and grooming habits, and continence and self-care are often areas they will continue to need support in as adults. But we don’t recognize that disabled children do still also have a right to privacy. For example, how many parents, teachers or ABA therapists do you know who ask autistic children for permission before helping them with the toilet or changing their underwear? Autistic children are learning that adults have an unquestioned right of access to their genitals. This is unconscionable given that these kids are already more vulnerable to abuse than their typically developing peers.
  • The myth that autistic people lack empathy and ‘theory of mind’ is pervasive and damaging. It feeds into the idea that autistic people aren’t people – which of course makes them an awful lot easier to abuse.
  • We abuse the concept of ‘no’ and ‘stop’ Not only does ABA programming not honour the right of disabled children to say ‘no’ or ‘stop’, we often do not provide autistic children with the means to say ‘No’. You can read here how ‘No’ and other phrases were the first things I programmed into my non-speaking son’s AAC app. In addition, disabled children usually hear ‘no’ and ‘stop’ an awful lot more than their typically developing peers. In mis-using these words we are teaching disabled children they are words which can be ignored.
  • ABA programs often force physical contact. Forcing eye contact and using hand-over-hand are examples of how we pressure disabled children to do things with their body that they are uncomfortable with.
  • Autistic people can’t read social cues the same way that allistic people can. Instead of forcing autistic children to learn by rote what facial expressions and non-verbal cues mean, why aren’t we providing them with alternate strategies that would also help both them and their communication partners, strategies like checking in? For example, rather than assume I know what he’s telling me, I check in with my non-speaking son about the facial expressions and gestures he uses by asking him questions. There’s no reason why I can’t teach my other autistic son, who is verbal, to do the same and ask others things like, “I think you’re happy, are you happy?”
  • ABA programming is rigid, regimented and controlled by therapists. Now, autistic people do typically love routine but we need to ensure that we teach our kids how to make choices, and to do that we need to give them those choices together with a certain measure of control.
  • We don’t see disabled adults (especially developmentally disabled adults) as sentient, sexual people so it’s hardly surprising that disabled children are routinely left out of health and sexuality classes.

Ontario-specific issues (which may still be of interest to you if your jurisdiction funds ABA as an autism therapy)

I don’t believe the province should be funding IBI programs for autistic children. In addition to the issues I’ve outlined above:

  • There is no uniformity in how IBI is provided across the province. Wait lists and program hours vary dramatically depending on where you live.
  • IBI isn’t available to all autistic children in Ontario – if your child is “too autistic” or “not autistic enough” then they aren’t considered eligible to participate.
  • IBI is only available to children with an autism diagnosis. Children with other developmental or cognitive disabilities don’t qualify.

What we need in this province is funding for programs that all children with developmental disabilities qualify for, that provide them with support and teach them skills based on their needs rather than some arbitrary functioning label.

Children with communication disabilities like autism also desperately need ongoing access to those with specialized assistive tech knowledge and experience in teaching and using AAC. Using my non-speaking son as an example:

  • When he was in IBI, the only AAC system his therapists would only use was PECs (Picture Exchange Communication system).
  • His therapists would move his PEC cards around to ensure that he had “really learned” his vocabulary, ignoring the importance of motor planning to AAC.
  • They continued to focus on trying to teach him to speak, rather than teaching him how to communicate.
  • Now he’s 9 years old and in school, he hasn’t seen an SLP in a year and has still never had an assistive tech evaluation. He completely relies on me for AAC support.

We need to do better than this. We need to stop focusing on behaviour, control and compliance and start focusing on communication, autonomy and consent. We need to start seeing our disabled children as the human beings they are and start giving them the respect they deserve.

