ABA is a very common and controversial topic in the autistic community, so I want to talk about it here. ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) is a therapy technique used on autistic people, mostly children. The goal of ABA is, in short, to teach children how to mask. I want to say that before I go. into this, this may be offensive to advocates of ABA. I’m asking you to keep an open mind and understand that my goal is to enlighten, not to offend.
I believe that ABA is abusive. I believe that parents who have their children in ABA don’t understand how it feels, so I would like to explain.
I’m going to use eye contact as an example. A lot of autistic people don’t like eye contact. For some of us it’s simply unpleasant, and for some of us it causes sensory overload. For some of us it literally hurts, and will cause us to have a full meltdown. ABA will attempt to teach a child to make eye contact. A lot of people who are advocates for ABA will say that this is good. That autistic children must learn social skills in order to be successful, and that ABA provides a way for us to learn those “skills.” If a child has such a strong aversion to eye contact that it causes panic attacks and you have them in ABA, they will be forced, one way or another, to make eye contact. From my observation it seems likely for autistic children to be guilted into something like eye contact. I once saw an example from a parent that said “When you make eye contact it makes others happy. When you do not, it makes others sad.” Even if this is not the case, the child is still being forced to make eye contact.
When your child has been in ABA, when you speak to your child they may learn to make eye contact, and this makes you happy and you call it improvement. But let’s talk about what’s happening on the inside for that child. That child is likely panicking, feeling extremely uncomfortable, and may even be even in physical or emotional pain. They’re having to hide it and pretend they don’t feel so horrible. So, the first problem with ABA is that it causes the child in ABA to be extremely uncomfortable, sometimes to the point of pain.
The second problem with ABA is that the fundamental goal is to basically make a child less autistic. ABA sees all of the traits of an autistic child that are not socially acceptable and attempts to eradicate them. This perpetuates the idea that autism is bad and should be changed. Autism is not bad. I find myself having to say this over and over, like a broken record. Autism is not bad. Autism does not need to be changed. No one needs to get rid of it.
The third issue I find with ABA is that it teaches a child to not focus on their own needs. Children who have to experience ABA are taught to do what other people want, and what makes them comfortable, at the cost of their own mental health and wellness. This is also not temporary. This behavior of suffering for the benefit of other people can last years, even after a person is no longer in ABA.
To put it simply, ABA is kind of like torture for someone with autism, and the affects can last years. Studies have shown that children who have experienced ABA struggle with PTSD, sometimes for the rest of their lives. If you don’t believe me or trust my judgement I would highly encourage you to do your own research. But the people you should be listening to about autism are people who are autistic. As an autistic person, I’m begging you to not put your kids through ABA.
You have to realize that most kids with autism are disabled. Let your kid be disabled. Let your kid be autistic. And don’t try to change that. What matters is your child’s happiness and safety. I understand that you believe your child will be happy if they can hide their disability and integrate themselves among neurotypical people, but that isn’t true. Your child will be happy when they know they’re loved for who they are.