Applied Behavior Analysis


Applied Behavior Analysis, better known as ABA, receives a lot of opinions, most of which I disagree with. I continue to see people either raving or condemning it. I’m often asked to explain to people “What’s wrong with ABA?”

I’m going to say this once more and direct people to this blog post when asked again. You are free to do the same. There is nothing wrong with ABA. This is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of any organization I am a part of, will be a part of, or have been a part of.

Does this mean I think ABA should be used on every Autistic? NO! Does this mean I think people who practice ABA (usually BCBAs and BCABAs) do no harm? NO! Does this mean I think ABA should never be used? NO!

Three examples:

Example 1: Daniel was around 4 when we started using ABA with him. His behavior? “Property destruction” was the formal label. The cause? He was either climbing to reach something or he was showing his disapproval for being told no. One day, when he was climbing, he knocked over a 250 lb TV and fell to the ground with it barely missing his leg. He did this again and barely missed crushing his body. To me, and any other person, this was a life threatening behavior. Other times, he’d clean off countertops in one swift arm motion which also caused bodily harm. These are not “acceptable” behavior in people’s minds.

We chose to use ABA because we did want this behavior modified as reasoning was not working. Logic was not working. Pre-empting him every second of the day was unachievable.

We did not use aversives. We only used rewards based on non-destructive behaviors. We successfully ended the behaviors. And then we stopped using ABA. If people disagree with what we did, that’s their own choice, but I did not want to hear from the bathroom a thud, a scream and then have to call an ambulance because my child had crushed his ribs or been punctured with glass.

Example 2: Judge Rotenberg Center is the best extreme for this example. As some of you may have learned. They use Electric Shock treatment to curb behaviors of their “patients.” They are not allowed to do this with new patients, thankfully. However, this form of aversive therapy is a most notable part of some ABA therapies. Using aversives during the course of the behavior is supposed to make the behaviors stop when coupled with rewards. I could go in depth with this, but I think most people can see how evil this is. It’s conditioning based on torture. Many of these acts we aren’t even allowed to perform on detainees!

Example 3: I watched a video at a parent meeting one night. A BCBA was trying to stop a behavior in an 8 yr old child. (This was open to the public, but I will not be using names.) The behavior? Over-excitement and flapping when first interacting with her friends. She sat with the girl and the girl’s two best friends. She explained the behavior that was “undesirable” and asked one friend of she liked it when the girl did this behavior. “No. I can’t stand it.” Asked the other friend, “Well, it’s not that bad.” The therapist asked “What if she did it everyday every time she saw you?” The little girl not  knowing any better responded, “Well, no, I wouldn’t like that.”

Was this behavior hurting anyone? Honestly, no. One friend obviously didn’t show tolerance, but it wasn’t hurting her.

When asked about the consequences of being told that her behavior was wrong, the therapist didn’t seem to think there would/could be significant consequences. When pressed about the issue, the therapist said “Well, she’s going to have anxiety problems either way.”

When questioned about how this is appropriate to do when it’s not hurting anyone. It was just about being socially acceptable based on the parents’ opinions.

This is where the difference lies. I’ve been told, “Well, parents have that right.” Obviously, they do. They also seem to have the right to subject their children to dangerous chelation therapy. Or to put their child through HBOT which can cause oxygen poisoning.

To me, if we aren’t allowed to tell the parents what to do, surely, we should be able to ask BCBAs to be ETHICAL. Medical ethics sayprimum non nocere (Do no harm). BCBAs are not medical professionals. They don’t have to go to medical school. But they are paid as medical professionals very often by insurance.

There is nothing wrong with ABA. The problem is the lack of ETHICS within practitioners. They are not required Ethics as part of their training. There are no standards about how ABA is practiced by the BACB (Behavior Analysist Certification Board). The problem is not looking at the long term affects and what is actually harming their clients.

(It doesn’t hurt to also train the peers too if you’re talking social skills.)

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