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49 Responses to ABA and Autism – the thorny problem of control and consent

  1. Love is All You Need June 17, 2015 at 2:23 am #

    Brilliant <3

  2. Dr. Dorita Berger June 17, 2015 at 7:09 am #

    I have disliked the entire ABA philosophy from the beginning. I’m a music-based clinician, so of course I approach diagnoses of any kind with a different attitude. I’ve worked extensive with clients on the spectrum, of all ages, and have several published books on the subject as well. To me, ASD is not a “disease” or a behavior to be changed. It is a way of being in which for many reasons the person is at “dis-ease” with the environment and expectations of behaviors. So I always ask, “whose need is it to be compliant?” It seems to be it’s the parent, teachers, therapists, who want “eye contact”, or behavioral compliance, and learning at a pre-established pace! That’ like treating me through ABA so that I behave like a man! (I’m a woman, by the way). It’s very upsetting to me, but there “behavior modification” techniques all approach spectrum children as if they’re doing something wrong, when all they’re doing is complying with what their brains find unacceptable and therefore respond accordingly!!!! Anyway — that’s where I’m coming from.
    Dr. Dori (Dorita) S. Berger, PhD, MT-BC, LCAT
    dsberger@mags.net

  3. Justin (@Justinwrites) June 17, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

    I find myself in agreement with this post, though perhaps our language might have varied a bit. That said, as a parent who is trying to help his son achieve the goals he has set for himself I would like posts like this to be more proactive. Tell us more about what you think *does* help without robbing them of autonomy. My son wants to be social but struggles to make and maintain those connections due to challenges with both social cues and executive organization.

    He has just now been officially diagnosed as he’s entering high school. We had to move to the west coast to even get him diagnosed when his previous pediatricians merely asserted that a diagnosis would be of no help, leaving us to stumble and grope, over relying on Individualized Education Plans.

    This summer I’m trying to teach him to utilize a tablet with a checklist and appointment reminder as adaptive technology to help him self care and self direct more. He plans to go away to college when he graduates and like any parent I have to facilitate that as best as I can.

    • OMum22 June 17, 2015 at 1:40 pm #

      Well, to be fair, it’s already a long post. I am hoping to write a post with more information on what we can do to teach our kids consent but it will most likely focus on my own children who are 9. I think one of the most effective things you can do for your son is to help him find autistic role models and mentors. Maybe see if there’s a local chapter of ASAN that he can join.

  4. patriciafarley June 17, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    “They continued to focus on trying to teach him to speak, rather than teaching him how to communicate.” Oh my…I was just talking to my husband about this recently! I worked as an autism therapist for a while during my special education studies, I ran into this issue, and it was terribly frustrating. Two of my kiddos–one age 4, the other age 9, and both non-verbal–had little-to-no functional communication. Both were still leading adults by the hand as their main strategy to communicate needs. Neither one had picture books or cards, basic signs or gestures, or assistive technology devices. Their frustration would escalate, understandably, to challenging behavior. Yet the BCBAs for their ABA home programs persisted in running vocal imitation drills, even when the data showed NO evidence of effectiveness. I never understood why functional communication wasn’t the TOP priority, so that they could participate more fully with their families, schoolmates, etc.
    I completely understand how individuals with autism end up with PTSD and other psychological problems, as you mentioned. The lengths I saw one BCBA go to in order to “hold the demand” were very, very upsetting. 🙁
    I appreciated this post very, very much! You validated feelings and reactions I had that, ultimately, led me to decide NOT to pursue behavior analyst certification. I loved learning about the principles that explain the whys and hows of behavior, and teaching those principles to others. Honestly, I still miss that part of my work and my studies. But, I could never make it in the approved work settings with the approved BCBA supervisors for exactly the kinds of ethical reasons you outlined.
    Thank you again for such a stimulating, informative, and affirming post!

