More On ABA

I finally did something I’ve never done before.  I’ve closed down any further comments on a post I wrote about the ethics of ABA.  I continue to get up to thirty views on that post daily, now over a year later.  Most of the comments are coming from ABA therapists who write in defense of ABA, which is fine, except most of them are saying the same thing and my response is also to repeat what I’ve said before, but I’m also getting comments from people who are furious that I dare suggest ABA is anything but wonderful, so instead of endlessly repeating myself, I have shut comments down, just on that post.

If you are an ABA therapist, it is your obligation to, at the very least, read what those who are autistic and were given ABA as children are saying about it.  If nothing else, please read Ido Kedar’s book Ido in Autismland where he describes what it was like to be a non-speaking autistic child, with a body that does not do as he would like, and who was given hours of ABA therapy every day for years.

Ido writes:

“It frustrates me to look back at how my ABA teachers drilled me endlessly in basic skills only to say it wasn’t mastered because I had inaccurate pointing.  I knew everything so easily.  I was bored to tears but my apraxic hands would go to the wrong card so they thought I didn’t know “book” or “tree”.  I did it over and over.  It was the worst.  The assumption that people don’t understand if they reply incorrectly is a huge misconception.  ABA is built on this erroneous premise.”

Again from Ido in Autismland:

“My ABA teachers would talk baby talk and tickle me to reward me.  I cared that they see me as smart, so I tried, but I think it was pointless.  I often felt that they couldn’t see my potential, just the drills.  I feel it’s time autistic people finally say what it’s like to be drilled in flashcards over and over when your hands don’t move to your thoughts, or to have your teacher say in front of you that you can’t count because your stupid hands refuse the right number you’ve counted in your head.  I remember standing miserable and embarrassed, holding the wrong number of straws and hearing my teacher say, “It’s clear he has no number sense,” as if I couldn’t understand or had no emotions either.  When I think of these frustrating experiences I am grateful I am not in that situation anymore.  But many of my friends still are.  That’s why I cry for them.”

Regarding eye contact, Ido writes:

“I can listen better if I don’t look at the person.  I can look, but it’s not pleasant.  In ABA I had to look in people’s eyes with a timer.  It was so torturous I did it, but with terrible anxiety.”

Anyone reading this, I hope will be asking themselves what the objective is to insist someone “look at my eyes”.  Would we prefer someone looks at us and pretends to listen to what we’re saying or that they listen?  If someone is not able to do both, is there any point in insisting they do so anyway?

Again in Ido in Autismland:

“In ABA supervision I had to do drills in front of a supervisor with all my teachers.  Then they’d talk about me in front of me to decide how to improve my performance.  It’s miserable to be an object of study especially because they never realized I understood what they were saying.  The consequence of testing me in front of people is that I grew embarrassed and ashamed inside.  By analyzing me in front of me, usually wrong, I grew resentful.  It was so frustrating I don’t like remembering it to tell it now. It’s over for me, thank God, but not for other kids so I have to share this to help them too.”

Rather than continue to quote Ido’s book, I urge you to read it.  This is one person’s experience, but it is also an experience that a great many have said they understand and had as well.  For those who believe in ABA’s benefits, I just ask that you consider Ido’s words, echoed by so many.  There is no “winning” this argument.  All of us have, I believe, similar goals, and that is to do what proves most helpful for our children.


160 responses to “More On ABA

  1. You are the voice of profound guidance for me as a parent. Since I subscribed to your blog, you echo the things my partner and I are currently struggling with. The sea-change we have seen in our children since introducing floor time/DIR and fading the absurd amount of hours of ABA has been amazing. We can only hope that we haven’t caused too much pain to our little one’s thus far with the year or so of ABA. Much thanks for your insight, you are indeed a beacon.

  2. There is another message in your post – that instead of drowning our kids in repetitive drills, we should be teaching them to communicate! So that, as their intellects naturally develop, their ability to show what they’ve learned is also developing. My non-verbal son also learned to type (from Soma and RPM, as Ido did), and this has opened up worlds for him. He’s on a diploma track in high school, getting A’s and B’s using his iPad to communicate. I hope that parents of young ASD kids will introduce them to Facilitated Communication or RPM at an early age so that they can keep up with their NT peers as they move through school. Ido and my boy aren’t savants, they’re just kids with autism who were given a way to show the world what’s going on in their fine minds. Read, write, teach!

    • Mary – I just love hearing such wonderful stories! This is terrific, just terrific news!

    • Hi Mary. As a parent of a non verbal autistic 6 year old son, that has tried ABA to no avail (even though he has learned a lot) can you give me any guidance as to how you began your journey into RPM. Did you discontinue all other therapies? What about life skills? A little confused right now but extremely optimistic that my beautiful angel will one day soon talk to me:)

      • Hi Shelly,
        I am hoping Mary will also answer your questions, but as you emailed me, I thought I’d just leave my response here. A few months ago I wrote a post – How We Got Here – which details at least some of the process and some of what I did to learn RPM so that my daughter could write with me. It has changed all of our lives and my husband is now learning, and our son has asked to learn as well. Meanwhile my daughter is flourishing. I wrote this post (that your comment is on) last November. Since then, she now writes with me, my husband and another person who was trained by Soma and who she sees a couple times a week. About a month ago we pulled her from school and began homeschooling as the school could not teach her the academics we knew she was capable of. This post, The Tyger – – gives you an idea of the types of things she is currently doing.

        And this is a post I wrote about what we would have done had we known what we know now – Since writing that post, I asked Emma what therapies she believed actually helped her, her answer is in this post –

        Finally, I encourage you to go to Soma’s website and buy all her books, but if you only bought one, I’d start with the green covered book as it has some terrific examples of sample lessons as well as lots of great suggestions on how to get started. All the books are terrific, but I think I would have found the green one a good one to read first.

        Don’t hesitate to write back with more questions. There are lots of people who follow this blog who do RPM with their kids as well as a great many incredibly kind people of all neurologies who have generously given others their opinions, suggestions and thoughts about any number of things!

  3. Ahh the hotbutton of ABA such fun up there with vaccines and other such things. I also have seen multitudes of autistics who are speaking out about it asking parents to please reconsider. I have also read most of Ido’s book and personally its not a choice I’d make for my child. Honestly I think almost anything could be good or bad depending on how strict and how the therapists behaves with the child. E gets tons of therapy at school but all standard ones…and he has therapists that work with him on goals but if not met as long as he is making progress in some way they see that and love and are proud of him for who he is and let him lead the therapy in what he’s interested in that day. When he’s home its free time..aside from asking him to use his talker he isnt pushed to do anything. So when he makes eye contact or sits quietly its something he has taught himself and chooses to do if he is comfortable (not that I care if he does either honestly) he knows what to do if overwhelmed or anxious again on his own. And hes not even 4. Ppl are seem to be soooo caught up in “normalizing” that they dont realize what autistic ppl are capable of doing on their own with loving support and help when needed.

  4. I think it might be worthwhile to point out that the type of ABA Ido (and most autistic kids) went through was discreet trial/Lovaas type and there are more yours types and aspects to ABA, which is kind of an umbrella term. My son once he could communicate via RPM pretty much echoed what Ido said about the drills ( discreet trials) and how he felt it was pointless. However, he very happily and gratefully has a BCBA that works with him now using other applied behavior techniques and it has helped tremendously in decreasing his really severe anxiety.

  5. It’s always interesting to see how one person with autism thinks and feels about ABA. However, as with everything autism related not two cases are equal. Maybe for some individuals like Ido with severe motor issues “pointing” is pointless…. I think not two BCBAs will work in exactly the same way. The model proposed by Lovaas has changed, for the good.
    I do recommend ABA to almost anyone I have the chance to, but I also recommend to read about ABA first, to speak with different professionals about it, and if they decide to try it, give a few months to see improvements and if those are only few or minimal, better consider something else.

  6. Right or wrong, once I researched (17 years ago) the options to decide where my daughter would go after early intervention, I could never be comfortable with the notion that while other kids were playing and being allowed to learn on their own, she was expected to be positive and never be upset or frustrated that she was forced to be “in school” for four hours longer than everyone else, or that she was expected to be perfect, when no one anywhere expected perfection from any other children. Maybe I was lucky she was my middle child, in that I strongly believed in teaching my other two by following their cues and interests and strengths and reading their potential best I could. Maybe I naturally did the same with her, thank goodness.

  7. Hello and great topic here. As a special education teacher and consultant, I would like to say that there is still a lot of confusion over ABA. In one context it is a philosophy with specific methods, by which behavior and hopefully cognition can be enhanced WHEN done with the proper intention and fidelity. The other more discussed form is ABA as the specific method of ‘discrete trial training’ (which is drill on specific skills). I am NOT a fan of discrete trial training!! I RARELY if ever ask my students to look at me and we make great gains together. Just yesterday a 23 year old started to look at me…instead of mom, after I spoke. NOW I have communication with him moving in the right direction and this was gained through trust and security, not either of the ABA descriptions mentioned above.

  8. *put you paws up*. So . . . Ya, never been a fan of aba . . . Unless of course it’s a pattern to a poem: aba aba bccb cc. O, there are words forming for that pattern! Again, good write! My whole disagreement with aba is simply that their definitions of “behaviour” to be modified doesn’t agree with mine. I worked best with those that have earned my respect. You are someone I respect; I can learn from you.

