Monday, January 27, 2014

True Answers About ABA (Part 1)

Hi Ibby! 

I am a Parent to a 3 year old Autistic girl. She is receiving OT, Speech, Music therapy and ABA. I have felt it was the ABA where the progress we've seen has been made. However, as someone who is a staunch advocate for my daughter and her Autistic peers, I want to always be doing what is best and least stressful for her.

I have seen quite a bit of controversy in the Autism community by receivers of ABA, that express having PTSD from the experience and are now staunch opponents of ABA. But what they describe going through and what many of our kids do, seem vastly different. Is there any way to clarify this issue, about just what ABA is and isn't and how, in layman's terms a Parent can avoid and identify it?

This is a topic that causes a great deal of angst, distrust and Parents feeling they are being labeled as abusers if they are using ABA...which I guess, may really not be? Any help at resolving this would be great!

Thank you!


Dear Sandy,

Thank you so much for asking.

This question is so very important, and as you say, the things people say and do about it can be very confusing, and from where I stand, I have been able to collect more than the usual amount of information about why they have to do and say the confusing things that conflict with each other, and was wondering if I would be able to help.

I hope I can help.

I will try to keep this a little bit shorter than a big giant book by linking to other related things I wrote before, and breaking it down into parts so you can look at the pieces of the question you are interested in at any given time.

Here are the topics I will touch on:

Why are so many Autistic people who have been through ABA against it, and/or experiencing PTSD?

In that case, why would anyone defend it? What is going on there?

What do you mean by the notion that a type of treatment can be morally wrong?

But I have seen it work well, and you just gave what looked to me a whole lot like an example. Can you explain what is going on here, when it works well?

Why would that still be called ABA then? Why don’t they call it something totally else?

Can you see a solution to this thorny issue? What would it be like?

Meanwhile, before that solution happens, what are practical actions I, as a parent, can take in real life? I want to do what is right for my kids, and I also want to be a good person in the world.

I’m writing back now because I have had your letter for a longish time, I think, and I wanted you to know this is what I’m working on, and I think it’s really important, and I want to get it right. Please write back if my outline above doesn’t hit on all cylinders, but so far I have answers in my head for all the things above that I just need to translate into readable words, so that’s what I’m going for.



  1. So very excited for this! Thank you!

  2. Ibby, thank you and I think you've hit all the pertinent questions at hand, that I and many other Parents have.
    Maybe one thing I might add, is determining how much is too much? 30-40 hours is commonly recommended and that seems like a whole lot to me. Never mind that this therapy is out of reach for many Parents. What are some successful types of therapy, besides "ABA" that might help our loved ones progress?
    I hope that all makes sense and again...thank you for your willingness to tackle such a tricky and confusing issue.

    I look forward to your responses.


  3. I am struggling with this issue also. I have taken my son out of OT and speech, where they did not know how to work with him and he was not having a good time at all, and it was very disappointing. But an ABA therapist who I think did very well with him, and who I always observed in the room in sessions, I know another person who thought she was not nice to her son. My son did like her.

    I think maybe because my son does not appear (truly) to have hypersensitivity like many people have. He has reduced sensitivity to some things and he likes deep pressure. So I don't think she caused him problems in a sensory way, I really do not.

    Also she was able to help me and him have more communication skills, and that made his life a lot better very quickly.

    But I can see that -- for someone with different issues, it would not be a good deal for them.

    Also -- what I see is that people who do ABA now, want to call what used to be called ABA, "behavior modification." They say -- if there was not a process of finding out what the child was communicating and responding to that, then it is "behavior modification." To be called "behavior analysis," you have to analyze the behavior and see what the behavior is communicating.

    But to be honest -- sometimes my son will cry and want to "escape" something, and it is fine with me if he is not allowed to "escape" it. Because -- to me, this is what lets him do a lot of things he likes to do. I see it as a cause and effect, that as he has higher standards in therapy, he is able to do more out and about and it is the difference between -- getting to play at the park, or getting put in the swing b/c he is having safety issues at the park otherwise. He likes to swing too -- but he likes other things, also.

    Anyway though -- I am also horrified by abuses of ABA, and don't want anything like that. But -- I don't know if I am close to the line with the "escape behaviors" and "preventing escape behaviors." We do also, always, consider "reducing demands or increasing reinforcers." I also would step in (and have) if I think he is hurt or something like that, or just not feeling good. But it is pretty rare -- I have ended a session or not had one if I think he is not having a good day that way. But I don't want to teach him that if he cries, I will send his teacher away. That is not going to help him in his life.

    He is way under those hours... he has 12 hours a week of ABA and 12 hours of pre-school. We have Fridays off to do fun things as I am a stay-at-home mom.

    I am not sure if you are addressing "where is the line" or specific practices. I would be very interested.

    What I want for my son -- for him to have communication skills and safe behavior so that he can do fun things he likes to do.

    1. 'But to be honest -- sometimes my son will cry and want to "escape" something, and it is fine with me if he is not allowed to "escape" it.'

      This is very, very frightening to me and makes me scared for your son. :(

      I really hope you reconsider this approach, which has a very high likelihood of teaching your kid that he simply cannot trust you or any other adult to respect his boundaries. Or worse, that he doesn't deserve to have boundaries.

      Like it's really an open invitation to abusers that a kid's not allowed to say "no" or escape a situation that they feel is wrong. Not being allowed to refuse or escape something that's frightening or painful is not "having higher standards," it's not being allowed to have standards or boundaries or limitations.

      That is not good. That is not good at all. That is very scary and not a good thing to carry into adulthood.

      I really hope that he resists internalizing this message. I really hope that he fights you tooth and claw on this.

      Because if he stops fighting you on this is when you really need to worry hardcore.

    2. on the other hand, if you want to make any potential future rapists' job easy...

  4. Thank you very much for this! I will be thinking of what you have said as I continue to work on the writing. Meanwhile I want writing to stop being so hard. Got that, writing? Quit it please. Love, Ib

  5. I cared for a child on the spectrum whose parents had an ABA person come and consult and tell them what to do with their child. A lot of the things just seemed like good parenting and common sense, really. If your child is banging his head, teach him to only bang it on soft things, etc. Yet I hear other things about ABA that don't match up with what I saw used in this family - and it just leaves me rather confused. Glad you'll be clarifying! :)