    Patricia F.
    Florida, USA

  5. Claudia Neely June 17, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    My comments on this article are nuanced and many. I have two children with autism diagnoses and as a mom and parent I have never taught my children compliance and I kicked out BCBA’s who tried to teach it, I myself an an artist and person deeply committed to radical expressionism, I know that too often in autism discussions basic scientific principles are getting mistaken for horrible treatments that deserve condemnation, and I am just now – after 10 years working with people diagnosed with autism in multiple capacities – working as a BCaBA. The bottom line goal I had and have for my kids and for my clients is communication, expression, choice and freedom. Teaching communication skills is behavioral. Any parent who echoes a baby saying “ma” is using the principles of behaviorism. Any therapist offering a child a communication board is using behaviorism. Teaching choice and consent are also behavioral. Any teacher who asks a child, “do you want to do play dough or sing songs now?” is using the principles of behaviorism. You can argue against science; you can claim that vaccines cause autism; you can argue against climate change, and you can argue against behaviorism. And then you will turn around and use those principles every moment of your life. You can decide to use those principles to teach or to control, but ultimately those principles are in effect whether you ignore them or use them. So I go into homes and I help teens gain access to activities they love – not because of reward, but because all people deserve to do those things they enjoy. I weekly meet teens on the spectrum who are receiving no supports in school, whose families and teachers have removed every activity they love to force compliance – and none of whom are BCBA’s – and I work to get my clients their basic rights. You can go ahead and blame ABA for the use of punishment in our culture – and ignore that punishment in family and school existed long before Skinner or Pavlov, and is present in far too many families and schools that have never heard of ABA. And you can – and should – point to how often BCBA’s and the ABA community participate in the culture of punishment that we live in all the time. What I keep saying over and over is yes, look at the abuses and the inherent issues of the ABA field, look at its (impoverished and ineffective) ethical standards, and yes look at the egregious training BCBA’s and BCaBA’s receive. And at the same time, to be just, you should also look at someone like me, who uses the principles of behaviorism to support and accomplish everything you write about in this article.

    • OMum22 June 17, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

      Behaviourism does inform much of what we do. I’m not blaming ABA for punishment in our culture, after all, Skinner was a prominent opponent against using corporal punishment for children for a reason. There’s a difference between “teaching” and the kind of ABA programming we subject autistic children to. And in ABA/IBI programs there is a problem with ethics and power that can’t be resolved by ensuring that these problems are “positive”.

      • Claudia Neely June 17, 2015 at 5:17 pm #

        I’m not saying we should just make programs “positive.” Hours of flashcards at a table are unethical. However, using behavioral principles to help kids do stuff they want – from play dough to college classes – is important. I do that with behavioral programs. Naming the unethical programs matters, but we also owe it to families to identify what is a good program, too. The best teachers I know are absolutely marvelous behaviorists, and the best behaviorist I’ve ever met was an amazing piano teacher (sadly now retired). We need to help families find teachers like her!

      • OMum22 July 15, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

        I’m not sure how else to respond to you Claudia. I think my post speaks for itself to be honest. As I stated, there are behavioural strategies I have no problem with but either something is an ABA, autism “therapy” program (in which case it has an ethical dilemma to address) or it isn’t. I’ll give you an example – an ABA program that is trying to teach an autistic child a new skill and failing would reassess on the basis that the right reinforcer had simply not yet been found. Autism isn’t viewed as a distinct neurology or a developmental disability, it’s viewed as a behaviour problem.

  6. Lesley June 17, 2015 at 4:54 pm #

    Beautifully written, just the inspiration I need to keep on advocating for my son

  7. noahvstw June 17, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Great post. Really wonderful. My nearly 5 year old son is on the spectrum, and while he receives ABA at his pre-school, you have some great common sense ways of dealing with the shortcomings of it. I am still unwilling at this point to remove him from the program- I still don’t know what an acceptable substitution for his specialized classroom would be. I’d love to hear suggestions!

  8. Hezekiah the (meta)pianycist June 17, 2015 at 6:03 pm #

    Thank you for this very detailed and informative post!

  9. Lindsay June 17, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    I never knew that about Pavlov’s dogs … horrifying.

    (This post is very good, if also extremely upsetting.)

  10. incredim0m June 17, 2015 at 8:27 pm #

    What a thoughtful and thought provoking article. I am based in Ontario and I used to resent that my son lingered on the waitlist for IBI so long that we asked for direct funding instead. Now I’m grateful to the SLP’s we met who used play based therapy to teach communication first and speech second.

