ABA is not the answer. It asks the wrong question.
Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy (ABA) / Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) are often recommended for autistic, and otherwise neurodivergent children, but I kindly encourage any parents out there to 𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙚 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙘𝙝 𝙞𝙩 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙨𝙩.
There are a huge number of autistic adults who have gone through it and are now speaking out against it, as well as many experts in the field of psychology.
It is a controversial topic; 𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙚 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙄 𝙖𝙢 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙟𝙪𝙙𝙜𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖𝙣𝙮𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚, 𝙬𝙚 𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙬𝙖𝙣𝙩 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙞𝙨 𝙗𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙨𝙚 𝙬𝙚 𝙡𝙤𝙫𝙚. I am just sharing what I’ve learned while researching therapies for my own child, and resources for you to read.
ABA creator Ivar Lovaas didn’t acknowledge that autistic children were people until they had undergone his ‘therapy’ to “build a person”.
Behaviourism is dead
All the recent research into child development and psychology proves that. It is 𝙤𝙪𝙩𝙙𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙨𝙘𝙞𝙚𝙣𝙘𝙚, although you couldn’t even call it science really. Read this fascinating article here on just how old and outdated it really is.
𝘼𝘽𝘼 𝙞𝙨 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙨𝙪𝙥𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙗𝙮 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙖𝙟𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙮 𝙤𝙛 𝙖𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙘 𝙥𝙚𝙤𝙥𝙡𝙚 𝙖𝙨 𝙞𝙩 𝙫𝙞𝙤𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙐𝙉 𝘾𝙤𝙣𝙫𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙤𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙍𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙋𝙚𝙤𝙥𝙡𝙚 𝙒𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝘿𝙞𝙨𝙖𝙗𝙞𝙡𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙚𝙨. Here is an article by non-speaking autistic people and their thoughts on ABA.
ABA is an embarrassing reminder of how poor the research and education on autism really is. 𝙄𝙩 𝙙𝙤𝙚𝙨 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙖𝙩𝙩𝙚𝙢𝙥𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙪𝙥𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙪𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧𝙡𝙮𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙤𝙣𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙗𝙚𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙞𝙤𝙪𝙧, 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙥𝙚𝙘𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙖𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙘 𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙞𝙫𝙞𝙙𝙪𝙖𝙡 𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙞𝙧 𝙚𝙢𝙤𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙖𝙡 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙩𝙚. It doesn’t see behaviour as communication. Ethical concerns about ABA can be found here.
There are a growing number of studies showing its links to 𝙋𝙏𝙎𝘿 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙧𝙖𝙪𝙢𝙖 𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙧 𝙞𝙣 𝙡𝙞𝙛𝙚. Here are two studies which highlight this: Long-term ABA Therapy is Abusive and Evidence of increased PTSD symptoms in autistics exposed to applied behavior analysis
My graphic below is what I learned about 𝘼𝙥𝙥𝙡𝙞𝙚𝙙 𝘽𝙚𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙞𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝘼𝙣𝙖𝙡𝙮𝙨𝙞𝙨(𝘼𝘽𝘼)/𝙋𝙤𝙨𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝘽𝙚𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙞𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙎𝙪𝙥𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙩𝙨(𝙋𝘽𝙎) when I was researching therapies for my child last year. It gives an easy to understand overview, and makes it clear how problematic it is as a therapy for autistic children.
I wanted to share because 𝙄 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙞𝙩 𝙛𝙚𝙚𝙡𝙨 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚 𝙖𝙣 𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙡𝙢𝙚𝙙 𝙥𝙖𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙨𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙨𝙪𝙥𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙩 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙢𝙮 𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙡𝙙.
I wanted to share because 𝙄 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙞𝙩 𝙛𝙚𝙚𝙡𝙨 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙚𝙚 𝙢𝙮 𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙡𝙙 𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙪𝙜𝙜𝙡𝙚, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙙𝙤 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙪𝙥𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙩 𝙝𝙞𝙢.
I wanted to share because 𝙄 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙞𝙩 𝙛𝙚𝙚𝙡𝙨 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙛𝙚𝙨𝙨𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙖𝙡𝙨 𝙙𝙞𝙨𝙢𝙞𝙨𝙨 𝙢𝙮 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙘𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙨, 𝙛𝙤𝙗 𝙢𝙚 𝙤𝙛𝙛, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙜𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙢𝙚 𝙞𝙣𝙖𝙘𝙘𝙪𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙞𝙣𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙢𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣.
I wanted to share because 𝙄 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙬𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙞𝙩 𝙛𝙚𝙚𝙡𝙨 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚 𝙤𝙣 𝙬𝙖𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙡𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙨𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙨𝙤𝙢𝙚𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜, 𝙖𝙣𝙮𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜, 𝙄 𝙘𝙖𝙣 𝙙𝙤 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙚𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙝𝙚𝙡𝙥 𝙢𝙮 𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙡𝙙.