  9. another brilliant post Ariane! breaking ground, awakening many to the truth. Can’t wait to read Ido’s book! My daughter is several grades ahead of her peers in school work with me homeschooling her using FC but if I let ABA therapists have a say she would still be doing the work of a toddler. My son is the same way. Let’s wake up to the truth being spoken by these Autistic adults!

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Ariane! I love you for this. It is so frustrating to have ABA and “therapy” pushed on us and our children.

    Just this week we had a basic kids check up at the pediatrician. And seeing that our little girl is autistic and not verbal, her first comment was to ask about whether we were accessing “services” and were we doing lots of hours of intensive therapy. Ah, no. No services here. No therapy. We will not do it ever again (we did it for a few short damaging weeks). So we explained that our kiddo is being parented and taught. She is homeschooled for kindergarten, we have a consultant who gives some ideas (most of which are common sense), and we TEACH her. She is learning various communication methods.

    The doc couldn’t wrap her head around the idea that we were not doing hours of therapy — her question, “so you are doing the therapies at home?” Still — no. No therapy. No training. Just teaching that presumes competence and maintains high expectations. We are not her therapists; we are her parents and choose to be her teachers. And the doc was stumped. Without even knowing our child, “hours of therapy” was the supposed norm. Therapy for what???? I keep wanting to shout to professionals.

    I know ABA has its defenders, but we’ve seen firsthand that it is harmful, physically and emotionally damaging. I am tired of the defenses. The philosophy behind it dehumanizes the individual; there is no defense for it. Lots of things “work” (depending on your perspective of what “works” means) — corporal punishment, torture, threats — that doesn’t make them ethical in philosophy and certainly not moral in practice. It is conditioning a person to respond in certain ways — why is it hard to see the inherent danger in that? Autistic adults are telling us; those who had hours and hours of therapy are telling us why it is harmful. Is listening so hard? Maybe the NT professionals need some therapy.

    I really liked your other post to professionals. It was spot on. Our apple didn’t fall far from our tree, and we see so much of ourselves and our experiences in our child, and we will not let professionals make her an “other” to us.

    Sorry for going on. And thank you for always speaking out.

    • I had a similar experience a few weeks ago with a pediatrician! Very frustrating and, quite honestly irritating. In most cases I no longer bother to explain.

    • This comment is really for all parents out there that may be looking for a different way to work with their child.

      A study is coming out this year (I think it’s from the Philippines) that show significant positive development in children with ASD from a minimum of 10 (that’s it!) hours of PARENT interaction weekly (that’s 70 mins a day…broken up into 15-20 min. periods of time) using the DIR model. Some of you reading this, may or may not have heard of DIR’s creator, Dr. Stanley Greenspan. If not, he’s a psychologist who was the first professional I have ever read about that treated ASD as a deficit in relationships (NOT behavior disorder). I have been loving his work for many years now. And the great thing is, they now offer an online course for professionals AND a separate one for parents at

      As an SLP it has completely changed the way I work with children with ASD. It is relationship first, child first, developmentally based and I JUST LOVE the respect and dignity this model gives and encourages for all disorders (it is not specific to ASD but more studies are showing positive changes in ASD with it’s use). And parents have told me the same thing. Although, its a theoretical model of therapy, just simple changes in the way we respond to our relationship with children can do amazing things. It really empowers parents to take the active role it sounds like you are already taking with your child. It could give you some fresh ideas or a different perspective and may be worth checking out. Just thought I’d share b/c I’ve found this model to be so helpful!

      Best of luck to all parents reading this blog and researching the best methods for their children!

      • Thanks so much for the link and info. We actually trained with Stanley in 2006!

        • I apologize. This comment was not to intended for you personally. I know you have written about DIR in the past. The comment was supposed to go at the bottom of this thread for any persons interested in other models, but, alas, unfortunately, I’m technologically impaired (that’s my self-made diagnosis!). Ha!

          In general, there are a number of therapy models out there that may or may not be helpful for parents and professionals. SOME (not all) additional examples are: Hanen, P.L.A.Y. Project, SCERTS, Son-Rise program, etc. (we can’t also overlook sensory integration therapy as well).

          There are a number of options available for parents to research and find a match (or mix and match whatever works for them). A criticism of many of these models is that there is not enough research base for these models. But I always tell parents, you do what works for you and your child and my favorite statement…”there is no one size fits all for ASD therapy!!!!”. ASD is individualistic in nature. Every person develops in a different way, so there can never be a one treatment approach b/c what works today may not work tomorrow.

          Anyway, sorry for the mix up in placing the comment up here in this sub-thread.

    • oh my goodness Dee I have to chime in here because I had the EXACT SAME EXPERIENCE a few weeks ago! Like identical (I have 2 kids that are nonverbal autistics and I too homeschool with amazing results) and it’s like you just can’t get them to realize that what we are doing is what is working even though you present an intelligent and informed case and it’s working! Blessings to you on your journey

    • Thank you. Our son just got diagnosed and our hearts said no to ABA. Clear from what Ido and others have written that it is damaging and useless. We are now putting together our own plan based on what can truly help, not the outmoded methods of our public programs.

  11. My son isn’t in ABA, even if it was covered by state medical (which it might be) I wouldn’t put him in ABA though. Having heard the experiences of those who are adults now but went through ABA as children, they describe it as torture, humiliation and it created huge amounts of stress, anxiety and in some PTSD.

    I have read a little bit about ABA when my son was first diagnosed and I had been given all the gloom and doom propaganda and the Autism Speaks 100 Day Kit, and as I understand it, it’s nothing more than intensive, repetitive conditioning to get a specific behavior. That, as I understand it, is going to lead to more meltdowns and frustration and low self esteem than I care to contemplate.

    I don’t get why autistic children automatically get shoved into a group of people that HAVE to have hours of therapy just to survive, but if the child was born NT that wouldn’t even be thought of. Regardless of their neurology, they are still children and need to be allowed to play and explore this world in a way that allows them to make sense out of it. That isn’t the same for every child, autistic or otherwise. I didn’t play the same way my siblings did, then again, perhaps I’m a poor comparison since I’ve recently discovered that I am autistic too. Either way, ABA isn’t necessary for autistic children, and in most cases that I have read about, it is devastating for them to have to live through it.

  12. I agree, but I think this applies to more than just ABA. I’ve seen other therapies that were supposedly not ABA, or ABA-based, that used similar methods. The way that my son’s SE teacher implements Handwriting Without Tears is similar; she drills my son on producing the letter “C” over and over again. He gets upset and throws his papers, and gets labeled as “non-compliant”. The repetition, especially for kids with dyspraxia who struggle with using their hands and hand fatigue, can be exhausting and frustrating! I’ve tried to speak to his teacher about it, but I always get the standard “This is how it works best to teach him, I’m the expert, this is how it’s done” line. Needless to say, we’re looking at other placement options now.

    • Sounds like the hours and hours of handwriting lessons I had as a kid.

      Please believe me when I say if you teach your boy to type and arrange typing accommodations for him in school, you and he will both be happier for it, and, to be frank. I almost never use my atrocious, painful, and painfully slow handwriting in my “real world” workplace, anyway, and most places are moving to electronic work records, agendas, lab books, etc, anyway because they’re easier to use, harder to lose (especially if backed up online), and easier to read. Typing is a skill your son will probably need as he grows up and our world becomes more electronic. Handwriting is not.

    • I’m going to have to research this Handwriting Without Tears program again. I actually wrote a post about it recently called, “Handwriting With Trauma” because my son hates the song and refuses to participate in the program. They take him out of the room and he reads books instead. But I would like a better solution. He is good at typing or dragging letters on the iPad, but like yours, he’s dyspraxic, so handwriting might not be the way to go.

      • At the very least the “out” should be removed…

      • Interesting. My son’s school uses it (he is in K4). We decided to start him with it at home before he started school to see how he would do with it. He doesn’t really like to write with paper and pencil (which is fine) but he does like to use the app Letter School which has a HWT setting. He occasionally asks to do it at home for fun. I’m curious what about HWT your kiddos did not like? I know with Nathan they don’t do a lot of repetition. I see a little book come home occasionally with 3-4 letters written on it. They work on one letter a week at school in their literacy program. So far it’s been working OK.

        • My son hates the song they play at the beginning of the class period. (I know they have a lot of songs, but there’s one in particular he just can’t stand) So he asks to go to the bathroom while they play the song for the rest of the class, then comes back in and apparently loves writing. It’s just the crappy music. I told them he likes RnB, which is true! If they made a dance version of the song, he’d probably be ok.

    • Oh dear, Handwriting without Tears… we had a disastrous experience with it. Years and years of it, all the while they concluded that she didn’t know how to read and write, turns out she knew perfectly well, types words like “apparently” without a pause, but handwriting is just much more difficult.

      • I don’t know if we used the actual HWOT program in the classroom I liked most in practicum last year (I do know there have been parts of the program mentioned that we DEFINITELY did not use), but I know we at least used the books, which most of the students seemed to like. But there was one student (who was actually eons ahead of the others, about four letters ahead, who might have been autistic now that I think about it), who would happily do the repetition without pause but would hesitate if it called for very fine motor (for instance, following VERY tiny lines to color in the waves of an ocean an otter was in for O) or coloring something in, eventually so worked up that the lesson was discontinued in a few cases… I’ve attempted research, but not really looked into the program to see if it’s something I’d want to do if I ever teach an early elem. class.

