Our society thrives on making abnormal individuals “normal.” This is the case with Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy, which is a normalized, widely-accepted form of prejudice against autistic children.
ABA is founded upon the principle of making an autistic child “normal.” Julia Bascom, the Executive Director of the Autism Self-Advocacy Network states that “the…end goal of ABA is an autistic child who is ‘indistinguishable from their peers’—an autistic child who can pass as neurotypical. We don’t think that’s an acceptable goal.”
In its early stages, ABA used shock therapy to discourage repetitive behavior in autisitic children, such as hand-flapping.
According to Autism Speaks, a well-known organization that openly encourages Applied Behavior Analysis,“The ban on electrical stimulation devices (ESDs) to treat aggressive or harming behaviors, typically in children and adults severely affected by developmental disorders including autism, has been in place since March 2020.”
Although it ended nearly two years ago, ABA and its supporting organizations (Autism Speaks) should still be held accountable.
Using punishment to discourage an autistic behavior is problematic. Autistic children were not born with a neurotypical brain and not wired to function like a “normal” person.
Autisticmama.com writes that “many autistic adults have shared how they struggle with compliance, consent and body autonomy even as adults. It’s hard to be taught for 20-40 hours a week that your body is in someone else’s control, only to then shut that off and take control of your own body.”
Autistic people use behaviors, such as hand flapping, to help them process outside stimuli. Punishing such a skill is punishing a person for being autistic.
Research shows that autistic people who suppress their need for stimming (tapping foot, flapping hands and spinning) have much higher rates of depression and anxiety than those who do not.
Chloe C. Hudson, PhD, a Clinical Fellow in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School concludes that “autistic individuals are four times more likely to be depressed than non-autistic individuals.”
Organizations that practice Applied Behavior Analysis thrive off of euphemisms to deceive non-autistic individuals into believing that ABA simply helps autistic individuals develop tools and resources. If this were truly the case, then ABA would not be problematic.
However, since ABA does not truly help autistic individuals and instead punishes them in an attempt to make them “normal.”
Autistic individuals should be able to learn how to effectively use tools and resources through a lens that respects and celebrates their unique way of thinking and behavior.
Applied Behavior Analysis seems to work at surface level, it really just molds autistic individuals into what is acceptable and convenient for everyone around them. Simultaneously, the autistic individual feels lost, discouraged, and uncomfortable in their own skin.
In summary, ABA just trains autistic people for the idea of making everyone around them comfortable.
Unfortunately, this perceived comfort derives from an ableist society who think that one can only enjoy life if they are as “normal” as possible.
Why is it widely accepted to put an autistic child through such brutal “education?” Why does our society have such a hard time not punishing autistic people for being autistic? Why do some feel comfortable with subjecting autistic individuals to pain and discrimination?
Autistic people do not need to be fixed, cured nor infantilized. Autistic people are human and are just as worthy of respect.
Autistic people are entitled to live a life free of discrimination or other people forcing them to behave a different way. Unless one is harming others, they should be able to live a life without others judgement.
It is not an autistic person’s job to fit in with other people whose brains are fundamentally different.
Yes, autistic individuals may need support. However, the need for support is not an invitation for prejudice..
Autistic people should receive support that does not attempt to change or dehumanize the individual. This does not constitute forced eye contact or suppressed stimming.
Any parents of autistic children should not feel ashamed by these findings. Parents do not hold the responsibility of knowing about the hidden, secretive aspects of Applied Behavior Analysis.
Again, Parents are not responsible for the damage from this kind of therapy. Ethical support for autistic individuals and their families can be found at autisticadvocacy.org.
Autistic people need empathy. Autistic people need understanding and instead be embraced for who they are, not who others think they should be.