Music for other autistics struggling to get through this awful month of society rallying around the common cause of our abuse and extinction:
Assuming for the sake of argument that ABA is effective at changing people’s behavior, it either does so via changing their underlying thought structures or values (“deep change”), or it does not (“superficial change”). If ABA is “successful” by way of deep change, then ABA violates autonomy insofar as it coercively closes off certain paths of identity formation. If ABA is “successful” by way of superficial change, then ABA violates autonomy by coercively modifying children’s patterns of behavior to be misaligned with their preferences, passions, and pursuits. Such superficial change is a pervasive form of interference that compromises children’s present and future autonomy.
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.
Forty hours of look at me/quiet hands? No more fluttering your hands in a language only you know, no more flapping your hands watching golden drops of happiness fly from your fingertips as you hum … no more angry bolts of lightening flying from your nails as you shake your hands so hard your wrists pound.
No more you.
It’s been a thoroughly demoralizing few weeks on the advocacy front with a progressive Democrat endorsing ABA in education and the vile flood of ableism from the left directed at disabled self-advocates for sharing tales of ableism in the gig economy.
I cling to the bright spot that is Alfie Kohn’s powerful piece of advocacy against behaviorism in ed.
See also his previous piece on behaviorism.
We so desperately need allies against ABA & behaviorism in ed. Allies like @alfiekohn. He gets it. The response to this piece from the neurodiversity, disability, & ed communities I hang out in has been very positive. Kohn is an informed ally. https://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/autism/
If their theory collapses the richness of human experience into measurable behaviors and their practice relies on objectifying children, is it really surprising that the widespread antipathy for ABA expressed by people who have had it done to them doesn’t seem to faze its practitioners and proponents one bit? Behaviorists see only behaviors. The experience of those to whom they’re doing things is, if you’ll excuse the expression, outside the spectrum of what they’ve been trained to detect and address.
ABA is rooted in an ideology that proudly stays on the surface, committed to reinforcing whatever behaviors the people who control the reinforcements endorse and extinguishing those they don’t. This focus on behavior — on that which can be seen and quantified — isn’t just problematic theoretically (reflecting a truncated understanding of human psychology) and ethically; it also fails from a practical perspective, as has been demonstrated repeatedly. If you train an autistic kid to stop rocking or squealing or flapping his hands, you have done exactly nothing to address what elicited that self-regulating or self-stimulating behavior and its emotional significance to him. Kids need to feel safe; ABA just eliminates the (unusual) ways he tries to attain that safety — for example, by elaborately praising him for “quiet hands.”
But if your child is getting classic ABA therapy, what you are seeing is an illusion. And what looks like progress is happening at the expense of the child’s sense of self, comfort, feelings of safety, ability to love who they are, stress levels, and more. The outward appearance is of improvement, but with classic ABA therapy, that outward improvement is married to a dramatic increase in internal anxiety and suffering.
I was once an Autistic child and I can tell you that being pushed repeatedly to the point of tears with zero sense of personal power and knowing that the only way to get the repeated torment to end was to comply with everything that was asked of me, no matter how painful, no matter how uneasy it made me feel, no matter how unreasonable the request seemed, knowing that I had no way out of a repeat of the torment again and again for what felt like it would be the rest of my life was traumatizing to such a degree that I still carry emotional scars decades later. It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrator is a therapist, a teacher, a parent, or an age-peer: bullying is bullying.
Source: ABA – Unstrange Mind
To be a certified instructor in “Therapeutic Options,” one needs four days of training. That’s it. Four days to learn how to teach people maneuvers that kill and traumatize autistic kids.
Not once did anyone mention that maybe children shouldn’t be subjected to compliance training. It was a joke, and people like me were the punchline.