I wanted to share because 𝙄 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙥𝙚𝙤𝙥𝙡𝙚 𝙬𝙝𝙤 𝙨𝙪𝙜𝙜𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙩𝙮𝙥𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙮, 𝙙𝙤 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙩𝙚𝙡𝙡 𝙥𝙖𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙨 𝙖𝙡𝙡 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙨, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙡𝙤𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙢 𝙞𝙨𝙨𝙪𝙚𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙚𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙡 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙘𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙨 𝙨𝙪𝙧𝙧𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙙𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙞𝙩.
I wanted to share because 𝙤𝙣𝙚 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙜𝙤𝙖𝙡𝙨 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙥𝙖𝙜𝙚 𝙞𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙝𝙚𝙡𝙥 𝙖𝙨 𝙢𝙖𝙣𝙮 𝙖𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙘 𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙡𝙙𝙧𝙚𝙣 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙙𝙪𝙡𝙩𝙨 𝙖𝙨 𝙥𝙤𝙨𝙨𝙞𝙗𝙡𝙚 𝙖𝙘𝙧𝙤𝙨𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙪𝙣𝙩𝙧𝙮, 𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙮 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙙𝙞𝙖𝙜𝙣𝙤𝙨𝙚𝙙 𝙤𝙧 𝙣𝙤𝙩, 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙤𝙣𝙚𝙨 𝙘𝙧𝙮𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙛𝙤𝙧 𝙨𝙚𝙧𝙫𝙞𝙘𝙚𝙨, 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙤𝙣𝙚𝙨 𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙜𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙖𝙥𝙥𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙡𝙚𝙩 𝙙𝙤𝙬𝙣 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚 𝙖𝙜𝙖𝙞𝙣.
If not ABA/PBS, then what?
Autistic children/adults 𝙙𝙤𝙣’𝙩 𝙞𝙣𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙡𝙮 𝙉𝙀𝙀𝘿 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙖𝙥𝙮 𝙟𝙪𝙨𝙩 𝙗𝙚𝙘𝙖𝙪𝙨𝙚 𝙬𝙚’𝙧𝙚 𝘼𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙘. Determine what our struggles are, and then find a neuro affirmative, respectful therapy to help support, and 𝙬𝙤𝙧𝙠 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙪𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙝𝙚𝙡𝙥 𝙞𝙙𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙞𝙛𝙮 𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙤𝙬𝙣 𝙣𝙚𝙚𝙙𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙜𝙤𝙖𝙡𝙨. This quote by Chris Bonnello from Autistic Not Weird sums it up very well, “I don’t want to turn an autistic person into a non-autistic person. I want to turn an autistic person who struggles into an autistic person who doesn’t struggle.” THIS SHOULD BE THE GOAL.
- A speech therapist may be needed for speech, and communication struggles. 𝙇𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙣 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙖𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙘 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙘𝙘𝙚𝙥𝙩 𝙞𝙩 𝙞𝙨 𝙙𝙞𝙛𝙛𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙩, 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙙𝙚𝙛𝙞𝙘𝙞𝙚𝙣𝙩. Learn about Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). I highly recommend reading up on The Double Empathy Problem which helped me massively.
- An occupational therapist can help with so much, including sensory integration, meltdowns, and behaviours that cause harm from sensory overload. A good OT will draw up a sensory diet to implement at home. They will help you determine which of the 8 senses your child is seeking or avoiding, and activities to meet these needs. People can be often a mix of both seeking/avoiding. (𝙄𝙢𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙩 𝙩𝙤 𝙣𝙤𝙩𝙚 𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙬𝙚 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 8 𝙨𝙚𝙣𝙨𝙚𝙨. 𝘼𝙨 𝙬𝙚𝙡𝙡 𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙤𝙣𝙡𝙮 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬𝙣 5, 𝙬𝙚 𝙖𝙡𝙨𝙤 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙑𝙚𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙗𝙪𝙡𝙖𝙧, 𝙋𝙧𝙤𝙥𝙧𝙞𝙤𝙘𝙚𝙥𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙄𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙤𝙘𝙚𝙥𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙞𝙩𝙨 𝙫𝙞𝙩𝙖𝙡 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙣 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙚𝙖𝙘𝙝 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙢).
- 𝘾𝙤𝙡𝙡𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚, 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙥𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙛𝙪𝙡 𝙖𝙥𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙖𝙘𝙝𝙚𝙨 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙄𝙉𝙏𝙀𝙂𝙍𝘼𝙇 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙪𝙥𝙥𝙤𝙧𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙮𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙖𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙘 𝙘𝙝𝙞𝙡𝙙/𝙨𝙩𝙪𝙙𝙚𝙣𝙩. I follow the Montessori approach. At its core is respecting and following the child’s interests, needs, and where they are developmentally. I combine Dr. Maria Montessori’s approach with other approaches including the works of Dr. Ross Greene, and Dr. Mona Delahooke.
