Mind control, brainwashing, indoctrination, and pressurizing seem to all be used interchangeably in common English. These tactics have long been written about in historical texts and are often associated with cult followings, secret societies, dictatorships, and treatment of prisoners of war. Using these tactics in the non-religion and non-political domains often yield such descriptors as “snake oil salesman,” “Ponzi scheme,” or “pseudoscience.” Looking back, it’s difficult to relate to how people were so easily swayed. Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that these tactics could still persist in society today because we have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips. But there is modern-day brainwashing happening in front of us and the effects are terrifying. So what could modern-day brainwashing look like, you ask? I am referring to Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). It’s been widely marketed as the “gold standard treatment” for Autistics for years, despite any evidence to support such a claim. Rather than focusing on their canine and other animal species subjects, they have moved on to the more profitable avenues of human subjects. It has infiltrated our society through our schools, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, private clinics, and home health agencies. We should all be aware of how they have managed to fool so many people. But even more so, we should be concerned for their victims (their subjects) and for the evidence-based professional fields that are being swallowed whole by this wolf in sheep’s clothing.
There are seven major defining criteria for successful brainwashing. I say successful, because you need to utilize and master all of these tactics in order to gain loyalty from and complete control over your subjects.
1. Brainwashers prey on the vulnerable. Mainstream media, physicians, some therapists, and even some self-proclaimed “support organizations” represent autism as though it is equivalent to a devastating life-sucking disease. A “sickness” of sorts for which we “need to find a cure” before all of our children “catch” this “disease” that has become an “epidemic.” Before an individual is even diagnosed the general public is inundated with propaganda that Autism is a “scary” and “devastating” diagnosis. Even in German and Scandinavian folklore, they refer to Autistic children as “being stolen in the night.”  So, it is not surprising that when individuals are diagnosed with Autism, parents oftentimes become desperate to “find the cure” for their child. They progress through the stages of grief, as though their child has been given a death sentence. It is in this process of acceptance, we are met with the bargaining stage. Parents are desperate to “cure” their child and will try anything. I have known parents that have spent thousands of dollars to have their child swim with “magical dolphins” that can “cure” Autism. Others prescribe to the ideology that Autism is caused by the Herpes Virus and they need 2g of Valtrex per day. Or that dangerous chelation will “cure” their “afflicted” loved one. Parents (and sometimes the autistic individual themselves) are in a place that they are desperate for “normalcy” because they simply do not understand that autism is not a death sentence, it is just a natural human variance. Many buy into “cures” that are not based in scientific fact. I understand the unknown is scary and that professionals should learn better ways to support families and discuss autism openly from a perspective of acceptance and respect. Nevertheless, these parents are desperate after being inundated with all of the “Autism stole your child” mentality. This state of mind makes these parents the perfect target for pseudoscience; ABA.
2. Isolation. Predators need their victims isolated from outside influences. This means having them under the authority’s control as much as possible and making it convenient for those making the decisions. Recommending forty hours of “intensive ABA therapy per week” for children as young as 2 years of age is a perfect example. Research in child development and speech-language pathology do not support the need for such intensive treatment durations. But most parents need to hold a full-time job, so 40 hours is a nice round number that makes the 40-hour recommendation “easier” for parents to accept, so their life is minimally disrupted by therapy. Many ABA clinics in my area recommend the children withdraw from their public school in order to achieve this “gold standard therapy.” No need for an educational program because ABA “therapists” can teach your child ANYTHING! You may think, “why would any parent remove their child from the traditional public education program to try this?” They are desperate for answers and they are provided ABA propaganda by believers, yes even doctors and therapists. What about speech-language and occupational therapies? These are evidence-based treatments that assist individuals with a variety of communication, feeding and sensory-based needs (among other domains). When examining the code of ethics that ABA therapists are governed by, one may notice that the word “collaborate” is brilliantly omitted. Rather their code of ethics, as opposed to every other medical or therapeutic practitioner’s code of ethics, specifies that they will cooperate with other providers ONLY if the other professionals comply with ABA methods.  So, ABA clinics do “allow” speech-language and occupational therapy to be provided IF and ONLY IF the SLP and/or OT travels to the ABA facility and complies and cooperates with ABA methods. The ABA facility demands control over the therapy being provided by the therapist/s that travel to their facility. If a family declines the “in house” or “preferred provider” that the ABA clinic deems compliant with their practices, the families will continually be told that the ABA therapist can “do speech work” so there is no need for a certified and licensed SLP.
3. Attacking the subject’s self-esteem.  This is tricky when working with children because the predator really has to attack both the parent/guardian’s self-esteem AND the subject’s. The easiest way to achieve this is through intimidation. Overusing and not explaining technical jargon (e.g., DTT, discriminative stimulus, mand, tact) and employing propaganda (e.g., branding ABA treatment as “the gold standard” and having the same rationales and information being disseminated regardless of the clinic) are ways to attack parents’ and even physicians’ self-esteem related to their “lack of understanding” or inability to “help” their Autistic loved one or patient. For the primary victim, the neurodivergent child, to be manipulated, “re-education” and sensory deprivation are commonly used. Their body autonomy is removed and they are forced to comply with their predator’s demands. Physical manipulation of the subject, touching the subject without consent (e.g., hand over hand assistance forcing them to employ Picture Exchange Symbols, “showing” them how to play “correctly,” forcing turn-taking or sharing, tickling, and general touching to control the actions of their subjects. Every human has the right to consent. When consent and body autonomy are removed then this grooms subject/s for future abuse, particularly sexual. Research in the field of psychology has taught us that incessantly “correcting” children provide them not only a decreased opportunity to grow and learn organically, but also can cause significant damage to an individual’s self-worth, self-esteem, and overall mental health.  This type of abuse is called verbal and emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is used by narcissists and the like to maintain control over their victims. They, too utilize the tactics of isolation, degrading, controlling, and manipulating their victims, much like ABA therapists. Mental tortures are also employed, including gestures and words of disapproval and/or invading the subject’s personal space.
