Dictionary.com just published an article entitled The Evolving Language Around The Autism Spectrum: What You Need To Know. There is a lot wrong with it, but I’m going to concentrate on what they wrote about ABA. “Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is a general term that refers to a therapy strategy used to modify the behavior of people diagnosed with ASD in order to improve their lives. Generally speaking, the strategy involves observing a person’s behavior and using positive reinforcement to encourage desirable behavior and discourage undesirable behavior. While ABA isn’t only used to modify behavior of people diagnosed with ASD, it is considered one of the longest-standing and most researched behavioral therapies for autism.”
I’m sure any of you who have read my previous posts can see immediately what is wrong with their statement. ABA is used to “modify” autistic (not people diagnosed with ASD) behaviour , it’s true. But it’s not done in order to improve their lives. It’s done to improve the lives of the neurotypical people who interact with them. And rather than improving their lives, it harms them.
And while it’s also true that it modifies behaviour by observing the behaviour and using positive reinforcement, this also often uses negative reinforcement. And in fact positive reinforcement is harmful in its own right, as Alfie Kohn makes clear in his book Punished by Rewards.
Unfortunately it’s true that ABA isn’t only used on autistic people. The ABA industry has branched out recently into abusing people with Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s. Amongst others. This is also not a good thing.
It’s also true that it’s been around a long time. It’s was thought up in the 1960s by the same guy who came up with Gay Conversion Therapy, which uses the same techniques.
It may also be true that it’s “the most researched behavioural therapies”. Again, not a good thing. Especially when you consider the undeclared conflicts of interest within that research. Most “positive” research was funded by the ABA Industry itself, while they ignore the research that shows ABA being ineffective and actually harmful.
Looks like it’s time to re-write the Dictionary.com page. I know what I’d write under the ABA heading. Just three words: “ABA is abuse.”