Stop ABA being taught to psychology students and ban ABA altogether #actuallyautistic

Stop ABA being taught to psychology students and ban ABA altogether #actuallyautistic

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Laurence Cobbaert started this petition to Australian Human Rights Commission and

I am deeply saddened and furiously outraged by the uncritical promoting of ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) at Australian universities given its wide condemnation from the autistic community. ABA for autism is institutional abuse and should not be promoted in a university curriculum. Furthermore, ABA needs to be banned and outlawed altogether. ABA violates human rights

Applied Behaviour Analysis is a purely behavioural therapy rooted in the radical behaviourist school of thought. It is an intensive compliance-based therapy involving between 20 to 40 hours a week (most of the time outside of school hours), which strongly echoes conversion therapy. Lovaas, who is considered the founding father of ABA and who also played a key role in the development of gay conversion therapy (Feminine Boy Project), once made this highly disturbing statement: “You see, you start pretty much from scratch when you work with an autistic child. You have a person in the physical sense – they have hair, a nose and a mouth – but they are not people in the psychological sense.  One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is to see it as a matter of constructing a person. You have the raw materials, but you have to build the person.”  Citation Source

The use of approaches entirely based on radical behaviourism has largely faded over time (except for autism and obedience dog training) because of many scholars who have come forward to highlight its pervasively abusive and unethical underpinnings. Indeed, Applied Behaviour Analysis is solely concerned with artificially altering people’s behaviours, and treats behaviours as independent entities from feelings, sensations, neurobiological make-up, and emotions - while we all very well know today that this radical separation is absurd. To a behaviourist, it would be logical to crudely condition behaviours without addressing underlying distress, comforting, soothing, caring for, teaching coping mechanisms, or attend to emotional welfare or sensory sensitivity factors - and this is what ABA does to vulnerable and extremely sensitive autistic children. ABA negates and dismisses autistic children’s feelings, inherent neurological differences, emotions, and ultimately, humanity, with the aim of superficially ‘normalising’ (minimising ‘autistic traits’) behaviours to fit within the ‘socially acceptable’ functioning paradigm. Techniques associated with ABA have changed over the years, and the gruesome punishments (electroshocks using cattle prods, slapping, food restriction, shouting with the intent of intimidating) used in the 1970's have been discontinued. However, the troubling underlying ideology has remained intact: making autistics appear non-autistic by reducing 'autism symptoms'. It robs autistics of their agency and autonomy in an attempt to avoid the effort of compassion, understanding, acceptance and accommodation. Children do not outgrow autism, they just get better at hiding it (masking), which has been demonstrated to lead to poor mental health outcomes in adulthood. Autism does not require treatment, but support. It would be common sense to deem such an approach profoundly unethical and abusive, and yet, here we are, with ABA and PBS (aka ABA rebranded) lobbyists gaining power and momentum over the voices of autistic communities around the world - and no one listening and acting to curb such growing systemic abuse. Children do not outgrow autism ; Consequences of masking

ABA apologists point towards the vast amount of ‘evidence’ supporting the practice. However, the claimed evidence amounts to pseudoscience considering that a) most studies only include a non-randomised single-case experimental design, and b) long-term longitudinal studies are essentially non-existent (ABA not 'evidence-based'). For a therapeutic approach that has been around for over 30 years, this lack of valid scientific evidence is exceptionally shocking and raises the question of why it is still being used today. How many treatments are marketed and applied so widely without a large database of consistently replicated findings following basic quality standards of healthcare scientific research (randomised controlled trials and long-term longitudinal studies)? That’s right, none - except for ABA. Why is ABA exempted from such scientific scrutiny and expected methodological precision? We can wonder if this (un)evidenced fierce agenda-pushing by the clinical establishment is related to ABA’s high lucrative potential? ABA research and conflicts of interests   ABA is pseudoscience ABA not scientifically supported by research ABA hinders learning ;  ABA not supported by research  ; ABA lack of 'evidence'

In addition, there are no studies that have assessed the well-being and emotional welfare of ABA recipients, either while receiving the treatment or long-term. However, there are plenty of studies investigating the well-being of parents and siblings of ABA recipients. Why is autistics’ well-being so unworthy of investigation in the context of ABA? Why is the well-being of third parties more important than the patients’ themselves? What kind of treatment blatantly ignores patients’ feelings, well-being, and emotional welfare while prioritising the comfort of people around them? I would argue this clearly points towards the underlying predatory ableism and paternalism pervading ABA therapy. 

