Wednesday, October 23, 2013

This isn't your mother's ABA (it's mine)

Trigger warning: ABA

[Disclaimer: when choosing a program for your child, investigate carefully and think about what the aim of the program is and what methods of teaching are employed. Many ABA programs and other programs are unsuitable and CAN /  DO / WILL CAUSE anxiety and PTSD.]

My mom works in ABA. It is not like the ABA that traumatized you. It is not like the ABA that tried to erase you. It is not like the ABA that forced you to "use your words."

They do not "quiet hands" children.

They do not talk about "table ready" hands.

They accept verbal and nonverbal communication. They do teach verbal communication. They also teach children to use PECS and encourage the use of sign language if that mode is most useful and comfortable for the child.

They do not refuse to listen simply because a child is not using one of these aforementioned modes of communication.

They try to understand what a child might be saying with gestures or speech-like sounds. They  model speech while doing this.

They do not force language.

They do not invalidate a child's method of communication.

They view behavior as communication.

They consider what might be causing a behavior. Is the child hungry? Thirsty? Overwhelmed?

They encourage sensory exploration. They never force it.

They guide children into eye contact. They do not force or demand it. They do not require it. They teach it as a game, so that the children will have fun experimenting with occasional eye contact.

 My mom personally does not speak to a child who is making eye contact, and she encourages her coworkers to follow her example. She understands that processing speech while making eye contact can be difficult for an Autistic child.

They never force a child to do something that is painful or distressing. That would be abuse.

They never punish a child for exhibiting a distress behavior.

They set limits while respecting and maintaining physical autonomy and boundaries.

They give children time to process a request, if needed.

If your child's ABA program is not like this, ask yourself what impact it could be having on your child. There are many, many Autistic children and adults who have been traumatized by the physical, emotional and sensory abuse they endured in ABA and similar programs.

- Kitt


  1. Thank you. I will remember this when I get my own classroom next year. I have observed the " ready hands " way and have also seen some great teaching out there. A teacher should always learn more and stay up to date with the latest research.

  2. Good to see you today. No, I hadn't read this post. I just read this one and went back and reread a bunch of your old ones. It is too bad every Special Ed teacher in the country isn't reading what you write.
    I sent your teacher an email last school year about how good I thought your blog was. I never commented publicly because they teach teachers NOT to do that. I decided I would make an exception in this case.

  3. What your Mom does should not be called ABA. Allowing it to share the same name as that abuse will cause confusion about what programs are acceptable what ones are not.

    What your mom is doing sounds like it's informed more by the various "Relationship Based" therapies like DIR, RDI and Son-Rise.

    I believe that "behaviorism" can provide a useful toolbox, but it's a lousy "owners manual." In other words, it can be appropriate to use some of the behaviorists techniques, but ONLY if it's use is informed by some higher understanding of the humanity of the student.

  4. Autistic Chick, I have a high functioning autistic son. We've never went through ABA as of yet. I was told my son is to high functioning to get ABA therapy. Although "quite hands" is a thing they use at school, it helps my son to calm down. My son loves school and they work with him to have table readiness and do things like that. Eye-contact is okay with my son. He can look at you and talk. Sometimes we have to force him to use verbal communication or he doesn't and gets frustrated. Sometimes we have to give him a minute to calm down so he can communicate. I think that helps, it allows him to be able to communicate afterwards.

    1. A piece by Julia Bascom:

  5. Autistic Chick - may I add this to a website I'm building? One of the issues I want to include is ABA, and currently I have Quiet Hands (Julia Bascom), Diary of a Mom, and I would like to add yours as well. I'm trying to cover the good/the bad/ the ugly so parents will REALLY investigate it. The facebook page is working (Autistikids), but the site is still under construction. Thank you for considering my request!

    1. yes, you may add it. I'm sorry I didn't see your comment sooner.

  6. I know not all "ABA" practitioners are like this, but I just read this today (trigger warning) -

    It's still going on. I wish there was a way to stop it BEFORE these crappy "teachers" got out into the world to do damage. ABA needs to police itself, but I don't know if that's even possible. :(