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Applied Behavioural Analysis

ABA: is it Child Abuse?

A revealing Facebook discussion

We’re asked from time to time to recommend a good behavioural therapist to treat a child on the Autism Spectrum. Our standard response is to request clarification: “Do you mean an A.B.A. Applied Behavioural Analysis — therapist?”

The answer is typically “yes”, to which our emphatic reply is “No… there are NO ‘good’ ABA therapists because, in our informed opinion, ABA is essentially a form of programmed child abuse that too often causes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in its young victims.”

A.B.A (Applied Behavioural Analysis): A method often used to treat children with autism spectrum disorders in which environmental stimuli are manipulated in order to produce a desired response. By breaking complex skills into small steps, children can systemically learn to respond and behave in socially appropriate ways.

Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA): A mash-up of conversion therapy and dog training techniques used to coerce autistic children into passing themselves off as neurotypical. (In other words, to behave in socially acceptable ways for NEUROTYPICAL people!)

The following discussion took place on 1-2 June 2018 on Facebook…

Samantha Connor is a well-known and highly respected professional advocate and activist for people with disabilities and neurological diversity. She lives and works in rural Western Australia. She’s a wheelchair user and an Aspie. She’s also a trusted friend. Sam has granted permission for me to publish the following discussion from her Facebook timeline. The discussion includes therapists and other professionals.

Samantha Connor: I’m in an ABA group [on Facebook]. I think the original idea was to join and change attitudes but the communities of practice among therapists are wildly uninviting, especially of the opinions of non therapists.

But I am reading with my mouth agape because the commentary is just hideous. I don’t know how people can defend this sh*t. Honestly I do not.

It’s the last group I’m in — I have been thrown out of the rest for daring to dissent about child abuse.

Here’s an example.’I’m curious, across states, how many hours are insurance companies authorising for ABA? I live in Indiana where it’s very common for kids to get authorized 35 hours per week. What are you seeing in your state?’

Obviously this is American. One poster replied that she has sixty kids in their centre and the ones who get the most ABA are the youngest. Others only get forty hours a week max.

Another woman says in another thread she’s providing ABA to an eighteen month old baby.

Then a discussion breaks out about what they do when these small children have to nap because they are sleep deprived. How you deal with billable hours. A woman is congratulated because her centre ‘lets them sleep’.

Taina: I was asked about my “view” on ABA on Wednesday by someone who has an Autistic son and who I sort of have to work with. I told that person not what my “view” was but what I know to be facts about ABA — that it’s abusive and healthy-boundary and self-concept eroding compliance training that leaves people with PTSD.

These are the things that she responded with: “Autism is such a broad spectrum that what those people who now have ptsd from ABA say about it, cannot speak for my child because they might not even have the same thing or the same kind of autism.”

“The folks who benefit from ABA the most are folks who are not able to put that benefit into words.”

“Why aren’t you asking to meet with my son and asking him if he has PTSD because of his ABA. You’re not really listening to disabled people.”

I’m still reeling and I don’t mean to dump this on you but it is just unbelievable. I just cannot understand how parents can twist and contort so much.

Samantha Connor: I am reading the comments in this group and am not just thinking ‘I wouldn’t want them near my child.’ I wouldn’t want them near ANYONE’S child.

‘While I agree we don’t focus around restraint, I’m not sure I’d go so far as to suggest use of restraint indicates poor behavior analysis. Deceleration of restraint, perhaps.’

Sharon: I would last one post in that group. Kudos to you for even joining.

Tanya: I’ve been out of the counselling community for a few years now, tell me this crap isn’t coming back into fashion in the mainstream? Had a bad feeling some were heading back in this type of direction.

Sharon: Are any of these kinds of things happening in Australia, Samantha? I mean the hard core restraint/sleep deprivation/40hrs a week b.s. I see so many parents claim that they’re doing ABA here (note “they”, as if its not happening to their kid), but then you ask some of them what’s actually happening and it’s not ABA at all.

Tara: When my son was diagnosed both companies I contacted in Perth that had ABA said he would only benefit if he did minimum 20 hours a week. I was like wtf? Unfortunately we did 4 hours a week for a few months. It was the worst therapy I’ve ever seen but I kept getting told it was the right thing. It didn’t teach him anything. The final straw for me was when one of the psychs said to me that if I didn’t physically restrain my 4 yo child every single time he hit me or said no to me he would grow up to be a sociopath. I didn’t go back after that.

Sharon: Holy crapballs. How is it that schools aren’t allowed to use restraint, the NDIA will not fund anything considered “restrictive” (including weighted blankets fgs) yet psychologists are allowed to do that sh*t?

Comments from Aspergers Help Australia members

Sarah: What is your thought on ABA? We were advised it was not appropriate for our son by the psychologist who diagnosed. However, we have a system of rewards in place that has some similarities to ABA. The structure has helped my son and our family have less conflict. It seems like a good thing. What am I missing?

John Counsel: Read the discussion carefully, Sarah… some of the comments are from therapists and specialist teachers.

This one sums it up pretty well — as well as the providers mentioned being primarily interested in discussing the revenues, etc.…

“I was asked about my “view” on ABA on Wednesday by someone who has an Autistic son and who I sort of have to work with. I told that person not what my “view” was but what I know to be facts about ABAthat it’s abusive and healthy-boundary and self-concept eroding compliance training that leaves people with PTSD.”

Sarah: Ah okay, I did read the passage but thought the names were people not in this group, so I was interested to hear other thoughts.

My real question is about whether a star chart-style system would seem negative to Aspies in this group. We have found it productive, but as two neurotypical parents parenting a non-neurotypical child I know I don’t know how he will feel about things. I want to do all I can to understand what will be best for him.

I should add, we do most of this ourselves so it’s not about revenue. We do have a behavioural therapist who spends 1.5 hrs a week with our son, but it’s mostly unpacking the week and talking through tough situations he encountered. And… it’s 60% putting together LEGO sets in between the unpacking to make it fun.

ABA by definition is abusive, so if you hire someone to provide ABA and their methods don’t seem too bad, either you’re assessing the situation incorrectly or they’re committing insurance fraud.


What can autistic kids possibly learn when we say “NO!” to ABA?

I can learn that I am worthy of respect, no matter how much support I need or how hard it is for non-autistic people to understand me.

I can learn to advocate for myself, which will help make me less vulnerable to abuse.

I can learn that manipulating people with less power than me to enforce compliance is not the same as teaching them skills.

I can learn to be proud of who I am when my neurology is accepted and valued instead of being treated as a problem to be solved.

I can figure out how to look for the supports and accommodations I need when my way of navigating this world is not only dismissed as “bad behavior”.

I can learn how to be flexible and how to collaborate with people who think differently than me when I am taught the same.

I can learn to build relationships based on mutual love, acceptance and respect.

I can feel safe, secure and loved.

I’ll have every opportunity to learn so much more than compliance when you start with acceptance!

© 2019

©2018 John Counsel. All rights reserved.


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