Rising autism diagnoses lead to the growth of an autism industry that caters more for the cultural expectations of parents than the needs and well-being of autistic people on the margins of society.
I am watching the US education system not very subtly invite punishment back into the mainstream classroom. This appears to be driven by the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).
Autism therapy is attracting significant attention from private equity firms, a trend that could fund rapid expansion of clinics, but is also raising concerns about quality of care.
Like EdSurge, Disability Scoop uncritically promotes marketing. A great many autistic people reject ABA as abuse. Private equity doesn’t care. We are commodities.
Plenty of policies and programs limit our ability to do right by children. But perhaps the most restrictive virtual straitjacket that educators face is behaviorism – a psychological theory that would have us focus exclusively on what can be seen and measured, that ignores or dismisses inner experience and reduces wholes to parts. It also suggests that everything people do can be explained as a quest for reinforcement – and, by implication, that we can control others by rewarding them selectively.
Allow me, then, to propose this rule of thumb: The value of any book, article, or presentation intended for teachers (or parents) is inversely related to the number of times the word “behavior” appears in it. The more our attention is fixed on the surface, the more we slight students’ underlying motives, values, and needs.
It’s been decades since academic psychology took seriously the orthodox behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, which by now has shrunk to a cult-like clan of “behavior analysts.” But, alas, its reductionist influence lives on – in classroom (and schoolwide) management programs like PBIS and Class Dojo, in scripted curricula and the reduction of children’s learning to “data,” in grades and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in reading incentives and merit pay for teachers.
It’s time we outgrew this limited and limiting psychological theory. That means attending less to students’ behaviors and more to the students themselves.