  11. Olga Lingo June 17, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    How do you recommend managing extremely violent and aggressive children and adults with autism? I’ve been hurt too many times and had my classroom and materials destroyed. How can we allow students to say no without them saying no to everything? My students would love nothing more than to play on iPads and computers all day and not work at all.

    • OMum22 July 15, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

      Olga, I’m not an educator but I do know that there are educators out there who can help, that you can find at places like http://www.thinkinclusive.us/ and http://ollibean.com/

      In terms of addressing challenging behaviours, the first issue is whether they have a functional communication system. Resources like http://praacticalaac.org/ are invaluable here.

      Lastly, I find this checklist for identifying the causes of aggressive behaviour is invaluable: http://wearelikeyourchild.blogspot.ca/2014/05/a-checklist-for-identifying-sources-of.html

    • Ettina October 7, 2016 at 10:37 am #

      Couldn’t they do educational games on the iPad? There’s a ton of apps designed for autistic kids, teaching social skills, daily living skills, language skills, academic skills, etc.
      Also, how well can they communicate? For a lot of kids I know, aggression is the only way they have to communicate certain things – usually things like “I’m overloaded” or “I need a break” or “ouch, that hurts!”
      Also, when someone is learning to communicate, you should honor their communication attempts, but that doesn’t mean you have to give them everything they want. Think of how you’d respond to a non-disabled child making a verbal request. You wouldn’t pretend you didn’t hear or try to gag them (at least I hope you wouldn’t). Instead, you’d just tell them no.

  12. Hallie Bulkin June 18, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

    As a speech pathologist who does not always agree with some of my clients ABA programs and therapists it’s refreshing to read this! Thank you for taking the time to write this!

  13. Meghan June 18, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

    I really could use some guidance on this because I am so torn and doing right by my daughter so she has a better life than I did is imperative… As a child specialists through a school I attended misdiagnosed me as having ADHD, my parents fought this because their sole focus was medicating me. They were not denying behavioral problems but they refused to allow me to be medicated. As an adult I have come to realize it is very likely I have asperger’s (currently working on seeing a professional about this) but because of the circumstances of my life I never had therapy for any thing related to it.

    Now I have a daughter who is 4 and autistic. She is spitting image of me in every aspect, including behavior, except she has language delays (My parents swear I started speaking clearly around eight months and by 12 months I was speaking in full sentences. They joke and say I never stopped talking from the moment I opened my eyes which is true for my daughter, she has always constantly made sounds and babbled.)

    Here is what I am seeking advice on, I live in Ontario… The services are actually very crappy in my area. We have been put on the waiting list for ABA/IBI and what is holding it back is that we haven’t done the parent training yet. I am so torn on this, I don’t know what to do. Other services are letting her down, I have tried reaching out for other things like music therapy but can never get a therapist to write back. I don’t want her stimming to be stopped, I don’t want her to be forced to comply… I don’t want to take my star shaped block and hammer it into a small circle.
    I am worried by not trying I will let her down but I am far more concerned that by trying it will do more harm than good. Even if you’re going to beg me not to put her into ABA/IBI I need to hear it. Any thing, because I have no one I can talk to about this in depth.

    • Natalie June 26, 2015 at 9:44 am #

      Perhaps you Could read some ABA resources online. I don’t know what your funding is, but if you can’t find anything locally, you could find someone to help you through Skype. There is also a model called the early start Denver model, which combines the science of ABA with developmental theories. It has great success and puts parent involvement as high priority. If you want to chat more about evidence based autism therapies, feel free to email me: nataliecooperlewis@gmail.com. (I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m just a young consultant based in England, who is passionate about ethical and evidence based therapy for children.)

    • OMum22 July 15, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

      Meghan, so sorry it took so long to respond to your comment. I can’t really tell you what is best for your daughter and I’m sorry that services are so crappy where you are. I understand how you feel though, truly. I can tell you what I would do for my boys, in retrospect. Rather than direct service, I would have opted for direct funding for IBI. This is undoubtedly more work for the parent but receiving direct funding meant I could employ my own therapists and supervised their work with the boys in our own home. I would have been able to ensure they weren’t training for compliance or doing anything else I find problematic. In terms of what to do in general about crappy service, try contacting Autism Ontario and see if there’s anyway they can assist you in sourcing services and support.