4. Encourage individuals to assimilate. With extreme rigidity, strict rules, controlled environment, repetition of messages with the same phrases/demands without variation, and not allowing the victim individuality encourage the child subject to “look neurotypical.” This thinking is identical to Gay Conversion Therapy which also was also deeply rooted in ABA by O. Ivar Lovaas. Amy Sequenzia, a non-speaking Autistic, advocate, and writer suggests that we begin to call ABA what it is: Autistic Conversion Therapy.  Now that brainwashing the child victim is out of the way, we need to make sure that “therapists” and parents remain ABA focused. This is easily achieved with an “us” versus “them” mentality. 
5. Brainwashers offer tangible rewards when the victim is “turned.”This concept is at the root of animal training and ABA human therapy as well. Intrinsic rewards are removed and dependency is created. On the other hand, subjects are also punished when they do not comply with the demands of the abuser. They are oftentimes forced to comply, sensory needs are suppressed, and favorite toys/objects are removed. ABA “therapists” do attempt to argue that reinforcement is different than rewards, but the proof is obvious through their application of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECs), reward charts, candies, etc. 
6. “Recognizing new ways of thinking in the victim’s brain. Much of the retraining is done through some of the same operant conditioning techniques of reward and punishment that were used to break the victim down in the first place. Positive experiences (e.g., toys, foods, objects) are now used to reward the victim for behaving as the abuser wishes, while negative experiences (e.g., withdrawal of loved objects/toys or attention) are used to punish lingering disobedience.” 
7. Repetition. Brainwashing requires long term persistence, repeating the cycle over and over again. Control in ABA is measured by the “data” gathered during treatment sessions. These tally marks overwhelm parents and the victim is forced into ongoing compliance which reinforces dependency. Additionally, this “data” is presented as proof that ABA “works,” when in reality the tally marks show how long the individual was able to maintain their free will. Parents often tell me of their children that “they LOVE going to ABA, they don’t even fuss anymore.” Well, this is not a new phenomenon with brainwashers; Stockholm Syndrome is a result of brainwashing.  Once a person is pushed to the point that they feel resistance is futile, they enter “compliance mode.” In this state full compliance occurs, which in ABA is coined as “extinguished.” Being pushed to this point is similar to the compliance mode that a tortured soldiers experience after lengthy torture sessions, resulting in compliance. It is after this trauma, at the point of full compliance that chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses manifest. 
Terrifyingly, ABA has infiltrated our healthcare system, schools, military, hospitals, and nursing homes. But you wonder, how can you even tell if someone is brainwashed? Here are common symptoms that you or someone you love has been brainwashed:
- Fanaticism and dependency.Perpetuation that ABA is “the gold standard.” There is no supporting evidence to suggest that ABA is superior, this is a marketing tactic rooted in propaganda. Full and unwavering defense of ABA and their methods, often trying to minimize documented cases of abuse as “bad ABA,” rather than seeing that those instances are common practice still today. A common tactic among ABA proponents is a psychological manipulation tactic called gaslighting.
- Full compliance. Individuals that are brainwashed will comply with the demands of the abuser. Americans have seen this in false confessions during war and torture at the hands of the military during times of war.Long term effects of brainwashing have been linked with complex-PTSD, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. 
- Withdrawal from life. Victims of brainwashing often internalize their anger which leads to depression, anxiety, and sometimes suicide. Many survivors, with and without treatment, are devoid of the personality they once had. They have been robbed of their self-esteem and autonomy. Emotional, sensory, and mental self-regulation are oftentimes severely impaired as a result. 
ABA is the NEW brainwashing. It is so prevalent in our society we must not allow it to continue to gain validity simply through a marketing gimmick of supreme branding. We know that brainwashing causes significant and long-standing mental illnesses.
I would like to end this article with a note for all of the ABA “therapists” that will most likely read this and say “Oh, sure there is ‘bad’ ABA, but that’s not what I do!” Abusers do not realize that they are abusers. You too, ABA therapist, have been brainwashed to think that what you are doing is the “gold standard.” You will attempt to discredit what I am saying, and as you try, I would suggest that you refer to the article you have just read, and know that every single one of the above points applies to you. You are a distributor of propaganda. Every attempt to gaslight the Neurodiversity Movement validates my argument.
You will not silence this movement. We see you for who you are and we will NOT comply with your demands. We will continue to advocate for the individuals we serve. We will continue to fight your efforts to gain control over the vulnerable you prey upon.
- Neurodiversity-Affirming Therapy: Positions, Therapy Goals, and Best Practices
- Influencer Therapists: Dubious Ethics & Poor Quality Services
- Ableism in Speech Pathology
- Case Study in Neurodiversity-Affirming Care: A Toddler with Childhood Apraxia of Speech
- A Parent’s Guide to Respectful Feeding Therapy: Part 2