Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

I decided to write a thread on this topic since it is a critical one if we're going to move toward acceptance of autistic people and, frankly, thoughts of the things autistic children are enduring break my heart.

Fortunately, I escaped clinical notice as a child in the late 60s and 70s so was never subjected to "therapy" but aspects of my experience are still relevant.

Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

I'm going to start with the single best article I've found, notable for its extensive collection of links to other resources. I have not read every single linked resource because they are ... difficult for me to get through. I can only manage them in limited doses. Please start here.

madasbirdsblog.wordpress.com/2

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

I'll start with a little personal history. Hello, I'm Scott and I'm autistic. Because I am able to type cogently on a keyboard, your first instinct may be to dismiss me as one of those "high-functioning" people who does not need and shouldn't receive any support. I'm just a bit eccentric and quirky. And isn't everyone a little bit autistic?

Please. Don't.

Just don't.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

Part of that misconception is tied to now disproven associations between early language development, autism, and later ability with language.

I was completely nonverbal until I was 3 years old and had issues like dropped and substituted syllables until I was 5. Speech therapy cleared up my lingering issues in that area.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

Had I been diagnosed in the US earlier than I was, my diagnosis would have been Autistic Disorder (so-called "classic autism") not Asperger's Disorder as everyone seems to assume.

In reality, there was never a substantive difference between the two except those with early language or cognitive delays or a co-occurring intellectual disability were excluded from an Asperger's diagnosis. Autistic Disorder could include almost all.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

And as an aside, I quickly gathered around the time of my diagnosis that most of the "controversy" among autistic people (as opposed to parents) regarding the change to a single Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis reflected a lot of internalized ableism. There were a lot of autistic people who didn't want to be lumped in with "those" autistic people.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

The way I interact with the world flowing from my own experience, I was glad I would have been filtered into the more despised group.

I was so overjoyed and relieved to discover there were people like me in the world, that I wasn't some uniquely broken type of human, I immediately saw everyone as almost my family. I wanted to stand beside and with everyone.

Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

If you've explored any of the links in the article I shared at the start, you'll see how autistic children were viewed by the man who designed ABA, Ivar Lovaas. And you'll see it looks a lot like gay conversion therapy because he applied the same techniques in that arena and published research papers about it.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

And none of those original techniques are off the table today, including the use of electric shock as punishment. "Clients" (victims) of the Judge Rotenberg Center are forced to wear their torture devices on their backs and the center recently won a court case allowing them to continue the practice.

npr.org/2019/01/23/687636057/m

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

So don't talk to me about how the "therapy" has changed. Its most brutal elements remain in use today.

But even the "softer, gentler" forms are just as abusive and recent research demonstrates its victims are also much more likely to exhibit PTSD as adults.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

What are the goals of ABA? The sole goal of the therapy is to force a child to look and act as much like non-autistic peers as possible. The so-called "optimal outcome" is when a child is no longer observably autistic among peers from a distance. That's it. That's the most important measure of results.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

I wrote about that because I worked very, very hard to make myself look as "normal" as I could as a child and I pretty much achieved their so-called optimal outcome. I know what drove me and it wasn't good. I wanted others to treat me like a human being. Even so, internally driven was still better than externally imposed.

faithandfood.morizot.net/2017/

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

And I continued to pay a price for that "optimal outcome" my entire adult life. I wrote about that as "The Price of Passing"

faithandfood.morizot.net/2018/

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

And please note again, forcing an autistic child to look as non-autistic as possible is the ONLY purpose and goal of ABA.

ABA does not help with language use. That's speech therapy.

ABA does not teach life skills with accommodations as needed. That's occupational therapy.

ABA does not help an autistic deal with sensory overload and emotional regulation. Play therapy, art therapy, and similar forms fill those needs.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

No autistic person is telling the world not to help autistic children.

We're practically screaming for people to give them real help, the help and support they need.

And in the process, give them the space to BE autistic without exclusion, abuse, and condemnation.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

My post from Week 6 of the campaign examines more of the impact masking has had on me and how I'm trying to approach it today.

faithandfood.morizot.net/2018/

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

What about the research? Yeah. About that. My Dad was a cancer researcher and I have other scientists in my family. So from both my academic history and my family, I understand how research works. I can interpret methodology and the statistical validity of data. And I know the difference between population studies and randomized, controlled trials.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

This paper, which outlines a small trial of an intervention that focuses on educating those around the autistic children, references the only RCT of ABA I've found anywhere. And as described, that trial found that ABA had no statistically significant impact.

gernsbacherlab.org/wp-content/

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

But what about all those studies that show improvement? Yeah, even apart from the construction and methodology of the studies, and all the ones I've read have been pretty flawed, there's the whole correlation versus causation issue. Absent an RCT, that's *really* hard to demonstrate.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

That's one of the things that's so impressive about Dr. Gershoff's decades long research on the effects of spanking. It's a collection of studies and meta-analyses covering decades of research and more than a hundred thousand subjects. It would be completely unethical to perform an RCT of spanking, so that's the sort of population data required to prove something. None of that exists for ABA.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

ABA is the worst sort of pseudo-science because it actively harms children. *That's* what current research is demonstrating.

It really is autistic conversion therapy and is just as evil as LGBT conversion therapy.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

But children who underwent ABA improved on "measures" (whatever those measures might have been)!

You know what? Children develop and change and learn even faster and in greater leaps than adults do. And people in general learn and change over time. It takes a *lot* to attribute change to a specific cause. It is *not* easy to do.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

And again, we come back to the only goal of the "therapy" in question: ABA tries to make autistic children look more like their non-autistic peers.

That's it.

Why is that even a valid goal, not matter what methods are used?

I don't believe the ends justify the means, but in this case even the desired ends are horrible.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

I am happy to respond to any legitimate questions or concerns people might have. I don't necessarily have answers, but I will do my best.

I am not, however, at a place where I feel I can engage the sorts of ABA apologists I've seen elsewhere. If that describes you and you decide to invade my mentions, I'll probably just summarily block you.

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

I've referenced my recognition that so much of what I did as a child flowed from my recognition that other people didn't interact with me as if I was a human being. That's the root of ABA. Lovaas explicitly stated it on record more than once. It's pervasive. I wanted to add this paper to the thread, "On Not Being Human"

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/

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Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

@tmorizot thank you for sharing! I worked with students with autism at the elementary level in a school setting (I was a para) and I had several kids partake in ABA after school, I had no idea that were allowed to use such means to teaching kids behaviors!

Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

@Carissajoy I don't recall where I read it, but I remember a reference to early iterations of ABA being the only instance in which Skinner personally blessed the use of punishment (as opposed to negative reinforcement) on human subjects, specifically from the argument that autistic children were not human in a psychological sense and needed to be "made" human.

Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

@tmorizot I've seen you mention not being treated like a human several times now and I relate to that so hard. It's so hard to put into words how I was being treated. It didn't seem to fit nicely into the category of bullying, I just knew I was being treated as less than human.

Some people became my "friend" but usually treated me more like an amusing pet. I was always wary of those people.

Others just looked at me with contempt, as subhuman

Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

@tmorizot And when I see that happening to anyone else my heart just breaks from the pain I know they're feeling.
It hurts. A lot.

Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

@Laura_I Yes. Yes, it does. I recognized recently that's part of the reason I have always so strongly empathized with other marginalized groups. The process of social marginalization always involves treating the subject as less than fully human.

Autism, ABA is abuse and autistic conversion therapy 

@Laura_I I could see, as long as I remember, the ways people responded to each other.

And they didn't respond to me that way, even the ones who tried to be helpful, nice, or friendly.

And that never stopped hurting.

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