        • I just wanted to add that my daughter didn’t seem bothered by HWOT, but her teachers didn’t realize she could already read and write and she spent many months writing words like “cat” and “sat”. Which I imagine must have been intensely frustrating to have to do repeatedly.
          At home she types or uses a letter board, but there have been times when she chooses to handwrite and so we have certainly supported her in doing that.

          • Well, I do know that we at least didn’t have that going on. Several of the students were on different letters because they would move on depending on their mastery (for instance, the student I mentioned above got through 2-3 letters one day). But I can definitely see that being frustrating (and I must hang around awesome teachers, because I haven’t personally seen or experienced that, except once in my own fifth grade class when the long-term sub gave me and the other GT kids math busywork that was two grades behind our actual level (me and the other guy were on a 6-7th grade level, and people wondered why we were getting Fs when we refused to do such boring work… though I probably also had executive function issues no one realized…))

            Personally, I don’t like handwriting in situations that depend on it being fast and accurate (and I completely suck at taking notes, the worst of these types of task), so I’m glad to be able to use a computer and record class now that I’m at college. I like the act of handwriting itself, oddly enough, but I don’t like using it in practice.

            Wow, this got long and went on weird tangents…

      • Oh gosh I really dislike that program! More like handwriting with tons of tears and frustration.

  13. I think it’s important to note here that Applied Behavioral Analysis is not, strictly speaking, a form of therapy but the science behind many different therapeutic approaches. ABA is employed not just in therapies for ASD, but in many areas, such as business management, education, sports, medical procedures, and a laundry list of other practices and endeavors.

    To lump all ABA based therapies into a bunch and demonize them is not only inaccurate, it runs the risk of dismissing some truly valuable therapeutic approaches in the name of trying to rid the world of some that are overwhelming, overbearing, and sometimes inhumane. No child should ever be subjected to forty hours a week of anything. That’s just plain stupid.

    My point is that the choice isn’t ABA or no ABA, If a therapist (or clinic or school) says they use ABA, it’s up to parents to peel back the layers and find out exactly what that means. No parent should ever give up control of how their child is treated, both therapeutically and as a human being. Make a decision based on the actual practices, not the fact that those practices may be rooted in what is, in fact, a well-established and proven scientific methodology.

  14. Reblogged this on Autismetanken and commented:
    Jeg har i en gruppe på Facebook efterspurgt erfaringer med ABA fra voksne/unge med autisme, men det har ikke haft tid nok i Danmark til at nogen (andre end voksne NT) svarede. Det blev jeg ikke klogere af.
    Men jeg glæder mig til at læse Udo in Autismland. Det lyder som om min fornemmelse vil blive bekræftet.
    Indlægget reblogget er fra en blog jeg varmt kan anbefale.

  15. Hi Arianne, I think that it is great that you present the point of view that you do and I understand the frustration that caused you to close comments on that other ABA post. I also think it is a great idea for ABA therapists to read the books that you recommend. I am a mom, not a therapist and I plan on reading this book to put along side the others you have recommended that I have already read. I would like to suggest that actively engaging ABA therapists in this conversation about the experience of people who have had ABA in the past is a hugely positive thing to come out of these posts. Since ABA is widely accepted as the most effective evidence based therapy out there right now, it seems that the best way to influence the practice would be to actively engage the practitioners and involve them in these discussions. I know that you get tired of people (both parents and therapists) defending ABA, but I think that there are a large number of reasons that they do. Wouldn’t it be great if that as the practice evolves and changes and responds to feedback, feedback like yours and that of the adults who experienced ABA in the past were factored in to a greater degree to make therapy better for all the kids getting it in the future? I see so much good come out of my kids’ programs and the programs of many other families I know. I don’t think trying to convince people not to ever do ABA is necessarily the best way to effect change. Just my 2 cents. But I would love to see practitioners and therapists and parents who have kids in ABA programs more and more involved in discussions like this. Wouldn’t you?

    • Thanks so much for your comment Jen. I think discussion is a wonderful thing. Listening to different points of view is key, (it’s how I came to change my views regarding ABA!) yet so much of the time, these conversations get drowned out with people not actually listening or who have any interest in learning anything, but instead are interested in using these discussions as platforms to insist that they are doing a wonderful thing and when they then direct their words to the very people who are protesting and whom they say they mean to “help”, I start getting upset.

  16. I certainly don’t agree with having children in ‘therapy’ for hours upon hours a week doing drills. I’m a proponent of children being children regardless of any diagnosis or lack thereof. However, not all ABA looks like DT. My son’s ABA looks like a trusted friend asking him what he needs help with and what he wants to learn to do independently and how we can all help achieve his goals and implementing strategies to those ends. ABA can also help families stay together when maybe ( for example) puberty hits like a ton of bricks and behavior becomes erratic, and aggressive, and conditions in the home become unsafe for the autistic person and their family members.

  17. Emma had to endure ABA for the first two years after her diagnosis. She made little progress in this form of “learning.” Not because there was something the matter with her, but because the so-called experts have no clue whatsoever what a person is capable and what their level of intelligence is if they A) can’t speak at all or speak only with great difficulty, B) speak in compulsive scripts or echoing what they’ve just heard, C) point or make other physical choices based on the last thing the ABA therapist said or because their mind/physical neurological connections prevent them in some way from communicating the answers they actually know.

    Talking in front of kids ABOUT THEM, assuming they can’t understand what is being said due to lack of eye contact must truly be one of the most humiliating and dispiriting forms of torture. Forcing eye contact, endless repetitive “trials” and so many other aspects of ABA are the mental equivalent of water-boading. I don’t blame therapists who really want to help kids, or educators who care. ABA is presented by the medical establishment as the only effective treatment of autism. Floortime tried to challenge that dominance as did other learning approaches and none have gained widespread acceptance. I’m not particularly displeased with that, because we did Floortime for 6 years after stopping ABA and that method has its own humiliating aspects and for us at least it was highly ineffective.

    Regular readers her know that we have recently found a new system called RPM that is terrific. It is based on the assumption that the child is intelligent, understands what is being said and has a lot to communicate. It assumes competence and capability. And if you communicate with any adult autistic you will quickly realize how important this single issue is.

    • Those inhumane practices aren’t inherent to ABA. Heck, sending a child to school they are very likely to endure all of the above. Everyone that interacts with an autistic child should presume competence and treat the person with dignity, therapists, teachers, strangers in the street, etc.

      ABA and RPM aren’t mutually exclusive. My son uses RPM to communicate to his BCBA.

      • “Heck, sending a child to school they are very likely to endure all of the above.”

        That’s a count against the school environment, not an effective defense of ABA.

        • What chavisory said. That schools are often abusive and neglectful environments for children does not mean that a treatment that can be applied in an abusive manner is okay. It means there’s something wrong with schools in addition to there being something wrong with the way a lot of therapists apply ABA.

    • (((Richard))) You’re a good man

    • What did you find humiliating about Floortime? I’ve always had a weird feeling about it, but I haven’t been able to figure out why.

  18. I feel like they need a system that measure eye gaze direction. Are they looking at the right answer but pointing somewhere else? Seems totally possible with today’s technology. How completely frustrating for these kids!

    • My daughter seems to have a weird peripheral vision. She is supposedly low functioning, but I just tell the educators what I think about her testing scores, not much. She can find anything that I hide and this has been going on since she was two and is now twenty. I think she is not watching and that is a joke. She knows exactly what is going on. I read Donna Williams books when Brooke was little and since I was an educator myself I was always interested in individual learning styles. In the book she talked about each sense working separately and how if she was looking at you it could be painful and to listen it was better for her not to look. This made sense to me but unfortunately so many still believe that eye contact is necessary. Brooke did not get ABA because the school system had not had enough law suits at the time but now they have elementary ABA programs. They also indicated her test scores were too low to get services. I did not understand why at 3 she wouldn’t get speech and basically I was told she was too low functioning to qualify. Long story short they had not classified her as autistic until we fought and when her eligibility was changed we received a few more services, not necessarily better we sent information on Tito and rpm to the school about 10 yrs. Ago after the first t.v. interview. Brooke can spell on a letter board since she was 8 but she has to have support so the school refuses to believe even though she has a full time aide. I saw a parent charge 3000.00 a month on a credit card for ABA about 15 yrs. Ago and her child might have performed better than Brooke but he was robotic like. My child is extremely happy and she runs nonstop through the house even at twenty but she also continues to learn and amaze me everyday and I don’t make her sit or look at me. 🙂 Diane (Brooke’s Mom)

  19. I have no regrets pulling my moderate-functioning, low verbal, 3.6 year old daughter out of her self contained special ed preschool classroom that was actually damaging her, to do ABA/VB at home with other private services. My daughter benefited from it, especially in the beginning. It has helped many children with behaviors and language in the early years. With that said, I also have apprehension today in the amount of ABA we the past and recommending it to new parents. ABA can actually be abusive to children, depending on the child, management of tutors and the experience and training of the ABA consultant involved. There’s also the over reliance on following a cookbook ABA method, and beating the skill to death into the child who is just plain sick of showing skill mastery as an aversive. It can create more problems then it solves. ABA does a great job in getting some kids to a place, but diminishing returns usually after that. ABA is very myopic and the more unethical consultants will sell their services by selling the idea as “fixing it” that desperate new parents buy into. If overdone, it will hinder many children’s’ development. As their title, ABA consultants are trained in both behavior and analysis, far beyond what special education people could and should understand But unfortunately, that’s really mostly all ABA people know. There’s still a place for ABA, but it should be collaborative, especially in schools as part of a team, and ABA consultants can, and often do provide complimentary services to schools if done right. Today, I think that the Greenspan-play approach was vastly underrated and too dismissive by ABA people. Thank you Emma’s Hope book…Momma be Good…Mrs Zucher, for your insight’s are usually dead on. It took some years for this ASD parent to be at a place to change his attitude toward my child’s autism and not to try and “fix it.” anymore. Having a child with a disability IS never about us, keep up the good work.

