Our contribution is to argue that, from a bioethical perspective, autism advocates are fully justified in their concerns—the rights of autistic children and their parents are being regularly infringed upon. Specifically, we will argue that employing ABA violates the principles of justice and nonmaleficence and, most critically, infringes on the autonomy of children and (when pushed aggressively) of parents as well.
We will argue that ABA is pro tanto unethical because it violates the autonomy of the children who are subject to it. We recognize that this argument will be controversial, not least because it is uncommon in the bioethical literature to treat respect for autonomy as a relevant moral consideration in decision making on behalf of young children. However, we think this generally is an error. An additional benefit of examining why ABA violates autonomy is that it helps illustrate one reason why respect for autonomy is morally relevant when making decisions on behalf of even young children.
As a framing device, we will take as given that gay conversion therapy is unethical and argue that ABA is coercive in a remarkably similar way.