|Cos Michael | photo courtesy author
[image: Photo of a white British woman with
short-ish curly platinum hair.]
ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) as a discipline, requires autistic children to appear as if they are typical children. It doesn’t matter how kind and well meaning the teacher, whether they are autistic or not, a loving parent or not—the outcome is that the “successful” autistic child ceases the behaviour that defines them as autistic.
They never stop being autistic.
Once you realise that an autistic child will never stop being autistic, it becomes clear that they are suppressing their natural responses. It is masking, or “camouflaging.” Asking a child to mask all of the time causes a build up of stress. Stress is both mentally and physically damaging. When that child grows up, they are likely to exhibit the mental and physical effects of their stress.
Autistic people are not born depressed or anxious—yet most of us acquire these conditions as we grow up. We suffer the physical manifestations of a life of stress; obesity, diabetes, gut problems, heart problems, self harm: the suicide rate of autistic people is nine times that of the general population. Try to link cause and effect.
The other horror of ABA is that, by training the child to obey instructions that run contrary to their instinct, you are, deliberately—for the purpose of ABA, but by default in other areas of their lives—teaching autistic children that they cannot act on instinct, but must obey the nice authority voice. You are raising vulnerable children to be prey to every predator with a nice authority voice. Would you do that to a child of yours? Or trust a clinician or therapist to do it? I don’t think so.
That is why this autistic adult hates ABA.
Most autistic children grow up, learning from the world around them, just as other children do. We learn to cope, to trust ourselves and to find a way through. We may need more help in our early years, while we struggle to “learn the world.” We may need adjustments for the whole of our lives, for some things, but that’s OK—you don’t expect blind people to navigate without aids, do you? Adjustments are made for all sorts of disabilities.
Many of us will tell you that a major disabling factor for autistic people is the ignorance or intolerance of others. Communication works both ways, yet it is us who are expected to adjust, all the time.
Environments that suit us will suit others too—autistic people aren’t the only ones who find noise, crowds, smells, bright lights, etc; difficult. ABA training to adapt doesn’t in any way help us adapt—it forces us not to complain about the routine sensory punishment beatings we take because we are autistic and society is inflexible in its attitude.
ABA does not teach children to be typical. It teaches children to act “normal,” all the while inhibiting them from finding their own normal. Rather than training us, we want those who would change us to examine their own motives, because ABA is not beneficial to autistic people. ABA absolves worried parents who live in an intolerant society from having to accept the reality of who we are. And it makes an awfully big profit for those who live off providing it.