  20. Ariane you are WIN.

    People who love Behaviorism should think about what it is, and what it is based on. Behaviorism in philosophy is long defunct, because within it is the given that the self-as-agent is either non-existent or irrelevant to action.

    Two behaviorists greet each other. Their greeting? “You’re fine; how am I?” This is because they have no inner life to examine.

    If you are a practicing behaviorist and you believe you have for yourself an inner life to examine, but you turn around and believe it is OK to treat other people like they are less-than-people, machines of some kind who have less than you, no self, than my initial response to you is a fiery anger, but in my older ages it has softened to pity, because you could not possibly be doing this and understanding what you are doing at the same time.

    Please, read and think. Locate the humanity in antecedent-behavior-consequence. When you see that you cannot, do not dig your heels in and fall for the Concorde Fallacy, but change your ways and fix your life and do real good in the world and make your life whole.


    • Oh, I love this, Ib Grace. Just love it! Thank you so much. The basis of behaviorist therapy is inherently unethical because it objectifies people. Therapy as whole, to me, starts with the premise “you are broken” and that is extremely harmful. Thank you and Ariane so much.

      • Unfortunately, this commentary highlights one of the many misconceptions about ABA. The principles of behavior are not only applicable to people with special needs. To the contrary, the principles of learning and behavior apply to all of us! Behaviorists did not create the laws of behavior–they simply observed what naturally occurs in all of our daily lives then applied names to it (e.g. antecedent, reinforcement, etc.). I urge you to become better informed on the topic.

        • “The principles of behavior are not only applicable to people with special needs.” You are correct — they are applicable in conditioning, in torture methods, and interrogation — those are based on behaviorist principles. You are so correct that they have many many applications. Oh, and training animals to perform repetitive tricks. Yes, the applications work well. I’ll go to the zoo and have no doubts it works. But forgive me when I say that it is not being applied to all of us. Because we would readily reject it as a wholesale method of educating all children. No, it seems it is being pushed as so many therapies on our autistic children. And that is as wrong as it gets. And by the way, teaching children, any children, to do things to please adults is a very dangerous road. By all means, research the information, but also think about the message that is being given to vulnerable children and adults. Think about where that road can lead.

        • Ashley, you say, “Behaviorists did not create the laws of behaviour”. Well yes they did; and I don’t mean that in a pantomime, “yes you did”/”no I didn’t” knockabout way.
          All human ideas and perspectives and knowledge, are created. Or so a constituency would have it.
          A crucial difficulty with subscription to behavioural thinking, is then that it tends to go, for identifiable reasons, in a hegemonic direction. That is thinking tends to get locked into a bubble, and alternate thinking then tends to get deemed wrong if and as it is outside that bubble.
          With an autistic-person/behavioural-person relation and interaction, that translates into the latter person presuming that they are getting things right, and the autistic-person is getting things wrong whenever they disagree.
          After that it’s simply a matter of the behaviourally minded person having the power to impose their presumption, and the autistic-person being disempowered across that same token.
          Education and life-learning stops for the autistic-person, and instead they are conditioned into a self and understanding detached from the grounding reality and truth of their person. Except, and this to make things even worse, the conditioning so often fails to work even in its own terms.
          The behaviourists then point to how obdurate is the autistic problem, and carry on regardless.
          Across all of this, the behaviourists have created all on which they rely.

        • Dear Ashley, I will brush aside your tone of strident condescension and tell you this. From my epistemological standpoint which is unfortunately exceedingly well-informed on many levels about said topic, I do declare that the “principles of behavior” are not naturally applicable to anyone anywhere, and neither are they applicable to animals, because they are unnatural, being impoverished representations of the way the world works. However, as Dee rightly points out, they can be forced to apply to a wide variety of people and animals and situations in the event that one does not wish to be bothered thinking about what actions really mean, what communication is, and what it is to have deep respect for the agency and desires of one another, presuming competence and equity for all. In future, please feel free to avoid addressing myself and my friends in such a tone, because it is difficult to remain patient when being so clearly included in the class of all people the speaker would like to dehumanize. Love, Ib

  21. PS Richard you are WIN also xxoo

  22. I am not familiar with ABA at all, because I wasn’t diagnosed as a child. I’m not even sure it’s used as a therapeutic approach for autistic children in the Netherlands.

    All I know of ABA is this: I have seen a lot of parents and therapists defend its usefulness. I’ve not seen a single autistic person defend its usefulness. Leaving aside the question of whether it can be harmful or not, I think that says it all.

  23. I am really glad I came across this post & will endeavour to get my hands on a copy of Ido’s book & read it. My son is not in ABA & not likely to be. We speak to him, just as we do his older NT brother. I actually walked out of our local ECDP Playgroup last week as I was not happy with the way one ‘teacher’ was, in my eyes, forcing his hands to pick things up & put them in a container (this was not the only reason I left but it is what triggered my decision to leave). He is quite capable of packing up & I think just because he does not do something the instant he is asked, does not mean that he is incapable of doing it. Our OT did a home visit a few weeks ago & saw that he was much more capable than she realised from the sessions in her environment & the following OT session was the best he’s had to date. My greatest wish is for my son to find his voice. I am looking forward to reading more from you. Thank-you.

  24. I have never read so falsehoods in one post in my life.
    You clearly have zero understanding of ABA or the methods used in its approach. Discrete trial is not ABA. Is it used? Yes. But the focus is generalization across all settings for the child. Group and community based are incorporated in the child/student’s everyday activities, just like it is for every student in a regular Ed classroom.
    I saw one post that says ABA uses threats? Are you kidding me? It uses a simple first/then approach and utilizes reinforcement to increase compliance. You use these same approaches in your daily life but it is simplified and structured with ABA interventions.
    Please do your research before making completely false accusations against a scientifically validated approach to helping children with autism learn.

    • Jason – exactly which “falsehoods” are you referring to? The bulk of this post is quoting an Autistic teenager who is describing his first hand experience with ABA. I love that you suggest I do my “research before making completely false accusations against a scientifically validated approach to helping children with autism learn” Have you bothered to read this post?
      Please do not bother responding again until you do so.

    • Jason– I agree. The posts regarding ABA on this blog are grossly inaccurate. Unfortunately, the author of this post (and subsequent commentary) are so misinformed on the topic that they are not able to recognize exactly how inaccurate the information is. For those of us who understand the field, this can certainly be frustrating. However, in fairness, I think we need to blame professionals within the field of ABA for these types of misconceptions. While I disagree with a great deal of what the author has posted, she is also posting from her personal experience with very terrible “ABA therapists” (note that I put this in quotations because these people do not truly represent ABA). I hope that we will move in the direction of licensure so that these types of “professionals” will be less able to misrepresent ABA in the future.

      • Ashley – unless you are able to print exactly where you believe I am writing “falsehoods” and am “grossly inaccurate” your comments are no longer welcome here. Making accusations and calling other people’s opinions “inaccurate” simply because you don’t like them, is not a persuasive argument.

        • “My ABA teachers would talk baby talk and tickle me to reward me. I cared that they see me as smart, so I tried, but I think it was pointless. I often felt that they couldn’t see my potential, just the drills. ”
          This being one example.This goes against the basic principles of ABA. Reinforcement is based on the individual student and what that student requests at that time for reinforcement. This shows a lack of knowledge by the particular therapist/organization teaching this student. ABA is NOT discrete trials. ABA has evolved over the past 50 years in its practices, much like most scientific fields. Discrete trial teaching like you are describing has its place but is used less and less in ABA practice of today. Like I said earlier, ABA focuses on generalization of skills, both academic and social.
          So yes, that was one falsehood being projected as how “typical ABA” is practiced. I can point out many more if you would like.

          • Jason – That was a QUOTE from a book written by a non-speakig, Autistic teenager, Ido Kedar. To say that what he has written is a falsehood is dismissive of his experience. To say that my quoting him is a “falsehood” is just ironic.

          • Hmm, we’re supposed to have a world class ABA program in our community, but for 3 years we got pretty much nothing but discrete trials. So I’m not sure it’s “evolved” as much as you think.

    • “It uses a simple first/then approach and utilizes reinforcement to increase compliance.”

      The goal of increasing compliance is the PROBLEM.

