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.”
When I first considered the possibility that I may be autistic, I thought the only missing piece was difficulty with social communication. I understood topic maintenance, turn-taking, figurative language, sarcasm, small talk, and the fact that no one actually wants a real answer when they ask how you are doing. I also knew that I hated small talk, talked about things I had no interest in for the sake of being social and polite, practiced responses in my head before saying them out loud, and had more difficulty expressing ideas verbally than in writing.
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.
It is so important that we start with the presumption that the person is a learner! Learning takes time and sometimes a good amount of patience. Always presume they are on their way to developing competence in learning this new language.
This letter to the ASHA Leader Editor is being circulated for signatures from speech-language pathologists who share the expressed concerns regarding the article “Building Working Relationships With Applied Behavior Analysts” that appeared in the April 2020 issue of the ASHA Leader. The letter is sponsored by the Speech-Language Pathology Neurodiversity Collective (SLPNDC) and authored by Therapy Chair Amy Lustig, PhD, CCC-SLP.
TBI in Service Members – Real-life effects & the need for Empathetic, Compassionate & Trauma-informed Care:
Beginning in around the year 2000, the field of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has included Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) among their ever-increasing scope of practice, claiming that ABA is “one of the most effective treatments for managing mood, behavioral and other mental disorders associated with brain damage”.3 ABA, in its simplest form, treats the behavior associated with TBI, rather than treating the underlying neurological reasons for that behavior.
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.
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.
Fundamental Research Problems with the ASHA Board Certified Specialist in Autism Spectrum Disorders (BCS-ASD), by BARRY R. NATHAN, PhD
There are fundamental problems with the Board Certified Specialist in Autism Spectrum Disorders (BCS-ASD). Therefore, it is imperative that ASHA not only sever any relationship with the BCS-ASD, but vociferously work to prevent its adoption by speech-language pathologists.
“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).