For meltdowns, shutdowns, behaviour that causes harm; look into the work of Dr. Ross Greene and his book, The Explosive Child, his website Lives in the Balance and his Facebook Group The B Team. Also the work by Dr. Mona Delahooke and her book, “Beyond Behaviours.” These approaches use the latest research into child development. They solve the issues that cause the behaviour in the first place. Behaviour is often communication.
𝘾𝙝𝙞𝙡𝙙𝙧𝙚𝙣 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙜𝙞𝙫𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙪𝙨 𝙖 𝙝𝙖𝙧𝙙 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚, 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙮 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖 𝙝𝙖𝙧𝙙 𝙩𝙞𝙢𝙚! 𝙇𝙚𝙩’𝙨 𝙢𝙚𝙚𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙢 𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙮 𝙖𝙧𝙚.
- Parents/caregivers/educators/professionals that work with and care for autistic children and adults, take the time to learn about autism from the autistic perspective. Having this insight will be invaluable to better supporting autistic people. I highly recommend Ausome Training, who deliver online courses worldwide for everyone. They are autistic-led, and neuro-affirmative.
Further reading on ABA alternatives here by Ausome Training and NeuroClastic. More on neurodiversity-affirming therapy and how to recognise a good therapists by the Therapist Neurodiversity Collective.
I want to end this piece with a reframe, a lens shift..
I am autistic.
I am human.
I have meltdowns.
𝙄 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙢𝙚𝙡𝙩𝙙𝙤𝙬𝙣𝙨 𝙗𝙚𝙘𝙖𝙪𝙨𝙚 𝙄 𝙖𝙢 𝙖 𝙝𝙪𝙢𝙖𝙣 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙝𝙪𝙢𝙖𝙣 𝙣𝙚𝙚𝙙𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙝𝙪𝙢𝙖𝙣 𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨.
This is an important difference rather than the narrative that meltdowns are specific to being autistic. They’re not. They happen regardless of neurotype. I know this lens shift might be difficult to wrap your head around, because it was for me too. I highly recommend you keep an eye on Ausome Training for when they have their next Autism and Trauma course.
I truly believe the reason we find it so hard to differentiate between autism and trauma is because society, the world as a whole simply does not produce untraumatized autistic people. Don’t add to this trauma by placing us in therapies like Applied Behaviour Analysis.
𝙈𝙚𝙡𝙩𝙙𝙤𝙬𝙣𝙨 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙖 𝙝𝙪𝙢𝙖𝙣 𝙩𝙧𝙖𝙞𝙩. 𝙏𝙝𝙚𝙮 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙣 𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙣𝙨𝙚 𝙧𝙚𝙨𝙥𝙤𝙣𝙨𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙨𝙞𝙩𝙪𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨, 𝙚𝙢𝙤𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙨𝙚𝙣𝙨𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙖𝙡 𝙞𝙣𝙥𝙪𝙩 𝙗𝙚𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙤𝙤 𝙤𝙫𝙚𝙧𝙬𝙝𝙚𝙡𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙤 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙘𝙚𝙨𝙨, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙧𝙤𝙡.
- Meltdowns are not part of the diagnostic criteria in the DSM for receiving an autism diagnosis. Meltdowns happen less when you are more regulated, better supported, and better understood. An autistic individual that is meltdown free is still autistic.
- One of the best ways to support anyone’s mental health is to dive beneath the surface, and try figure out the “𝗪𝗛𝗬” of a behaviour like a meltdown .
Behaviour is often communication
Think of an iceberg – the bit you see (behaviour) is only a small part of the story. You need the full story to be effectively supported.
Compliance is not an effective goal
Rather than trying to change the behaviour by using rewards/punishments or without any understanding of what was causing it, 𝙛𝙤𝙘𝙪𝙨 𝙤𝙣 𝙛𝙞𝙜𝙪𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙬𝙝𝙮, 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙨𝙤𝙡𝙫𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙗𝙡𝙚𝙢 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙜𝙜𝙚𝙧𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙞𝙤𝙪𝙧 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙞𝙧𝙨𝙩 𝙥𝙡𝙖𝙘𝙚.
Frequent, re-occurring meltdowns should not be happening for anyone, autistic or not. They are an individual’s way of saying, “𝙄 𝙣𝙚𝙚𝙙 𝙝𝙚𝙡𝙥.” Please don’t punish us for something that is beyond our control. Please don’t place autistic or otherwise neurodivergent individuals into harmful therapies like Applied Behaviour Analysis or Positive Behaviour Support.
Our needs are human.
Treat us as human.
Irish, autistic, advocate, parent, artist, writer. Sarah uses her Facebook page, Life Through My Lens, to work towards a more inclusive, better educated society in terms of advocacy, empowerment and the autistic way of being. Also on Twitter @myautisticlens