The ABA controversy

My partner and I had an interesting discussion about ABA therapy for autistic people. I pointed out that there is a strong movement which criticizes this type of treatment, claiming outcomes such as PTSD and other traumatic issues. I expected a typical allistic response focusing on the positive outcomes. Instead, I was asked what the differences were between autistics and NTs (neurotypicals) when it comes to basic social values such as politeness, concern for others, safety and other basic human needs. The answer is no difference. So if ABA can work to teach different behaviours , what’s the issue? It is not the method used, but the rationale that is the issue. When Lovaas developed ABA, the goal was to “normalize” autistics. This is the heart of the issue. Using the concept of different  neurotypes as a framework, “normal” becomes specific for each neurotype. This rejects the notion of one “normal “ for everyone. While ABA is a viable method, it must be within the context of normal for that specific neurotype. For example, stimming is considered normal for autistic neurotypes. To suppress stimming in an autistic child would be considered an inappropriate therapeutic goal and could be interpreted as an allistic goal, and therefore perhaps cruel.

Recently, there seems to be a rise in autistic on-line groups taking a more adversarial position concerning ABA therapy. Claims of PTSD due to ABA are on the rise. It seems important to me that these claims need to be researched to help understand the true role of ABA in these situations. I sense a building of “us verses them” (autistic verses allistic) thinking. IMHO this will help no one but seems like a way for some folks to express their frustration with some of the mistakes that have occurred while trying to deal with their situations. As our understanding of autism increases, a more inclusive and respectful point of view of neurotypes, and a more appropriate use of ABA will emerge.

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