  25. This makes perfect sense to me.. From a mom of 16 yr old high functioning pddnos … Thanks for the post.. I’ll be reading more of your blog now.. The if then approach the school system used on my son exacerbated his ‘troublesome’ behavior and anxiety and almost broke us… At age 8/9 it was really terrible…

  26. Arian: I agree. Inaccuracy is quite different from a difference of opinion. I am certain that I can re-read your posts on this topic and find many inaccuracies. The ones that come to mind immediately are your statements regarding ABA being only applied or applicable to to individuals with Autism. This is certainly not the case. The principles of behavior apply to all people (not to mention animals and plants). The key elements of ABA are constantly at work for all of us, whether or not we are conscious of them. Individuals trained in behavior modification are just simply more aware of these principles, utilize them to assist students in learning, and have given names to them (e.g. reinforcement, antecedent, etc.). It is truly unfortunate that your family was given a different impression of what ABA is. To be clear, I disagree with your posts not because i “don’t like them” but because they are based on misinformation or misunderstanding. You are entitled to your opinions and you are free to share your personal experience. For what it is worth, I am truly very sorry that your family had such a negative experience. However, I cannot support to dissemination of inaccurate information (which you yourself have condemned in other posts). I give you credit for addressing a hot topic but you have to expect when you do so that you will be faced with respondents who disagree. Is your blog only open to those who share your opinions?

    • Ashley you continue to comment here without quoting me directly, but instead state “I am certain that I can re-read your posts on this topic and find many inaccuracies” except that you don’t do that, instead you continue to insist I’ve written inaccurate information, without quoting anything to back up your accusations. As I wrote above – “unless you are able to print exactly where you believe I am writing “falsehoods” and am “grossly inaccurate” your comments are no longer welcome here.” So please be advised, you and your comments are no longer welcome here. That’s called having a boundary. One you will be forced to observe.

      • Ariene
        Falsehoods being projected do not need to come as a quote from you directly. This is your blog and you are the one responsible for providing accurate information. If you are going to show a quote from a student, then maybe you should also factor in that the particular therapist the student had was not a very skilled one or a qualified one at that. There are many agencies that say they practice ABA but do not know the first thing about it.
        This is a clear indication of that

        • This is getting silly, it’s been said several times, but I think you need to re-read what Ariane said. She wasn’t proffering her own opinion, she was quoting someone else. And HE wasn’t presenting falsehoods, he was describing his experience which would seem to be pretty factual to me being his experience after all. I suspect the problem you have, what you consider the ‘falsehoods’ are where the student gives his opinion derived from his experience of what is represented as ‘ABA’.
          If so you should address that issue, not attack the messenger.

          • Thanks nostromo for jumping in. This was getting really tiresome. I have done something I have not had to do in the three and a half years of blogging. I’ve now blocked two people from commenting on this blog!

    • Ashley, you say, “The principles of behavior apply to all people”. I would disagree.
      I do not perceive behaviour, I do not reflect on or think about behaviour, I am not open to being at all conditioned by other who see me in terms of behaviour. That then sees me autistically positioned when amongst people who do perceive and think-about and act in terms of behaviour.
      I work in education, with children who are developing autistically, and the tension and conflict that arises for them and me, around behaviour not at all applying to them or me, when the School’s management very much believes that “the principles of behavior apply to all people”, fills the School day with glorious confusion

  27. My mom is an international mental health and brain therapist. She talks comfortably about the dangers inherent in ABA, and is often called all over the world to work with violent autistic teens who have been in ABA programs. One thing she wrote that I often remember is this:

    “In my experience (I am often called into homes to help when the child has become violent) ABA teaches the child to perform skills in order to get the teacher to back off and give them a break. This approach reinforces to the child that what they like to do is “weird’ and unacceptable. This then often teaches the child to resent authority figures and their own unusual selves. Hence, as hormones kick in and size is no longer a disadvantage, big guys strike out. Autistic kids like people. They just don’t like people that don’t like them. ABA has a tendency to treat children as if their natural desires are unlikable thus it can increase the challenge of enjoying others and creates the idea that autistic folks don’t bond or connect, when in fact it is the modality itself causing this tendency to become a reality.”~Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD.

    Personally, I think a large part of the reason ABA is so popular is that it’s easy to teach. The way my mom plays with people to guide their brains to heal, to encourage connecting and enjoying learning and life, is hard to put into words. But it’s always beautiful, and always effective.

    Thank-you so much for speaking up and sharing the experiences of other autistics! (My mom and brothers were on the autism spectrum. I’ve learned so much thanks to their very different perspectives!)

  28. A note, as an autistic person who has never truly undergone ABA, but had to take a class in it. A note here that my teacher was apparently supposed to be good enough to teach a college class required of people in my major… and that you can get a masters’ in ABA from my university.

    My teacher talked about all the ostensible benefits of ABA and how they “get consent” and “treat people involved in it with respect”. Except:

    She made lots and lots of disparaging remarks about autism.
    I mean, it, a lot.
    She tried to use ABA principles/strategies more than once on me without my consent. The one that comes most to mind is when I came back to class after getting sick just before Spring Break. I had tried to email, but email was down before I left, and my mom’s house didn’t have internet at the time. When I told her this, she tried to use both ABA principles and guilt tripping to try to instill in me how wrong it was to not have emailed her and even to have gotten sick, and tried to force the “correct” behavior of emailing her and coming to class (despite the fact I’d tried email and was very sick).

    I would have dropped the class if it hadn’t been required. I was checked-out half of the class periods after that, reading a long essay on the ethics of ABA, particularly in the case of autism.

    And if she is not to be respresentative of ABA, then she should never have presented herself as someone who can teach it to others.

  29. I love your blog and I must tell you that reading your posts has been an amazing education for me, as I learn about autism.
    But this has created quite a dilemma for me. You see, I am an Educational Assistant in Ontario. So I am working in a profession where I am expected to think and teach is ways that I feel are totally wrong for the students but I don’t have the authority to change the system. But please know that some of us out here are doing our best, from within, to do what we can to make a difference!

    In response to Dee’s comment above – “Lots of things “work” (depending on your perspective of what “works” means) — corporal punishment, torture, threats — that doesn’t make them ethical in philosophy and certainly not moral in practice ”
    I once told a co-worker, who insisted that the practice of forcing a child to repeat an action over and over again till done correctly was a valid and proven method, that a cattle prod would also be effective and probably quicker.
    She replied ” That would be inhumane”.
    I replied “So is your way”!

    • Dawn – just so you know, most of the therapists who came to our home were good, kind, well educated people. They believed they were doing the right thing. I do not, for a second, believe they intended to do harm.

      For years I did a great many things I now regret. I had never heard of the concept of presuming competence and even when I first became aware of it, I still was only able to practice it as well as I was capable and aware of. Looking back I see how even then I STILL underestimated my daughter. But this is all a process, one where I continue to learn, grow and change how and what I do. That’s all any of us can do.
      You sound like you’re doing wonderful things! Keep it up and know that there are a great many parents like myself who are cheering you on. Thanks so much for commenting.

  30. This is just awful! Someone sent me this article about the founder of ABA:

  31. Read this next!
    Ethical Challenges to the Autism-ABA Industry

    • Thanks so much Lucinda, this was actually an article I posted the link to in the first post I wrote about a year ago on ABA.
      Not a big surprise that Michelle Dawson has gotten so much criticism for writing this.

  32. For all those that post with the comment that this blog post is full of “falsehoods” and mis-information… Ariane is quoting directly from someone who EXPERIENCED Applied Behavioral Analysis. To say that what they went through is “inaccurate” or “is not the way that ABA is practiced” is absurd. If the person who experienced says it, it is THEIRS, not ours, to judge! How dare anyone make a judgement about someone else’s experience? Is it because Ido is Autistic…does that mean he can’t possibly be an accurate judge of his own situation?

    The commenter’s judgement just goes back to the same old way of thinking that so many ABA “therapists” and BCBA’s demonstrate. They have no obvious regard for the child, with the only exception being how well the child has performed that day. They seem more concerned about their own level of stress than the child’s. One BCBA recently said to me, “well it was a tough day for her but it was a traumatic day for me to deal with her behavior.” The lack of understanding, caring, empathy, and the obvious selfish and frankly bordering on unethical ways of thinking continue to astonish me. So many who practice ABA do not believe the child is competent, do not believe they are aware of what’s going on around them, and in the case of the non-verbal child, certainly don’t believe they understand what is said to them.

    Bravo Ariane for another exceptional piece!!!!

  33. Before I die I hope to see ABA die out as fully discredited as the “Refrigerator Mother” model of autism or “Ex Gay” behavioral modification. It is a repugnant perversion of Skinner’s work, and I’m confident that it sets him spinning in his grave.

    • Thanks so much Chris. Started reading some of this in the wee hours of the morning… look forward to reading more. PS Please send Rosie our regards. We think of her with gratitude daily.

  34. Ido describes the experience of being a child with a fully intact mind, who understood everything, but couldn’t get his body to show it due to a severe disconnect between his thoughts and his intentional actions. He describes how he would want his hand to go to one card and his hand insisted on going to the other- against the wishes of his mind. You can liken this to a person with Tourettes whose mind is pleading internally to not yell out an offensive word, and that is exactly what the mouth does. It is not a lack of knowledge. It is a lack of control over procedural actions.