  14. Maya June 19, 2015 at 1:16 am #

    Very truly said. Yes people with autism are humans first. They surely need their time and space.
    They need to be respected first..before you start ‘teaching’.

  15. LaVonnya Gardner June 23, 2015 at 7:41 am #

    I loved this post. I am autistic. they tried for years to make me normal. But it didn’t work. I was ever ever able even to act normal, even when they took treats away, and hit me, and locked me away. I am not only autistic, but I am also deaf blind. i have stome hearing and some vissionon, but not much. I use AAC. in fact, I use Proloqro2Go, and Proloqro for text, on my iPad, and my iphone. I also use ASL. I can speak at home, but only to say yes, or no, and short phraises. I am a public speaker. I type with 1 hand, because the other 1 does not work, do to 2 strokes. I live with my boyfriend, and raise my daughter, who is 10. I can count to her age. SHe can talk some. She is autistic tooo. So even if we can’t be made to look normal, we can still have good lives, I am so glad you understand that. I have PTST do to what was done to me at the school. my boyfriend ids the one that I had in school. We lost contact after graduation, and this year back together.

    • OMum22 July 15, 2015 at 2:26 pm #

      Thanks to everyone who has commented in support of this post – I really do appreciate you taking the time to comment. LaVonnya, I was especially touched by your comment. I’m so sorry about the abusive behaviour you faced when younger and that you still deal with PTSD as a result. Happy to hear that you’re living with your boyfriend and raising your daughter and that you have access to AAC. My non-speaking son uses Proloquo2Go too. 🙂

  16. Natalie June 26, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    This post is mostly accurate, but it’s actually important to realise that Skinner did recognise the impact of genes! He knew that our biology interacted with our environment to shape our behaviour. He also didn’t dismiss thoughts, but viewed them as another type of behaviour. I am fairly new into the field of behaviour analysis and I find it useful to read such articles as yours, so I can try my best to recommend the most ethical practice in my programs. So thank you for taking the time to write this. I hope you will not view me as another dismissive BCBA. Your concerns are warranted and I do not agree with the use of any science to harm others or infringe upon their rights. However ABA is a science and cannot be blamed for the way people use it. Just as I don’t blame physics or chemistry for the atomic bomb. I also don’t blame ABA for bad programs, bad consultants and bad models. Those programs are bad and those models are bad, but ABA is just the name of a science.

    • OMum22 July 15, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

      Natalie, as I said in my post, “this *is* a potted history which is, by necessity, brief and incomplete and certainly nowhere near comprehensive”. My basic problem with all the behaviourists is, however, reasonable – their tendency to view everything through the lens of behaviour. This is what lead Lovaas into thinking that autism was a behavioural problem which could be corrected by training autistic children to simply behave “normally”.

      As for your argument that ABA is simply a science and therefore the programs, models and therapists could be bad but the science itself is neutral – I’m not sure I buy that reasoning. Oh and Lovaas’ so-called evidence-based data on autistic children “cured” – which is used as the rationale for IBI autism programs – has never been replicated.

      • Natalie December 20, 2016 at 4:23 am #

        Hi again, I’m not a supporter of Dr Lovaas either. I’m sure we could both sit together and berate his research, methods and ideology! However, ABA as a science, is much more that that one man. Remember that it is applied behaviour analysis. All the research on behaviour is sound! It is the way that researchers and practitioners apply that science, that causes problems.

        If you had a bad teacher or even a bad school, would you say that no more children should be put through education. It even if you had one country, whose entire education system was almost overrun by unethical ideas and practices from one branch of teaching styles, would you want to throw away the whole idea of education? Doesn’t it make more sense to strip back the model, take all the knowledge and apply it again in wholly different ways?

        I have seen Lovaas programs and they upset me. I completely turned them around, so they are now unrecognisable to their beginnings. I use the science of behaviour and specifically the analysis of verbal behaviour, to help me teach kids, so that makes me an ABA consultant, but my programs are grounded in functional communication and motivating kids to learn.

