What is ABA, and why should it be banned?

[Image Description: a red “no” symbol over the letters ABA made out of puzzle pieces.]

CW: ABA, torture, conversion therapy.

There is a popular ‘therapy’ for autism called Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). It is despised by the autistic community and by all who support the neurodiversity paradigm. It was invented by a horrible man called Ivar Lovaas, and hundreds of autistic people across the globe are sadly subjected to it on a daily basis. ABA has traumatised many autistic people since its invention, yet most people do not know what it is.

Ivar Lovaas is often called the father of ABA, and lauded by Board Certified Behaviour Analysts (BCBAs) for his work in developing behaviour analysis. What BCBAs would rather you didn’t mention, however, is that Lovaas is also the father of gay conversion therapy; and that both ‘therapies’ are developed upon the exact same principles. He was involved in the “feminine boy project” in the 70s, at the same time as he was developing ABA.

ABA is designed to change the behaviour of autistic people through a system of rewards and punishments which discourage the behaviour the therapist deems undesirable and encourage behaviour they wish to see. This includes discouraging autistic people from stimming, a way we self-regulate our emotions, and encouraging extensive eye contact in order to gain rewards or escape punishment.

The behaviours deemed desirable are not those which are objectively helpful to the person being subjected to the therapy. They are the behaviours which society deems acceptable, even if they hurt the autistic person. ABA is not about helping autistic people, it is about encouraging those who are different to conform to societal expectations. In other words, it is about converting someone from behaving autistic to behaving neurotypical.

There have been studies suggesting that autistic people subjected to ABA can develop PTSD as a result of their treatment. Instead of improving the quality of life for the autistic person subjected to the therapy, instead it can traumatise them for life. There is a post on tumblr which is what finally helped me understand just how horrendous this is. Applied Behaviour Analysis is torture; to the point where I once wrote fiction involving a torture regime which used solely techniques I’d discovered in articles about ABA.

Autistic people have been speaking out against ABA for years, so the BCBAs and the ABA lobby are getting clever. They’re rebranding ABA as a number of other therapies, such as Positive Behaviour Support (PBS). But PBS (which is recommended by the NHS) and these other therapies are based on the same principles, and have the same goals. They are not about helping autistic people, but about making us more palatable to the neurotypical eye.

Applied Behaviour Analysis is autistic conversion therapy, in the simplest terms. It is a trauma-inducing, torturous so-called therapy that harms autistic people in the name of enforcing conformity. ABA is flawed in both its aims and its execution, and can’t be reformed. It must be banned, just as conversion therapy needs to be banned, to protect the autistic community and to embrace neurodiversity.

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