    This can skew data. If the data is measuring correct answers and incorrect answers are interpreted as a lack of knowledge due to a receptive language processing problem, then each scientifically gathered piece of data is actually measuring something that is misleading. Ido says he always had a fully intact mind, understood everything, had no means to communicate because he couldn’t control a pencil, point accurately consistently at that time, talk, gesture, or even control his facial expressions, and was terrified his true intelligence might never be discovered because his drills concentrated on flashcards of basic vocabulary and tasks- which he could not perform consistently due to the reason described above. Yes, this goes against prevailing theories today, but this is, in fact, what he experienced. He asks you to imagine if your mouth and hands were covered in duct tape so you couldn’t speak, write or gesture, would you want people to assume you didn’t understand?

    There are people who swear by ABA and have found it be helpful, but I do believe it is incumbent on ABA practitioners, like Jason and Ashley, to listen with open-minds to the experiences of people for whom it was less successful. To say Ido’s program had poorly trained practitioners is far from accurate. They were smart, nice well trained people from a reputable, highly regarded program. They followed DTT protocol perfectly. However, they lacked open-mindedness and an ability to alter the program once Ido began typing. In fact, they denied his emerging skill in communicating to be possible because their drill data “proved” scientifically that there was no possible way he could be fluent in English. The possibility that they could be wrong was never considered, though they were wrong.

    Because so many children with autism cannot communicate their ideas, it is easy to assume they don’t understand, or to make assumptions about their experiences. Ariane is completely right when she tells parents and practitioners to listen to people who have autism who can communicate their experiences. There are increasing numbers of nonverbal typers. They can tell you what it was like to be on the receiving end of different treatments. Practitioners have a professional and moral responsibility to their clients to see how their methods have impacted real people.

    Ido’s mom

    • Tracy – thank you so much for commenting. This has been a tough thread to moderate. Please tell Ido how grateful I am to both of you for continuing to write about your experiences.


    PLEASE everyone take a moment to read this informed article. As an ABA tutor myself, I have not used any of the ‘harmful’ methods described on this feed. There is so much misconception about ABA – what one tutor does is not a reflection on all of us. I have worked to help a child begin to speak after 5 years of nothing; I work on daily living skills; I work on functional communication. And I work at the child’s own pace. How can any of this be harmful to a child?! The principles behind ABA are really fantastic and a lot of times common sense – it is how some disreputable tutors are applying those principles that is giving ABA a bad rep. This really saddens me as having seen first hand the amazing results achieved through ABA programs, there are still so many people who are unwilling to even consider it. Take time to find a fun, ethically sound tutor who you has a great bond with your child and it would be so beneficial!!

    • If it is only SOME disreputable tutors who are giving ABA a bad name, how come there are ZERO autistic people singing the praises of ABA? If the majority of autistic children get the kind of ABA that employs the right principles from tutors who know what they’re doing, then where are those children now? Why isn’t at least ONE autistic person writing about how ABA helped him/her how to communicate?

        • Thank you for the link! His thoughts are very interesting and I’ve bookmarked his blog for further reading! I did notice that neither his mother or he talk about punishment (aversive therapy), only about rewards and adjusting learning methods to Alex’s interests and visual learning style. I don’t see any problems with that.

      • Also, read Carly’s Voice, by Carly Fleischmann, another non-verbal person with autism. She is able to type thanks to years of ABA by her devoted and compassionate tutors. Now she has a blog and is in college.

  36. Hi Ariane,
    Once again, writing anything at all about ABA brings forward a tsunami of opinion, doesn’t it! Amazing, really. In reading all of the posts I am reminded of a quote by the French social theorist Michel Foucault – “People know what they do. They frequently know why they do what they do. What they don’t know is what what they do does”. Which about sums it up for me. The only way to truly know “what what they do does” is to ask the recipients about their experiences.

    I’ve often thought that the only way to know if a particular therapy “works” (whatever your definition of that loaded word is – ie: do you mean helping to make someone “indistinguishable from their peers”, a goal commonly stated in ABA literature?) would be to split a person in two, and have one half the control group and the other half the test group – otherwise how can you ever completely assert that gains made (assuming that even the word “gains” is neutral…which it is not) would have happened anyway or are actually in spite of the therapy?

    My husband has cerebral palsy. He was subjected to many years of physical therapy, and many of the same issues Ido describes apply to him, too. His body is often less cooperative than he’d like (he describes his experience as “living in a body with a mind of its own”). Despite years of occupational therapy, he still can’t write. And why should he? He uses a computer. He didn’t need to overcome his disability – what he needed to do was to overcome the messages he received about himself that were transmitted through therapy – not good enough as you are, broken, in need of fixing etc. No one is saying that these messages were intentional – we know that most therapists did not get into this work to hurt kids – but it is naiive to practice without taking into account those unintentional underlying messages.

    The fact is, ABA is big business. Someone else posted above with a link to Michelle Dawson’s amazing article “Misbehaviour of the Behaviourists” (spelled the Canadian way – she’s Canadian). It’s one of the most insightful and well-researched pieces I’ve come across. She questions the ethics of ABA, and has paid the price for her outspokenness. I reassert – ABA is big business. That alone should worry us.

    Thanks for this blog – it’s a mitzvah.
    (And sorry for this long post)

    • Thank you so much Emma! Another wonderful Emma!!

    • I have limited knowledge of ABA, and what I know of it aligns with much of what has been said here. I do think that learning theory has been severely twisted into the drill/reward, hyper-controlled system that I have seen termed ABA. I have had “ABA therapists” explain to me that a child is not ready for peer interaction because she has not mastered the “programmed skills”. I fear the outcome for these children, under the control of these people who keep them so isolated.

      For this reason, I need to ask that physical and occupational therapists not be compared to “ABA therapists”. The word therapy has become a word with many negative connotations, thanks in some part to those “therapists” doing ABA. As a physical therapist I’d like to point out that we do not look at children or people as broken. The field emerged from a need to help people with polio access their world, physically. Today, we look at the whole person. Namely, we ask in what role or activities would a child or person like to participate, and If and how can we help with that.

      Example: Young children should be children – they should explore, play, learn and be social. This may happen without the intervention of a therapist, but sometimes it doesn’t. As a therapist then, I ask IF and how that limits the child. Maybe it doesn’t. Or maybe we need to adapt the demands, such as not requiring a child to write if he can type, or not requiring a child to walk if he can use a power wheelchair to explore the environment, or not requiring a child to speak and instead providing other ways to communicate. In the event that we do focus on “fixing” the body, it is to hopefully prevent illness – for example, we stretch children’s muscles to prevent scoliosis that can cause difficulties with organ function and breathing.

      I prefer to think of PT’s as teachers of a specific subject. Early in my career I worked with infants and toddlers. It was fantastic to see a child explore different ways to move, some of which accomplished the innate goal of exploring their environment and learning. As a child explores ways to move, though, they at times get “stuck”. My job then, was to teach them ways around that roadblock, be it by a “correct” movement pattern (which to me, means safer and/or more efficient) or an adapted one. So often, simply being shown or taught that skill, was all it took for the child to continue developing their own set of skills.

  37. Dearest Emma. Thanks for your great word to protect autistic people. Tanks to people like you, that fights for autistic Rights.
    Anja Hende, Denmark

  38. I believe the argument has to be continued, and has to be continued until autistic-affirming allies win out.
    The autistic and autism are, in crucial regards, and across how the socialpsychology of our collective works, epiphenomenon of how they are constructed and understood; constructed and understood by constituencies of persons.
    The crux of things is not the person characterised in terms of autism and the autistic, but rather the collective process which generates the characterisation.
    My soundtrack for this comes from what Woody Guthrie had to say about the fight against fascism. We can’t go isolationist within an autistic-affirming bubble: rather we have to go out there and win the world over to autistic-affirming; and that means ABA has to be fought to a standstill and pressed back. Fascism is not an option or possibility within democracy: fascism would end democracy; so we had and have to defeat fascism. ABA and what marches with it, is intolerant of and would end autistic-affirming; so there is no option but to fight and overcome what sees ABA supported and subscribed to.
    There is dialogue to be usefully had between those who support and oppose ABA; but the fight against its advance has to go on regardless. The fight is dirty, and for scraps of ground, scraps of argument, scraps of perception and thinking, scraps of optimism and hope. The fight is won, through the aggregation of these scraps, and through exhausting the resource of those on another side.

  39. Got a graphic online this morning, which said: “The only special need I have is to be loved and accepted just the way I am”. ( ).
    For some of us, that encapsulates the supporting of special children that we are minded to do.
    ABA is then at the other end of an intervention-spectrum.

    The alternate approaches then: interlock with our collective life, in very different ways; and rely on very different mediating resources.

    The fundamental difficulty with behaviourism in general, is then its lack of respect for others who intend setting about life in ways differing from its own.

  40. I think people need to get their heads around the idea that ABA is an umbrella term and not all ABA is like the ” intensive phase” 20+ hours a week with a whole team vs. one very young child situation that Ido describes. His perspective is very valid and should be heard, but let’s take the time to look at the different applications of ABA and differentiate before saying ABA IS EVIL!

    For instance, a friend with an autistic 20 yr old daughter used a BCBA to help with her daughter’s tremendous fear of having her period. The therapist was able to introduce strategies to help her understand the process and her fears about it, and was able to teach her, along side her mom, the self care skills necessary for her to manage changing her pads herself, etc. This was an EMPOWERING thing for this autistic young woman. She no longer lives in fear and isn’t relying on a caregiver to change her menstrual pads.