        ABA does not have to be bad.

      • OMum22 December 21, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

        I honestly do believe I made points in my post that already addressed most of what you are saying. For example, “ABA is both a broad term and a broad discipline. ABA principles can be found in fields as diverse as education, corporate consulting and animal training, as well as in many therapeutic settings such as those dealing with substance abuse.”

        With respect to ABA as autism “therapy” the Lovaas program is the only one that’s recognized by governments and insurance companies as being “effective”. If you’re a behaviourist then I believe the onus is firmly on you and your colleagues to be outspoken in your criticism of Lovaas and work to eliminate his programs as the so-called gold standard. As for value judgements – whether ABA is “good” or “bad” – you say it’s science but the only data supporting ABA as effective autism “therapy” is from Lovaas’ research, which as I previously mentioned, cannot be replicated. So, I’m not convinced.

        Lastly, so-called “good” behaviourists still have an ethical problem – they are controlling, modifying and seeking to extinguish the “behaviours” of minors with a communication disability when in and of itself these interventions may have harmful and unforeseen consequences. Just because behaviourists aren’t infecting disabled children with hepatitis like medical researchers did at Willowbrook doesn’t mean they get to use good intentions as a pass. Outcomes are more important than intentions and autistic adults are sounding the alarm and telling us that it doesn’t matter whether “therapy” is “good” or “bad” – if it’s focused on “behaviour” then it’s likely to be harmful.

    • Ettina October 7, 2016 at 10:40 am #

      I’d need a citation to believe Skinner didn’t dismiss thoughts, because from what I understand that was a central piece of his theory.

  17. CC June 26, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    One of the best posts I have yet seen on this issue. You’ve given me another tool in my advocacy belt. Fantastic job.

  18. Jenny d June 26, 2015 at 5:03 pm #

    I have always been uncomfortable with ABA and IBI- You have clarified my concerns. Thank you

  19. Bonnie Lum June 26, 2015 at 7:14 pm #

    Thank you so much for this insightful post. As a speech language pathologist working with preschool and elementary school children in the school system (USA), this is a big issue in my life and work. I am just now starting to delve into these issues and am currently completing coursework to become a Certified Autism Specialist. I would sincerely like to see your next post on what you think DOES work– specifically, what do you recommend for the school environment? We are often asked to push those circle pegs into the square holes, and it gets very frustrating and painful for both the therapists and the students! It is just very difficult to know how to approach this in the school system when our autistic students are expected to appear typical. I think a lot of my frustration stems from sensory needs that are not addressed, accepted as “real”, or honored… this leads to extremely difficult situations for many of my students. I want to give them the tools, but because I am not the “OT”, I am put in a position where I can’t speak because I have to stay within my “domain”. Argh.
    THANK YOU!!!

    • OMum22 July 15, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

      In terms of what works – it’s such an individual issue. For example, what works for one of my sons doesn’t necessarily work for the other. I wonder if there are OT or other therapists who might be able to give you some insight into how they work around the limitations of a school environment? Also, check out http://www.thinkinclusive.us/ – a community of educators who are committed to inclusion of children of all abilities in their schools and communities.

  20. Dr. Dorita Berger, PhD June 27, 2015 at 4:01 pm #

    Response for Bonnie Lum: You will be interested in some of my books. One is: Music Therapy, Sensory Integration and the Autistic Child. (JKP, 2002). My upcoming book will be of interest and pertinent as well: “Eurhythmics For Autism and Other Neurophysiologic Diagnoses: A Sensorimotor Music-Based Treatment Approach” (Jkp, 2015, due to be available October, 2015). Although the book addresses music-based interventions, there are many portions that are very adaptive for use by allied clinicians, particularly speech pathologists such as you are. Therefore I recommend checking these books out. I work with ASD and language-delayed clients, and have worked for many years with Autism clients. I won’t take up much space on this site, but I can tell you that I am basically anti-ABA, for many reasons. Good luck in your quest for answers. Start by reminding yourself that ASD is not a “disease”, but a state of “dis-ease” with the environment and expectations imposed by the Neurotypicals! As soon as that will stop and be refocused, and sensory and anxiety issues treated more functionally, things will change, and ABA will be out the door! 🙂

