Whose opinion on Applied Behavior Analysis do you trust, the so called trained and educated “experts”, or individuals with autism who have been forced to undergo ABA treatment and were traumatized and abused by it?
Disclaimer: The type of ABA I am discussing here may not be they type of ABA you or your child has experience with. Many types of humane and helpful autism treatment therapies are only called ABA in order to get insurances to cover them.
What we are discussing here is the type of ABA developed by Dr.Ivar Lovass: grueling, intensive 40 hours a week sessions, forcing children with autism to comply, not permitting them to express an opinion, never allowing them to speak up for themselves, and requiring them to give over to the therapist complete control of their bodies.
According to the so call Autism “Experts”, evidence suggests that ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis is the best and most effective treatment available for children with autism.
I have always felt that ABA was a bit harsh, much like training a dog to obey. Sitting autistic children down at a table for several hours a day until they imitate arbitrary and pointless commands such as touching their noses, just to teach/force them to obey and comply seems a bit cruel to me.
I have always been glad that I listened to my heart and not the experts about ABA. I never did succumb to putting Bethany through an ABA behavioral program, even though it was recommended, or so I thought, anyway!
Bethany has a long history of aggressive and sometimes violent behavior. It’s not pleasant and I’d like for it to stop.
Someone suggested getting a consult with a behavior therapist and so we did.
It was decided that Bethany gets aggressive when she can’t get what she wants.
I told the therapist that Bethany doesn’t like charts, that she isn’t motivated by rewards and that I really believe her aggression is caused by seizures and side effects of seizure medications.
Never-the-less, a behavior plan was set up. It came complete with a 5 colored clip chart where Bethany would earn a reward if she didn’t engage in violent behavior when she couldn’t get what she wanted. Purple and blue were the good behavior zones, yellow and green were neutral, and red was bad. She was supposed to work for a reward 5 times a day!!
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the only thing Bethany really understood about this plan was that red was bad. She became even more violent when her clip was in the red zone!
I felt as if this plan was just a humiliating public display of Bethany’s failure to control her anger.
Not to worry, said the therapist. We’ll come up with a new plan.
This time the plan incorporated a social story and an alternative choice board. Instead of having color coded behavior “zones”, she earned either smiley faces or red X’s. She was supposed to earn a reward 3 times a day and the chart was not to be publicly displayed, but kept in a notebook.
We pretty much got the same result as the first plan. The only thing Bethany understood about the plan was that red X’s were bad and seeing them made her more aggressive.
That was it. I am now officially done with behavior charts. Using them made me feel like I was emotionally abusing my daughter.
Even if I hadn’t come to the conclusion that behavior charts are emotionally abusive, Bethany does not understand cause and effect: a skill that I believe is necessary for understanding how behavior charts and reward systems work.
After 8 years of having an iPad and needing to recharge its batteries, she still to this day, does not understand that we need to recharge it. When her iPad shuts off, she does not stop and think, “Oh, I need to plug my iPad in now.” She just gets mad and throws it and aggressively complains about it every. single. time!
After 8 years of having her iPad taken away when she throws it, she still throws it when she gets mad. She does not stop and say to herself, “Hmmm…When I threw my iPad all those 800 other times, my mom took it away, so I will not throw it anymore.”
And these are just two examples of many, demonstrating that Bethany probably does not understand the concept of cause and effect.
Many times Bethany seems to get angry for no discernible reason. At least not a reason that I can figure out, anyway.
She doesn’t just get mad when she can’t have her own way.
She can go to bed at night happy as a clam and wake up violent.
Which is why I honestly and truly believe that most of her aggression is being cause by seizures and side effects of seizure medications.
I believe that when she is raging she is suffering, not manipulating.
In my opinion, expecting Bethany to control a behavior that is beyond her ability to control by humiliating and shaming her with behavior charts and rewards or no rewards/punishments is nothing short of emotional abuse.
I informed the therapist that we were done with charts and for some reason decided to ask her what her degree was in. When she told me it was in ABA, my heart sank.
Ridiculously, the thought had never even crossed my mind that these behavior charts were part of an ABA program. Of course, using behavior charts is not as cruel as forcing a child to spend 40 hours a week, sitting at a desk touching his or her nose over and over again, but still if using them humiliates and shames a child, then they are abusive, in my book.
While doing some research on ABA I came across a few testimonials of adults with autism who were taught using various forms of the ABA method of treatment and they are not pretty.
- * The following is a must read in order to truly understand the frighteningly harmful effects and abuse of ABA*: In her post ABA, the author of, “Unstrange Mind” an autistic adult, talks about her negative and abusive experiences with ABA and how she has experienced PTSD because of it!
- Amy Sequenzia, a non-speaking autisitic who was forced to endure ABA therapy says that Autistic children are forced to learn how to pretend and are not allowed to have their own opinions or have any control over what happens to them. She believes that most ABA therapists are making a lot of money by stealing the childhoods of Autistic children. Forcing children with autism to endure 40 hours/week of such treatment would be considered abuse, if done to anyone other than autistic individuals. –My Thoughts on ABA.
- In her post, Why I left ABA, a former ABA therapist believes that compliance training and therapy goals are two of the the most harmful aspects of many forms of ABA. She knows many children who are in ABA, 5 days a week for 25-40 hours a week. She is very concerned that they are being taught that there is something wrong with them just because they were born with a different neurotype.
The plain and simple fact is that many adults with autism who have been forced to endure an ABA program consider it to have been an abusive experience and some even suffer with post-traumatic stress caused by that experience.
I personally believe that listening to the voices of the people with autism who are coming forward and telling us that ABA is an abusive treatment and taking what they say to heart is of the utmost importance for the safety, happiness, and well being of our children with autism.
I trust the experiences of the real experts on autism, those precious individuals that actually have autism over the so called, trained and educated “Experts” that do not have autism and are only seeking to force people with autism to comply and conform to a standard of behavior that is more acceptable to our society.
How about you? What do you think about ABA?
- Tackling that Troublesome Issue of ABA and Ethics
- Non-Speaking Autistic Speaking
- Autistic Self Advocacy Network: Nothing About Us Without Us
- Autism Women’s Network