    How is this a bad thing?

    • Shannon, it’s always necessary to know a great deal about the context to anything.
      Securing this particular outcome has to be judged across how an intervention is effecting an individual generally.
      Anything involving “understanding” and “teach[ing]” and working “along side” and “empowering”: is applying principles and practices others than those of behaviouralism or ABA. Behaviouralism programmatically ignores all these things: conditioning rather than teaching, for example.
      The big limitation with behaviouralism proper, is that it involves process which does not recognise and recruit and develop the whole person.
      There may then be a place for behavioural therapy when intervening clinically; but that’s a different kettle of fish.

    • Thats a great thing. But it occurs to me that much of what the ‘ABA’ therapists do with my son seems not to be behavioural modification but simply good teaching practise. Teaching him how to use a mouse, use the iPod to request things, make his own toast. These are all really useful things for him, but I’m not sure if ‘behavioural modification’ was used. Perhaps your example is similar, I guess just because someone is a BCBA doesn’t mean they used ABA or behaviourism techniques to get a result.

  41. Sigh. OK. Some of you who insist that people who have derived PTSD and things like that from abusive practices “need to get their heads around” what y’all want to say things are called just need to stop. So you want to pick nits about what ABA is? Umbrella term? Secretly good? Not this or that but another thing? Go on and do that amongst yourselves but know this: my friends were *harmed* by a thing that they heard being called “ABA” and they are not going to [TW for patronizing language] “get their heads around” what you want to be allowed to brag about or nitpick on linguistically. OK? No matter how many times you “desensitize” with repetitive re-traumatizing. Trauma is like that, actually. Why don’t YOU consider changing the name of what you are talking about if it is so all-fired good and upstanding and considerate and humane and useful and lovety? Consider caring about those who were traumatized and stop telling people to put up with being re-triggered by having to listen to your constant condesplaining. Listen! “ABA” is a thing that triggers people’s PTSD no matter what you want to say it means to you! Hear us! Do something humane with that information! OK over and out for now.

  42. I simply cannot abide anyone defeding ABA anymore. Whilst what I was subjected to as a child was not as repetitive, it was equally demeaning. I even asked a doctor flat-out if they were so jealous of how far ahead of their child I was in literacy that they wanted to chain me down in everything else. Add to this the mere sensation of gummi bears on my skin feels nasty. As in pedophile-level nasty. If someone told me as a boy that I had to touch my nose for a gummi bear for fifteen hours each week, and nothing beside for that time, I would be an even more violence-prone man today.

    ABA is child abuse. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong on a level that brings their right to exist into question.

    • Thanks so much for adding this to the conversation Dean. I hate that you were traumatized by what was done to you. I’m glad you said this here so others might hear your words.

  43. I have an anecdote about unintended consequences, that may help ABA advocates see what they do in a somewhat different light.

    A couple of years ago I met an autistic fellow and his mate who were traveling through town with a road-side fruit stand. They were both pretty stressed and I offered them a meal, showers and some other minor assistance and over the couple of days I spent with them, I noticed that Autistic Fellow was constantly micro-managing and correcting his companion.

    It was actually very obvious what that was about: “ABA?” I asked him. Yep. Years of it. How he was with his friend, well that was how he had been conditioned to relate to people _as a caring person_!

    Thanks, Ariane, for being so gracious and doing such a great job of moderating such a difficult discussion.

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  45. The two interventions that I regret everyday which I allowed to be introduced to my son, that did the greatest damage are vaccines and ABA. Those are the only times in my life as a mother that my instincts actually rebelled against my will, but I ignored my instincts and am paying dearly today. My son never stimmed till he started ABA and when the stimming became obsessively compulsive and he stared having violent meltdowns. I had to stop ABA. He is now much happier. He still stims, but never again will I place confidence and blindly follow people who have more faith in their methods and science, than place faith in the child.

  46. I also want to say thank you Ariane for sharing your heart on these issues
    . It is not an easy task being harassed and criticized by ‘therapists’ that should know better.

  47. It is possible to use ABA techniques with compassion and in a way that empowers children as much as possible. I always strive to speak to my clients with dignity and at an age-appropriate level, and to pay attention if and when I can tell that they are unhappy or have concerns. ABA should be a positive and empowering experience, not at all dehumanising. (I am a home-based ABA tutor)

    • From the start I have been taught that if a child is distressed, we as tutors have not done our job properly. I have been trained to use reinforcers and build a relationship with the child so that sessions are a positive experience. If a child is unhappy, they won’t learn. I can’t speak for many in the ABA world, and I am not in any way negating the awful experiences some have described at the hands of ‘ABA’ – but please don’t tar us all with the same (‘abusive’) brush

      • Emily – it’s wonderful that you are practicing ABA with care and sensitivity to those who it is meant to help. There is a larger issue here that is being commented on, and that is the basic erroneous assumptions many have when it comes to autism and Autistic children, who will grow up to become Autistic people. (This is less about ABA and more about how we tend to view those who are different.) There are prejudices in our society toward people with differences, and those who are believed to have intellectual differences are thought of as less than or inferior to the majority’s neurology. This thinking leads to a great many well meaning and well intended treatments with the hope of making those who are in the minority more like the majority. This can be seen throughout history and with every single group of people who have been marginalized.

        • Hi Ariane,

          Thanks for your reply. I can definitely see the wider issue and problem of attempted ‘normalisation’ of autism – my sister has high functioning ASD and struggles to fit in as a result of her quirks and different ways of socialising.

          I just don’t feel that ABA is relevant to this discussion. Obviously I can only speak from my own experience, but for the children I have worked with, ABA has given them a voice, and given them the dignity of being able to take themselves to the toilet, feed themselves, and get themselves dressed in the morning. If these are the ways that ABA and other therapies try to make minorities more like the majority, I just can’t see how that can be criticised. I think these are very basic and empowering skills that every person has a right to be taught.

          • Absolutely these are skills every person has a right to and can be taught in a kind and loving manner that in no way is disrespectful of the person learning, but this post, nor any post I’ve written about ABA has ever objected to those skills being learned.

            • These are the kinds of skills that are exactly what the ABA program that my kids and the other kids I know in ABA are learning through this method. Sorry to keep on piping in her Arianne, but my experience of ABA goes along with all of the people who chime in to say that their kids are thriving and love their therapists and are learning important and useful skills that are building toward independence and self respect and the ability to better navigate in a world that does not always understand them. I think working on turning the world into a better, more understanding place is fantastic and so important and a worthy cause, but discouraging families from use ABA to teach skills is not something that I can support. I am not trying to discredit anyone else’s experiences with ABA, but there are enough loving and caring voices coming in here in support of it and they way their programs work and their kids are being taught that I think the idea of actively trying to discourage people from seeking therapies that help, is not helping anyone. I’m reading Ido’s book right now and even he says that he sees other students, one in particular he talks about, for whom ABA worked really well. I feel very sad that it was so hard for him to convince people that he was typing, and that Carly Fleischman had to struggle so long before she was able to communicate with typing and Peyton from I am Intelligent and that your own Emma had a bad experience, and I am glad she is now being liberated by typing. But for the kids that ABA does works for, kids like mine, why try to say that they shouldn’t have it? My children are not being disrespected or abused or assumed to be incompetent or treated like they can’t understand when adults talk. They are being loved and played with and taught in the way that they are best able to learn. We have tried a lot of things. Each of my kids has a certified service dog, because we have a ranch they have their own pony (we tried equine therapy but the therapist seemed to think horses are magic and I’ve owned enough horses to know she was off base), they get speech therapy and OT, we do PRT as well as Discrete Trial, they have ABA trained one-on-one aides in school who teach both in the mainstreamed classroom and in a sensory room when they need a break. We use social stories, a mini ipad with the LAMP augmented communication program on it, I have not yet seen that my daughters can read enough to be able to type, but we are working towards that day by day. If she started typing tomorrow I would be absolutely thrilled, but we need a way to teach it. I am amazed how Ido and the others picked up reading when no one thought they could do it, but a 4 year old and a 6 year old like mine need to learn to read and write/type before making the kinds of breakthroughs that Ido and Peyton and Carly have made. ABA is how we are teaching them. ABA has evolved and will keep on evolving. As far as I can see, what I am describing is largely what it looks like now. Sorry if I seem like a broken record but I read every comment that comes in and just feel compelled to put this perspective in. Thank you for letting me.

            • Wow Jen, and breathe! (:

              I think the main point I’d like to make is, yes ABA can be, and has been, used for ‘evil’, and in a way that tragically has had a damaging impact for some individuals. But ABA can also be used for good, and is used for good by countless caring and devoted tutors everyday. It enables children to have fun while learning vital skills and increasing their self-confidence.

              Please don’t discount or criticise ABA as a whole, just the individuals who apply it in a cold, clinical and heartless way. Yes, the traditional ABA programmes of old were based on these principles. But this is not how the vast majority of tutors and consultants I have come across here in the UK have worked. We are far more flexible, and will adapt every technique if need be to ensure the well-being of the child. Obviously there are those who will continue with old-fashioned and strict ABA, but that’s not the fault of ABA as a science, that’s the fault of the individual.