  21. Shannon July 2, 2015 at 9:07 am #

    I trained as an ABA Therapist and used some of the techniques to support the ‘positive parenting’ I was already doing with my autistic son, and mostly to encourage his communication. I appreciate what you say about autonomy but that has to be balanced with the fact that every household has its family rules. Every parent/carer expects a degree of compliance from their children, whether they are NT or on the autism spectrum. As does every teacher and every employer… Both of my sons (one with autism, one NT) are expected to treat everyone in our family with respect and to participate in chores etc. When we reinforce their “compliance” with praise and affirmation, it can hardly be called ‘abuse’. Similarly, my sons both receive loads of praise for being unique and different to the crowd. They value their autonomy as highly as I do, their personhood is recognised by everyone in our family and they confidently communicate their boundaries to others (including adults). Our experience of ABA was incredibly positive for both of our sons… am I doing it wrong????

    • OMum22 July 15, 2015 at 2:00 pm #

      Shannon, my answer is to quote from my post: “in the case of my children we still have rules, there are still things that the boys have to do that they don’t want to (like cleaning their teeth) and there are often things they want that they don’t always have access to.

      The issue I have is that compliance for compliance’s sake is drilled into autistic children – and it’s not just sufficient for children to comply, they have to do it unquestioningly.”

  22. Chuck Bradshaw April 17, 2016 at 10:14 pm #

    I was misdiagnosed with autism in 1978 and was subjected to the classic Lovaas-style ABA (restraint, electro-shocks, etc.) in a residential setting for only a few months. I was considered “cured” after 3 months because I was totally compliant. It took me almost 20 years to deprogram what I was forced to do. I wasn’t allowed to relax, take time for myself or even just space out to escape what was happening. I had to deprogram myself. ABA is very static, so what is “learned” cannot be easily “unlearned” or even “adjusted” to accommodate the changes of adolescence and adulthood. If behavioural therapy must be used, why not cognitive behavioural therapy? This teaches a person to cope with discomfort on the person’s own terms. The person then uses his or her own methods to help themselves through tough times. It is more empowering and easy to adapt throughout life because it is conscious. ABA is programming of the subconscious through repetition and is thus not changeable through the conscious mind.

    I’ve been assessed since that time and I am nowhere on the autism spectrum. However, I do suffer the effects of ABA and the PTSD that came from it. It’s not therapy. It’s animal training. Therapy would ease the issues that cause discomfort and illness. ABA/IBI is simply torture and I do not believe this should be called a treatment. People who are tortured through this method will comply because compliance is better than pain, repetition or just plain exhaustion. Is it helping? No. It tells a child to ignore pain, illness and discomfort in the name of acting normal. At it’s very least, it’s an educational tool. At its worst, it’s abuse.

