I was called “unethical” by a professional colleague today.
The reason may surprise you—I said “ABA is abuse”. My peer was naturally taken aback because they are an SLP-BCBA and “would never dream of abusing a child.” I always find this rebuttal interesting because we usually don’t hear about people walking around admitting to abusing people; even overt predators somehow convince themselves that they are helping their victim. The sanctimonious SLP-BCBA told me that it was the “old ABA” and not “new ABA” that was harmful, and then only a small fraction of the time. She accused me of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” (I still don’t really understand how this idiomatic expression applies here) and she further went on to insist that there is “no way ABA could cause PTSD in people with Autism.” (She really meant “Autistic people,” I am sure.)
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.
“They used food deprivation in my program and they made us pair up and do it to each other. I feel incredible guilt over this.
Every morning I’d cut up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into as many pieces as possible. Each piece was like a little bigger than an M&M.
Then I’d be told to force this non-verbal Autistic boy to do behaviors for each piece of the sandwich. He’d cry, hit his head in frustration, and say “hungry” which was one of like four words he could use.
I have no words to describe how bad I feel about being forced to do this as a child. If he didn’t “behave” he’d get no food and he’d go hungry.
He and the rest of us were expected to perform like trained circus animals for basic rights, like the ability to go to the bathroom.”
My journey to realising that I was autistic is similar to that of many women, in that I was placed in the mental health system as a child. For the next 15 years, I was given various diagnoses – one of these being Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). My sensory and emotional difficulties were pathologised and misdiagnosed. What we know now is that there is a multitude of evidence showing how often autistic girls and women are misdiagnosed. But, that’s not what this blog is about.
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.
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:
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.
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.”