              I know this point has been made before, but ABA is not just table-top discrete trial teaching. Just one other ABA technique I use a lot is behaviour chaining, or splitting up one long sequence or routine into small steps, and teaching each in turn. How can anyone criticise this for example?

      • Restless Hands

        Emily and those like you:

        I’ve seen and known good ABA-based therapists (note to others: “ABA” refers to a subfield of psychology on which many different therapies are based, from Lovaas-style DDT to Floortime), ones who connect with their clients, respect them, and help them build useful skills. I’ve known children who look forward eagerly to their therapy sessions. No argument there.

        And I’ve read innumerable stories by people who were damaged by those therapies, people who may never recover from the emotional trauma. I’ve seen, firsthand, a child suffering through a session of therapy that used all the right buzz-words, doesn’t use aversives, and generally sounds like a good program… but didn’t understand the first thing about respecting this child’s needs. The child’s mother thinks this program is great. I think it’s horrific.

        Here’s the thing, and I don’t mean this cruelly, but: get over yourselves.

        You do ABA therapy the right way? Good for you. But that’s not enough.

        You don’t like that some people consider ABA categorically abusive? Big deal. You’re not the ones who are at risk of ever being abused.

        Instead of complaining when someone lumps you in with the abusive stuff, you should be out there fighting to change the field of ABA. You should be seeking out the abusive programs and reporting them to ethics committees. You should be warning every parent and teacher you meet about what to watch our for to help them protect their children from the many, many therapists and programs that will damage them. You should be writing letters to the editors of research magazines. You should be protesting Autism Speaks when they support abusive therapies. You want to be angry at something?

        Until you’re doing all that and more, I frankly don’t care that your feelings get hurt by posts like this. Don’t be angry that so many people consider “ABA” synonymous with “abuse” — be angry that they have good reason to make that mistake, that so many traumatic, hurtful, and disrespectful programs even exist. Start fighting the right fight and putting your energy where it’s needed.

        If you care about autistic people, at all, do more to make their world better and safer. Because, while there are still children –and adults– being abused by therapies that go under the name of ABA, you should be more worried about /their/ wellbeing than about what someone thinks of you or your job.

        • This. Exactly this… This is one of the best responses I’ve ever read to those who become defensive upon reading something that goes against what they’ve been taught and come to believe.
          I cannot thank you enough for writing it. When this comment came in I was traveling and thought I’d responded and now see I did not. I’m so sorry, particularly as it deserves such a heartfelt THANK YOU!
          I have already quoted it in its entirety in response to someone who commented on another post – (In case you wanted to see the context.)
          Again, I cannot thank you enough.

        • PS I’d love to use this entire comment as the spring board of a post. Would that be okay with you?

    • I don’t think that ABA, of whatever variety, is what is at issue. What is more at issue is the behavioural perspective which underwrites ABA. However, what is most at issue is that, for a complex of reasons, autistic persons remain relatively and crucially disempowered when it comes to their being seen, understood, provided for, and accommodated.
      I’m then of the view, that when it comes to the matter of correcting this disempowerment of an autistic constituency, the behavioural perspective is part of what has caused that constituency difficulty, and is not much part of what is likely to be helpful going forward.
      So going forward, I anticipate, what perspectives are going to inform and characterise empowerment of an autistic constituency, will be generically very different from the behavioural perspective.

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  49. When you are forced to look into the eyes of your betters, it enforces their status of mastery – and, through the perception of your suffering, they are reinforced in their self-concept of being powerful.

    It’s entirely a matter of dominance – power and control. It pleasures them that you are suffering, which is why they DEMAND that you give them their due.

    It also tells you, in a most emphatic fashion, that you are (very much) a lesser being – and, if you know what is good for you – if you wish to go on living a bit longer – you will become exactly what they wish you to be.

  50. Dennis, that is an especially eloquent summary, and it applies to most behaviorist-based protocols, within my experience.

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  53. Reblogged this on Melissa Fields, Autist and commented:
    I am against any therapies that are compliance based, and this includes ABA therapy. Because it forces an Autistic person to be what we are not, it forces us to have quiet hands and feet. When we do not have quiet hands and feet.

  54. What a marvellous and inspiring story. Thank you for teaching me something.

  55. RPM even seems a little intense for us from the videos I’ve watched…but the point is w ABA hoe many say thank you i had it vs ppl in intensive therapy from all the “milestones” as a child..parents and therapists get over yourselves!

  56. Pingback: Breaking Down ABA, Again: Part 2: Goals and Underlying Philosophy | Restless Hands

  57. Pingback: Is Autism a Disease? | Kirsten Lindsmith | Artism

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  59. I participated in a blog post commenting “extravaganza” recently, and a common argument the BCBA’s, etc. use is that we “all” use ABA every day on “typical” kids – parenting, school, etc., and THAT’s not abusive – as if it’s the same thing. And they do not listen to arguments, if it’s not “science” (i.e., “just” experience), it doesn’t count, and it’s not the norm. And of course the defensive responses of “that’s not ‘real’ ABA; I don’t do that; I don’t use aversives; I respect my clients – as if that changes anything…

    Also, they REALLY get pissed if you tell them that ABA is inherently abusive. I’m not a professional in this area, just a concerned family member and signal-booster. I’m trying desparately to find some “scientific” articles that show them where they are wrong about the foundation of their “treatment”.

    They would probably find a reason to discount the science anyway, but if there’s some science out there, I’d love to connect with those links if anyone can share them.

  60. I would like to ask, what is your opinion for ABA on a verbal Asperger child. I believe your Emily is such? It has been suggested that my 11 almost 12 year old son go to a specialized school all day that uses ABA. I believe the tough time he is having this school year (he has had NO behavioral problems until this year) are related to being taken off his medications (insurance and doctor changes, couldn’t be avoided) and the beginnings of puberty. What is your opinion?

    • Hi Jenn. I’m sorry it’s taken me awhile to get back to you. I’ve been traveling a great deal. I am not a proponent of ABA for anyone and this is why – ABA is based in a belief that autism is a disorder/disease/ choose a word that places autistic neurology as less than ideal compared to non-autistic neurology. I believe all neurologies come with assets and deficits. We live in a world and society that specifically accommodates those who are not autistic. Many of the things which are detrimental to people whose neurology is different than the majority are challenging because they are fighting against societal standards and so called “norms.”
      Many people who argue that ABA is something we naturally do when teaching any child, are not being honest about their motives nor their goals. ABA is not the same as learning that there are consequences to stealing or lying.

  61. Pingback: ABA, Abusive Bullying of Autistics | autisticzebra

  62. Pingback: Ask an Autistic #5 – What is ABA? | PTSD FORUM

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  65. Barbara Lee Tryon

    Good afternoon, we are new to the autism diagnosis for my ten-year-old grandson. They have recommended ABA therapy and I am torn. But after reading your comments I’m definitely going to go in with a list of questions and make them explain what their goals are and how they think they will obtain them before we commit to anything. I’m sorry that you close down your post and I’m grateful I found this page. Very respectfully Stressful grandmother.

    • Restless Hands

      Hi Barbara, I’m a respite carer, and I’ve seen a lot of different approaches called “aba” these days, and some of them can be used non-harmfully as long as a caregiver is present and is clear about setting limits with them. Don’t work with a company that won’t respect your rules or boundaries. Remember, you are the customer, and you are always within your rights to refuse their recommendations. There’s a really good piece here:
      I’m also happy to share ideas from families I’ve worked with. One, for example, uses their ABA time primarily to help the kid do homework! Another uses it for OT/PT practice (self care skills, basic physical exercises). No “quiet hands” or forced eye contact or condescending baby talk. ABA people can be trained!

      • Hello. This is in direct response to Restless Hands’s comment, above: Yes, ABA practitioners CAN be trained. The problem, however, is that they are (more often than not) using ABA for “OT/PT practice” WITHOUT having been trained by the OT or PT who has set specific sensory integration, primitive reflex integration, or physical strengthening goals for that particular child. Here’s an example: I am an OT specializing in autism and sensory processing disorders in children, and when I set a goal for, say…tying shoelaces…I have done extensive assessments relating to that child’s cognition, core strength, bilateral upper extremity coordination, extrinsic and intrinsic digit musculature, and ataxia, all of which are often developmentally delayed in children on the autism spectrum. So after assessing, I know exactly HOW and WHEN to go about carrying out a goal of shoelace tying that will be the most successful for that particular child. Then along comes an ABA therapist going about trying to teach shoelace tying to that same child, without having conferred in advance with the child’s OT, but rather attempting to teach that skill as one would teach a neurotypical child. Often, the end result of not being trained by the OT in advance, is that the child is not “prepped” physically and/or cognitively to be able to handle the task when presented by the ABA practitioner…not to mention being so confused by the varied methods that the task becomes too frustrating to endure. ABA therapy has its rewards, I’m sure, however in many respects their intervention goes awry when attempting to carry out goals that should be set and implemented by highly trained licensed and certified OTs or PTs, whose training is typically at a Master’s level or higher, OR by family, respite caregivers, and ABA therapists who have been inserviced on implementing the OT and PT goals. By the way…respite caregiving is a valuable and unsung service, and this OT commends you for your choice of profession. Families would struggle a lot more without your services.

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