International Day of Protest Against ABA: Gentle ABA is Still Abuse

I have been meaning to write this post for quite some time. Today is the 1st Annual International Day of Protest Against ABA so it seemed the perfect day. There are numerous posts detailing how ABA is bad and abuse. There is even now research that shows that people and children subjected to ABA have PTSD symptoms at a statistically higher rate than autistic people who had not had ABA.

Even so, the thing I hear most is “My child’s ABA is different.” “This may be true in the past, but ABA today is gentle.” And I want to break this down for you in case you come looking for it. Just how “gentle” ABA is still abuse. Obviously this may have some triggering things for disabled people that have been through ABA or even those who have not but had similar childhood experiences that resemble ABA.

With all of that, let’s get started.

  1. Gentle ABA removed external aversives in favor of emotional and relational aversives.
    When people hear of any external aversives, this is usually the part where people say “Not my ABA.” It’s quite true that your ABA does not actively and outwardly punish. We will not see vinegar squirts in your gentle ABA. We will not see hot pepper flakes. What we will see is planned ignoring. We will see eye gaze intentionally rejecting a child. Whole body movements away from a child so as to not engage in their behavior. We will see emotional support not provided to children as young as 2 for 20 to 40 hours a week if they are not compliant. We remove the bond between the child and parents by telling them to do the same at home.
  2. Gentle ABA considers behavior something to be extinguish.
    Behavior is communication. We have all heard this. All behavior is always communication even if not intentional communication. Autistic communication that is seen as behaviors is typically body language. We all have body language. We learned in #1 that we see planned ignoring of behaviors. This means that we are effectively putting our fingers in our ears and singing “La, la, la. I’m not listening to you.” or worse giving the silent treatment whenever an autistic person is “having a behavior.” So we are intentionally ignoring children as young as 2 for 20 to 40 hours a week instead of listening to their communication. Sometimes the communication is obvious what it is saying, but often times it’s not. It could be expressing enjoyment, communicating pain… Sometimes it’s communication that they can’t get their body to move the way they want and as much as inside they want to, their body is just not doing the thing. “Please help me do the thing!” their mind screams from under a non-compliant body. We are neglecting their needs.
  3. Gentle ABA tells autistic people to not listen to their body.
    If we’re not listening to communication and then actively stifling communication in favor of normalized appearance, we are actively telling a child that they should not believe their body. They should suppress their feelings. We are gaslighting them into believing that those sensations should not be responded to. We are actively telling them their reality is not real. This is done subtly. This is done by redirecting focus back to the person. This is done by withholding a choice until responded to in the correct manner. And we do this to children as young as 2 for 20 to 40 hours a week.
  4. Gentle ABA thinks noncompliance and autistic traits are a lack of motivation.
    They correct this lack of motivation by frequent external motivators. Praise, goldfish, playing with the toy you’ve finally successfully requested in the manner they desire. And in doing so, it breaks down intrinsic motivation to the point of non-existence, for 20 to 40 hours a week. Now this person is forever tied to needing other people to motivate them. This means this person is now forever tied to needing someone else to show their self-worth. This breaks self-esteem and self-worth and pride.
  5. Gentle ABA denies the option of “No.”
    Non-compliance is a social skill. It really is. Noncompliance is protesting. It’s saying no. It’s listen to what you need and making an assessment that you cannot do the thing. And gentle ABA does not take that into account. It says to push your body to do the thing. I don’t get connection until I do the thing. I don’t have value until I do the thing. I cannot say no because the option is to be asked again, and again, until I finally ignore everything and do it. And relief comes with praise, but then there’s more I must do. And this is done to children as young as 2 for 20 to 40 hours a week.

And worse, Gentle ABA tells parents to do the same at home, so it’s not just 20 to 40 hours a week in children as young as 2. It’s every day of an autistic person’s life until they are independent. Except, they are never independent because A) no one is independent and B) there’s constant need for someone else to approve. If you don’t see what’s abusive of the above because you see someone playing with your child, I cannot help you further.

2 Responses

  1. Teaching no is one of the first things any Autism therapist should do. Teaching children to do things they enjoy is the other first thing any Autism therapist should do. Whether it is an SLP, an OT, a special ed teacher, or BCBA, Autism therapists have to challenge our societal beliefs about forcing kids into compliance, and denying children basic rights. Stopping behavior is unethical in any profession.

  1. September 1, 2018

    […] this piece explains why “gentle” ABA is still […]

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