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.

Autism and Behaviorism

See also his previous piece on behaviorism.

It’s Not About Behavior

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.

Source: Autism and Behaviorism – Alfie Kohn

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.”

Source: Autism and Behaviorism – Alfie Kohn

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

Via: Autism and Behaviorism – Alfie Kohn

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.

Source: Becoming an ABA Registered Behavior Technician Before Knowing I Was Autistic: Part 1 – Restraint Training | The Aspergian | A Collective of Autistic Voices

And quite commonly on Twitter, I’ve seen people call ABA “dog training for children.”

When I see that, I tend to go on Twitter rants in reply to it, because from everything I have read and seen of ABA, it is NOT “dog training” for children.

…I would never treat a dog that way.

In any case, very few dog trainers use the radical behaviourism that’s employed in ABA.

Most of the dog trainers I know mix and match behaviourism with other cognitive science research and other methods to create a more holistic approach to training their dogs. This is because dog trainers understand the limits of behaviourism on canines, because it doesn’t address the whole dog.

One would hope that someone considering using radical behaviourism on a human being would also recognize its limits.

So if it isn’t sufficient to properly train a dog, is it sufficient in educating a child?

A good dog trainer doesn’t extinguish behaviours which improve the dog’s mental health and happiness. But an ABA practitioner may not think twice before doing this to a human child.

Dog trainers understand that dogs need to chew and bark and dig, but ABA therapists don’t understand that autistic children need to repeat words and sentences, flap their hands, and sit quietly rocking in a corner when things get too much.

Source: Is ABA Really “Dog Training for Children”?  A Professional Dog Trainer Weighs In. | The Aspergian | A Neurodivergent Collective

Via: Is ABA Really “Dog Training for Children”?  A… – neurowonderful

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.

Source: Taking ownership of the label – Autistic Collaboration

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).

Source: Defining Reinforcement and Punishment for Educators – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

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.

Source: As Demand For ABA Therapy Increases, Investors Buy In — Disability Scoop

Like EdSurge, Disability Scoop uncritically promotes marketing. A great many autistic people reject ABA as abuse. Private equity doesn’t care. We are commodities.

Behaviorism, particularly ABA, is primitive moral development used to commodify people. Reject it from our schools and companies.

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.

Source: It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn