Autism Parenting : Why is ABA abusive and wrong ?

Parenting always comes with incessant advice that people will give you like they know what your child needs.
Double that when you’re raising a Neurodivergent (ND) child.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “Neurodivergent” as :

neurodivergent

[ˌn(y)o͝orōdəˈvərjənt, ˌn(y)o͝orōˌdīˈvərjənt]

ADJECTIVE
neuro-divergent (adjective)
displaying or characterized by autistic or other psychologically atypical patterns of thought or behavior; not neurotypical.
“there are some things that neurotypical people just know or can figure out and that neurodivergent students may need to have a model for” · “this artwork explores the alternative ways in which neurodivergent individuals perceive the world”

 

As you can see, ND folks are said to have “atypical” patterns or behavior. Who defined what “Typical” is ? It was defined but Neurotypical people in the West who decided that everyone must function the way they do. This is problematic. Why ? Diversity is everywhere in this world. Each country, it’s own regions have their own culture and etiquette. One of the key things that is pegged down as an Autistic trait is, not making eye contact. Who decided that eye contact was essential to be classified as “normal” or “Neurotypical” ? Again random people in the west. I grew up in India and in most situations, making eye contact is considered rude and disrespectful. This is part of Asian culture in many countries and also common in part of Europe and many indigenous communities. This requirement of eye contact alone is steeped in bigotry by dismissing all other cultures.

Why is culture different in each country or community ? It is because every person is an individual, with their respective brains wired differently, therefore communities develop differently. For instance, let us consider culture in the US. The US culture is vastly defined by European settlers and their descendants. These people are originally from Europe, yet the culture in the US has evolved differently. Americans are considered loud and rule by Europeans, but we are just different and that does not make one societies culture better than another one’s. We cannot all function the exact same way, that is a fact of life. Now, there are people who are good at music, there are people who are good at art, there are people who are good with languages, there are people who are good at mathematics and so on.,. What if, one of these communities decided that if you aren’t good at their dominant skill, you are “less than”. Does that make any logical sense ? No, it does not.

The definition that a person who does not neatly fit in these boxes, instead has specific interests and needs to stim, needs to stay introverted, needs reduced stimulation is classified broken and that is basically saying, “Tough, your brain is wired differently so you suck. You need to learn how to act and behave like the rest of us because you are less than”. What if your boss decides that everyone who reports to them has to wear expensive suits because that is the standard to maintain to seem professional. That everyone who reports to them should approach work assignments and problems the way the boss has decided is right. If you aren’t doing it your boss’ way, you are doing it wrong. That is quite an arrogant opinion and makes the work place oppressive and hostile. This is something Neurotypicals complain about. This what the Neurodivergent community is subjected to everyday of their lives and the Neurotypicals expecting and asking the ND folks to behave just like them is oppressive, arrogant and unfair.

This is where ABA comes in. Applied Behavioral Analysis started out as a punishment based method to get Neurodivergent folks, especially Autistic folks to comply with the Neurotypical world’s expectations. This is equivalent to your boss forcing you to do things their way and if you don’t, retaliating against you in a manner that hurts you in one or many ways. That would be considered abuse and a hostile workplace. The ABA community today will tell you, “not my ABA”. The ABA today is different. It is slightly different from its origins for sure, but the fundamental goal remains the same, “behave like us or else you will not get rewarded” (boss saying, “do what I tell you, when I tell you, the way I tell you to or else you will never get promoted or bonuses”. Is that fair ? No, it is not. Yet, the same is asked of autistic folks and autistic children are subject to hours of this to get them to comply.  This results in distress just like a neurotypical person would be distressed in a hostile work environment. So, the situations are not that different as people perceive it to be. When we mention accommodations for Autistic folks, its basically like letting an employee bring in their own strengths, giving them autonomy and support to do their jobs well.

Then why is Autism labelled a “disorder” ? It is because that is the only way for autistic folks to access resources because that is how the system is designed. Schools are designed for neurotypical children. Just like the Montessori methods of education is not suitable for every child, the “traditional” school system isn’t always a good fit for a neurodivergent child or in fact some Neurotypical children. So when we say access to resources, its basically to help bring out the best from a neurodivergent child in a manner that is a good fit for them.

Now lets get down to the evidence about ABA. ABA is said to be evidence based because behaviors are modified to fit the neurotypical society to make neurotypical people comfortable around autistic folks. Its no different from spanking or hitting a child regularly to bring them into submission and resulting in them shutting down. ABA is emotionally abusive because it is about breaking the autistic person into submission to do things they way society has decided is right.

Besides that, there is evidence that that ABA is not even effective as originally touted.

Here are some links to some informative resources:

US Government Reports that ABA Doesn’t Work.

This is an article that examines both sides of the argument. I recommend you read it and notice that its the Neurotypicals who claim it works for better outcomes and that it is not abusive speaking over the experience of the autistic folks who say it is abusive. This no different than a Caucasian telling a person of color what is and what is not racism. I can attest to this as a person of color and an Autistic person. The people who are part of the population who mete out this treatment (be it ABA or racism) are not experiencing it and therefore cannot determine what it feels like to be on the receiving end of being treated this way. It should be obvious if you put your emotions aside and look at this logically, you cannot claim you know something when you actually aren’t a person who is experiencing it.

Even if you are a neurotypical parent of an Autistic child, you must realize that you don’t know what it feels like to be on the other side and determine if or not it is abuse. Please keep an open mind and do not get defensive. You want the best for your child, you want your child to succeed but ABA is basically asking your child not to be themselves. Would you tell your Neurotypical child that they should change themselves fundamentally to make others like them at school or a to please a romantic interest ? No, you wouldn’t. Please take the time to understand that ABA is basically telling your ND child just that.

I would recommend talking to autistic adults who have experienced ABA and the “correction” of how they must fit into society. Here is an article by an Autistic adult author.

Here is another article that would be a good read to understand this topic more, Invisible abuse in ABA that the things that only autistic people can see.

PIEZ runs an evidence based Neurodiversity group that supports parents of Neurodivergent children run by Neurodivergent adults.

PIEZ Neurodiversity is our facebook support group.
There are entry questions that need to be answered in order to protect Neurodivergent members who are part of a vulnerable population.

We are here to support you and make a contribution to the Neurodivergent community in our own small way.