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.
“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.