Muses from a Curious Individual A Blog for a Seminar on Autism


Blogpost #21 for 1/25: ABA Idealism

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatment was proposed by Dr. Lovaas and his followup study (1987) drew great positives from this treatment. Through therapy for 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day, therapists and parents hope to forcefully change the child's outward behavior (2). Through changing the outward behavior, the child's inner psychology may change. This is forcing the child to act "normal" and make them accountable for their behavior, which doesn't seem to be fair when considering the lived experiences we have learned over these months.

In the early years of ABA, it was widely popular and became a wonder treatment for parents of children with "non-high functioning autism" (3). More so than medicine, parents opted to use ABA. It was as medicine was not an option and they needed harsh instruction to appear "normal". According to the WWC Intervention Report, the Lovaas Model was not as successful as advocated so many years before (4). It lacked proper effect size and/or statistical significance in several categories.

In addition to the WWC report, there are several self reports on the effects of ABA. As an autistic adult reported, "ABA is abuse" (5). Contingent with how it sounds, it seems clear that forcing change on one's behavior is abuse. Forcing accountability on one's actions when one's actions are almost involuntary is abuse. As the Tribe has reported, it is often times not their mind but their body performing their actions. A Tribe member once said that it is no different than dog training. Continuing for years upon years like how the original Lovaas study was conducted seems too much for any autistic child. But among the reports, there was a parent that retorted back "I'm not abusive and my child is benefiting greatly from ABA therapy" (5). There may be short-term successes where the child may follow instructions to sit down for various periods of time, but success seems to level off quickly. Parents, still fervent supporters after seeing their child follow instruction, believe in ABA and its potential. But as the way I see it, placing so much pressure on the child to change is detrimental. Perhaps there is a better therapy to replace ABA in the coming years, or perhaps parenting as any parent should parent (if that makes sense) may be best. I say parenting in the sense that parents treat their children with respect, love, care, and patience.

  1. Lovaas, O. I. (1987). Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children.
  3. Orinstein et al. (2014). Intervention for optimal outcome in children and adolescents with a history of autism.
  4. What works clearinghouse (2010). Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis.



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