  23. Lucy July 5, 2016 at 10:58 pm #

    You know, it’s interesting that they denigrate facilitated communication (FC) on the basis that it is the facilitator unintentionally doing the work and so the words that are communicated are really those of the facilitator and not the person being facilitated when ABA operant training also has a high risk of putting words into the autistic kid’s mouth that do not express what they really want to say; for instance, the kid is given the word “scared” when what they really needed was “sensory overload”, or “funny” in response to a laugh that is actually due to anger, in which “angry” would be a better term, or “happy” in response to a nervous grin – “scared” or, ideally, “nervous” would be a better term for that. This potential problem seems no different in terms of robbing the kid of the ability to express important concepts than FC does. Furthermore, “errorless learning” prompts often include the ABA therapist moving the kid’s hands and making their body do something that they didn’t do; even though it is actually the ABA therapists doing it with the kid’s body, on purpose, they still list such things as (child’s name) performed (assigned task) with assistance. For people who are concerned about FC “stealing” disabled people’s voices, there is remarkably little concern for similar effects in ABA.
    Furthermore, their main criticism of the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), which they denigrate as another form of FC, is that RPM encourages “prompt dependency”. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the writer’s description of her ABA-treated son totally relying on her for AAC support, as well as the reliance on the clicker in the clicker training method (which tells a person whether they got something right and earned a treat), seem like forms of “prompt dependency” to me. Not to mention, ABA leads to another problem I call “script dependency”, in which people resort to communicative “scripts” for a particular situation that may not be what they want to say (i.e. always saying yes to a yes/no question, automatically saying “I don’t want anything when asked what they want, always saying “I’m fine” when asked how they are, particularly by someone who is rightly or wrongly perceived to have authority over them). There is also a similar phenomenon in which people perform a nonverbal social gesture while meaning something totally different from what the gesture actually means; a good example of this is Neurodivergent K using direct eye contact to tell people to stop doing something unpleasant rather than to establish connections. However, script dependency is not addressed as a potential problem in ABA for humans, autistic or otherwise.
    Besides, it seems that anyone who thinks that it is entirely possible to influence what one types against the typer’s will, letter by letter, just by touching one’s elbow lightly (with only a finger or two, the way Ido Kedar’s mom touches his) or pressing down on their shoulder, should try a little experiment in which they do that kind of light “facilitation” with a speaking partner (again, no touching the hand, just the shoulder) in which they both think of a random word, and see how easy it is to influence the typing, and how easy it is for the facilitated individual to guess what the “facilitator” wants to type just by light touches to the elbow/shoulder alone. Again, it is the “facilitated” speaking individual’s job to guess what letters should be typed based on elbow/shoulder prompts alone and the “facilitator’s” job to keep the desired letter in mind as they press the shoulder/caress the elbow, and the “facilitated” individual cannot be prompted verbally for letters, only with the “RPM elbow touch” or “FC shoulder presses” that are part of he respective methods of communication. After all, this is a test of ability to influence rather than a test of real communication.

  24. Ettina October 7, 2016 at 10:27 am #

    I’m not a fan of ABA, but lots of fields have dodgy ethics. Attachment theory was founded in part by the work of Harry Harlow, who raised infant monkey in environments with severe sensory deprivation and total social isolation. The field of hypothermia treatment uses a lot of information gained from the Nazis, who did tests on Soviet prisoners to try to figure out how they handled the cold climate of Russia so much better than the German soldiers did. IVF also draws a bit from Nazi research – they were hoping to use Slavic women as surrogates for Aryan babies. Life support was in part developed by Soviet scientists who cut off dog’s heads and tried to keep the heads alive without their bodies. And yet all of those fields are now doing a lot of good.

    • OMum22 December 19, 2016 at 6:35 pm #

      I’d go further – I can’t think of a research-based field that has arisen from ethical purity. You don’t have to go as far as the Nazis either – Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Willowbrook Hepatitis Study – both conducted post-war in the United States. My point here was that “evidence-based” is a centrally important phrase in justifying the use of ABA as an autism therapy and yet that very same evidence is, at best, extremely ethically compromised.

  25. Rashie November 20, 2016 at 5:13 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing this information. As the parent of a child on the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum I have been approached more times than I can count by well-meaning professionals, strangers, and educators who insist that ABA could *fix* my sons autism-related behaviors. I have always maintained that these behaviors they would like to see fixed are the only means my son has of coping with the noisy, confusing world around him. Your article has renewed my faith in myself as his advocate and has encouraged me to keep speaking up even when my voice is shaking.

  26. Deborah Dykstra February 12, 2017 at 4:50 pm #

    I very much appreciated this post, as the mom of two on the spectrum and one with 3 years in ABA. I agree. I would also add this: there are problems with the learning goals of ABA (at least the gold standard, discrete-trial version). Because it’s all about memorization and compliance, we take away the opportunity for learning about decision-making and creative, open-ended thinking. Kids still need guidance and boundaries, but parenting is about moving them towards independence and competence, too.
    I wrote and posted this last week, and would love to hear what you think. http://www.adaptmanitoba.ca/almost-oil-and-water/

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