“These findings suggest that social interaction difficulties in autism are not an absolute characteristic of the individual,” Sasson said. “Rather, social quality is a relational characteristic that depends upon the fit between the person and the social environment. If autistic people were inherently poor at social interaction, you’d expect an interaction between two autistic people to be even more of a struggle than between an autistic and non-autistic person. But that’s not what we found.”

Source: Study Challenges Assumptions About Social Interaction Difficulties in Autism – News Center – The University of Texas at Dallas

This study on autistic burnout from the Academic Autism Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education at Portland State University notes this distinction between autistic burnout and depression. Autistic burnout…

Notably did not include anhedonia (not caring/feeling); if anything there was a pervasive frustration because people continued to care and feel but felt incapable of taking action on their feelings

Source: Autistic Burnout: “My Physical Body And Mind Started Shutting Down”

That aligns with my experience. Pervasive frustration indeed.

What is autistic burnout?

Autistic burnout is a state of physical and mental fatigue, heightened stress, and diminished capacity to manage life skills, sensory input, and/or social interactions, which comes from years of being severely overtaxed by the strain of trying to live up to demands that are out of sync with our needs.

…behaviorism represents a reductive, experience-denying caricature of science that is still trapped in the century-old ideology of logical positivism. It gives real science a bad name.

Source: Autism and Behaviorism – Alfie Kohn

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

The myth of an empathy deficit in autism is now so well ingrained, that for an autistic volunteer to report they do not lack empathy is either to question the views of the large majority of medical and scientific professionals, or even to deny their diagnosis. As such, they may report empathy deficits even when they frequently experience empathic feelings. The questions in such measures are also often vague and imprecise: it is unclear to whom, or to what group, you should compare yourself; and how to know whether you are quick to notice things. In addition, several questions rely on another’s perception of your competence. When these others are neurotypical individuals who often fail to recognise the emotional and mental states of autistic individuals (Edey et al., 2016; Sheppard, Pillai, Wong, Ropar, & Mitchell, 2016), it is clear to see how such measures may provide information which is of limited value.

there are also many theories about autism, including the notion that autistics lack empathy . . . When you have sensory dysfunction, you are overly tuned to the environment, which includes all the emotions of the people you are interacting with – even the unspoken emotions on their part. The result can be an emotional roller-coaster ride for me as I try to deal with all this bombardment of information in addition to their words. Neurotypical people may assume that we autistics are incapable of empathy, when in fact, we just happen to express it differently. Reactions by way of our facial expressions and body language may not match what society is used to and expects.

These accounts point to a potentially fruitful seam of research, investigating how the sensory profile of autistic people mediates their experience of their own and others’ emotions.

Source: Autism and empathy: What are the real links? – Sue Fletcher-Watson, Geoffrey Bird, 2020

My goal as an autism advocate is to transform our view of autism to a stress adaptation rather than seeing it as a disorder. Viewing autism as a stress adaptation has the potential to clear up many controversies. It would also explain my amplified experiences and the pervasive nature of how this early, or pre-life, stress re-wired my brain. Seeing autism as a stress adaptation changed the approach I took to balancing my behaviors. Instead of seeing them as character flaws to be admonished, I found ways to balance my stress, learn cues I had been missing, nurture my sensory needs, and build my stress resilience. Furthermore, this new view of autism as a “stress model” will likely lend scientists and researchers insight into what seems to be a vast amount of impossibly confusing evidence.

Source: Consumer Story – Lori Hogenkamp – Advocating for Communities to Enable Adults with Autism to Thrive, Autism Research Program, Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs