Performative Neurodiversity – the appropriation and watering down of a Human Rights Movement for profit
What are some signs that you’ve wasted your money on a neurodiversity-lite product, book, or class?
“… scores on the CAT-Q indicate she engages in a significantly higher level of camouflaging than neurotypical people and elevated camouflaging even when compared to other autistic individuals. It is highly likely that she has camouflaged so much and for so long that she fails to see some of her autistic traits even though they may appear obvious to others.”
But, training the autism out of an autistic person is neither ethical nor accepting of neurodiversity. Deficit-driven clinicians continue to attribute any Autistic social difference as “deficient” but flat out ignore the fact that social communication reciprocity is a two-way street. Nothing about Social Skills Training is neurodivergence-affirming therapy. Absolutely nothing.
Today in a virtual Zoom therapy session, the parent asked me why I don’t use PECS® in speech therapy (with non-speaking or minimally speaking Autistic children). After watching her child laugh, dance, and have fun during therapy, after watching them imitate action verbs, and spontaneously communicate a desire, spontaneously point to my assistant and me on the screen, and smile at us all, it became clear to this parent that there are different kinds of therapy sessions. This kind isn’t all about compliance.
Our autistic female students are constantly mimicking and copying behaviors of peers so they can hide their autism. We, as clinicians, teach them to do this because we were taught that autism must be hidden and masked through the therapy we provide. We are licensed, credentialed ableists, “therapizing: our autistic students to learn to be in a constant state of making in order to be acceptable, to be worthy, to be liked.
Why Perspective-Taking and Neurodiversity Acceptance? (Part 2 of “Training” Social Skills is Dehumanizing: The One with the Therapy Goals)
Wasted years upon years of endlessly drilling autistic children and adolescents to memorize and parrot “appropriate” rote phrases for specific social situations will not lead to their peers perceiving them as more likable. Social skills training is not a “cure” for autism despite what the ABA industry would like for us all to believe. All “social skills training’ does is to teach autistic people how to mask their autism. And the potential harms of masking (exhaustion, anxiety, depression, frustration, decreased self-esteem suicidal ideation) are significant.
PECS® uses Operant Conditioning, which is a behavior technique that can be used to target and increase a behavior by pairing performance of the target behavior with a positive or rewarding outcome. Per Andy Bondy, inventor of PECS, “Skinner’s analysis of Verbal Behavior forms the basis for teaching particular skills at specific points in the training sequence and also provides guidelines for how best to design the teaching strategies.” PECS uses picture-based prompting and reinforcement tied to error correction in order to teach language skills. The method allows the trainer to artificially cause frustration through the withholding of highly desired objects or food until the targeted behavior is achieved, even if the communicator becomes upset or angry. It is not a natural or nice way to teach language.
Dictating how a neurodivergent person is expected to communicate in specific social situations takes away their self-determination. Training people as one trains animals is appalling. SLP Neurodiversity Collective believes in respecting the authentic social communication of all people, rather than compelling compliance for neurotypical expectations through a system of rewards and punishments.
“Please remember what we talked about regarding eye contact, echolalia, sensory needs, picky eating and especially how to choose therapies that will respect his dignity and autonomy, and that won’t crush the joyous and precious little person that he is. I will advocate for him; but because you will need to learn how to become be his biggest champion, I have sent you links to resources for you to begin to educate yourself about Autism. I understand that you were very upset yesterday when they told you the diagnosis. My hope is that you begin to view this diagnosis differently.”
ASHA has guidelines in our ethics code for “collaboration” and “interpersonal professional practice” (IPP), which are two terms ABA practitioners often use in order to attempt to intimidate or gaslight both CCC-SLPs and ASHA into believing that speech-language pathologists are being unethical if we dare to voice negative opinions against the use of ABA practices and/or BCBA and RBT incompetency (as they dangerously or inadequately provide speech therapy services for which BCBAs and RBTs are not educated or trained).