Where is the ‘real’ evidence, the decently rigorous one? The one that takes the ABA recipient’s well-being and emotional welfare into consideration rather than exclusively focus on external, subjectively constructed and arbitrary perceptions of ‘functioning’ by third parties? The one that applies basic rules of scientific inquiry lending itself to generalisations such as randomised controlled trials and long-term longitudinal studies? How can ABA be taken seriously without those? How was it allowed to be taken so seriously without those? Why has no one put a stop to it considering such grave methodological limitations and documented risks to patients’ safety and well-being? Indeed, ABA prompts the autistic person to assume a neurotypical outward persona which does not align with their intrinsic psyche based in neurodiversity. I believe gay conversion therapy can be used as analogy here: coercive manipulation of behaviours to mold autistic individuals into a ‘socially acceptable’ (conformity prompting) format or narrative. What about the double empathy problem?

ABA linked to PTSD ABA violating Human Rights ; ABA: insidious abuse ; ABA unethical ; ABA is outdated and unethical ; ASD and the dangers of Masking ; ABA and trauma ; ABA and subjectification ; Understanding stimming  ; ASD and the dangers of camouflaging ; ABA is abusive; ABA is harmful; ABA conversion therapy; ABA outdated and unethical; Parenting and ASD

It is extremely painful to watch ABA-themed videos showing ABA therapists continuously breaching children’s rights for bodily autonomy, touching their arms, legs, shoulders, face, hands (‘quiet hands’), without even obtaining consent first. What about the child’s right to not being invaded in such a way? What about their sensory sensitivity to touch being completely ignored and downplayed? Furthermore, why are autistic children being coerced and forced to socialise through the learning of ‘typical’ social skills? What if they’re not interested and fulfilled by ‘typical’ social interactions? Why should it need fixing? The double empathy problem provides an explanation to such social discrepancies.

In line with the notion that autistic voices don’t matter highlighted by ABA, most organisations such as Autism Speaks, Autism Awareness Australia, or Aspect Australia, have little to no autistic individuals working or being consulted at a decisional level, which is unacceptable. Those organisations also promote ABA and/or PBS (positive behaviour support, which is ABA rebranded) with a blatant disregard for what the autistic community has to say about them.  

ABA video 1 ; ABA video 2 ; ABA video 3

Sensory sensitivity and emotional intensity (dysregulation) in autism are rooted in neurobiology: amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, patterns of myelination affecting conduction speed, complex dendritic branching, synaptic pruning, connectivity across lobes, and so forth. The ways autistics respond to environmental stimuli reflect an acute sensitivity, both sensory and emotional, based in atypical physiological mechanisms. Therefore, the behaviour is inherently intertwined with neurobiology and environmental stimulation. ABA addresses the behaviour that results from neurological mechanisms of integration related to environmental cues but does not address the underying distress itself – through, for instance, the teaching of healthy and individualised self-soothing strategies, mindfulness, or tactics to prevent anxiety-provoking sensory overloads (headsets, sunglasses, stress balls). As such, ABA is essentially forcing autistics to internalise inevitable feelings of distress for the convenience of neurotypicals (non-autistics) around them: improvement for who and at what cost? Masking (or camouflaging) is a prime factor involved in the high prevalence of suicide among autistics. 

I find it quite fascinating that non-autistic ‘experts’ would be so confident in their ability to know and understand autism more than autistics themselves. I also find it sad that non-autistic autism ‘experts’ have so many misconceptions about autism (i.e. women with autism, debunked theory of mind, empathy, etc.). A majority of the autistic community condemns ABA, and has done so for a long time. The people that are in favour of ABA are mostly non-autistics, ironically. ABA is antithetical to acceptance and inclusivity, as it purports that there is only one way of being socially validated through a set of ‘normal’ behaviours. Why can’t neurodiversity be validated, embraced, and accommodated? Autistics are logically the only true experts on autism and saying otherwise is ableist and profoundly patronising.

We need, in the future, to have the autistic community represented, consulted and allowed a right of veto on the wide implementation of therapies aimed at autistics. This is the only way abuses of power by the healthcare system like illustrated by ABA can be prevented. In addition, insurance schemes such as NDIS need to stop being complicit through the funding of ABA in the context of autism. There are plenty of non-harmful alternatives that aren’t overwhelmingly condemned by the autistic community, and these should be funded instead: occupational therapy, speech therapy, mindfulness, trauma-informed acceptance and commitment therapy, art therapy, and so forth.

No amount of programming will transform a MacOS into a Windows computer (or an Android into an iPhone), and vice versa. A MacOS isn’t designed to operate exactly like a Windows computer, just like an autistic’s brain isn’t designed to behave like a non-autistic’s. While different, both have a diverse set of strengths and weaknesses. As such, wouldn’t it be more logical to use a more holistic approach to human functioning that is strengths-based in order to mitigate challenges rather than annihilate individuality altogether through arbitrary and dehumanising behavioural compliance-based conditioning?


Autistic Voices MATTER! 




Here are some valuable and insightful sources:



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