ABA and Gay Conversion Therapy Compared

DISCLAIMER: This blog goes into details about ABA and Gay Conversion therapy. If you are easily triggered by this, do not read. I went through ABA myself but I think its important that I complete this important post.

You see if often. ABA is compared to Gay conversion therapy in the autistic community. It leaves the same effects yet only one is considered in mainstream society to be abusive and the other is alright because it deals with disabled children.

Let's explore conversion therapy. Anderson Cooper did a documentary on this very subject. There was a little boy treated at UCLA with experimental therapy. . To this day, conversion therapy enthusiasts consider it a victory. His family said he was never the same after therapy. This therapy was supposed to treat effeminate young boys. It was an experimental therapy funded by the government which its goal was to reverse perceived feminine behavior.  "They only thing they did was destroy our brother" said his brother.

Their mother was concerned because of his feminine behaviors. "I wanted him to grow up to have a normal life."

This group of behaviors as later called "sissy boy syndrome." George Reckers was the therapist. At the time he was a medical student. He later graduated and became a founding member of the Family Research Council. the FRC sought to prevent gay marriage, gay adoption and stop laws that protect the LGBTQ. He believed that homosexuality can be prevented.

To treat his behavior he was put in a room repeatedly. This room had a large table. One side of the table had toys marketed to boys and the other side there were toys marketed to girls.  He was observed through a one way window. He also had costumes to choose from.

His mother was brought into the room. She was instructed to ignore her son when he chose perceived feminine toys or costumes. In ABA this is called planned ignoring. She was to complimented him when he picked up the toys marketed boys.

When ignored, he would cry. He would beg for her attention, he was in distress. He would "throw tantrums (their words not mine)." His mother was instructed to continue ignoring him. According to his sister, he once got so upset, he had to be removed from the room. After this incident they would tell his mother that it is working. After a short break, they would bring him back in the room and start the process all over again.

The "therapy" continued outside UCLA. At home there were poker chips being given. Red chips for feminine behavior and blue chips for masculine behavior by instructions of UCLA. His brother was doing it to reinforce Kirk. If Kirk received red chips, it resulted in physical punishments by spanking from his father. His brother even took red chips from his brother to protect him. "Whipping every Friday night. His mother said "His father beat him so hard, there were welts up and down his back and on his buttocks."

After this went on, Kirk changed. He was no longer outgoing but he started to behave in a way his parents wanted him to. The impact of this therapy lasted his entire life.

In the experiment report, they called him Kraig to protect his identity. The doctor considered his work a success because his acting like a "normal boy." He used it as proof to say homosexuality can be reversed.

His family says they just recently discovered the report and they are outraged. "He is gay. He acknowledged himself as gay but would not allow himself to have a committed relationship." He focused on his work. He started a career in the US Air Force where being openly gay was impossible. He went on to have a high profile position with a finance company in India.

Kirk took his own life in 2003. He was deeply depressed and struggled with being a gay man. His family blamed his short life on this therapy. His sister stated, "What they really told him was that the very core of who he was, was broken."

His mother said they were manipulated. They had no idea that Kirk was used as an example of a boy who no longer has feminine behaviors. "He would have been better off if we did not take him."

When Dr Kreeger was cornered about Kirk's death, he was very apathetic and unempathtic. When he was asked what he thought about the family blaming him "That scientifically inaccurate." He went on to say that the therapy happened decades before his suicide.

When Kirk was evaluated by Dr. Richard Green evaluated him when he was 18. Kirk told him that he tried to kill himself the year before by swallowing aspirin. "I do not want to grow up to be gay."

Years later, This same doctor was caught hiring a male escort. He said he did not have any sexual contact but the escort stated he was giving the doctor sexual massages. After this scandal, he resigned from the FRC.

His research is still being sited. "This was a little boy who deserved respect, dignity and unconditional love."

The documentary is here:

"You see, you start pretty much from scratch when you work with an autistic child. You have a person in the physical sense. They have hair, a nose and a mouth. But they are not people in the physiological sense. One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is to see it as a matter of constructing a person. You have the raw materials, but you have to build the person." This was said by Ivan Lovaas. He was the founder of ABA and Conversion therapy.

After watching the above documentary, so many similarities with the ABA I experienced and what this poor boy went through. Everything was act what they wanted or face the consequences.  Stimming was discouraged. I was forced to sit on my hands or I would be tied to a chair with an apron.  I was forced to make eye contact. It physically hurt. If I did not, they would shine a light in my eyes. A comfort item I had was routinely taken from me.  When I had a rough time, I was beaten because I was a disappointment.

ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. It exists to make us "better" or to "recover" us or to make us "normal." Children are in ABA for about 40 hours a week and no child needs to be in any type of therapy for those many hours. Its a full time job and if they are in school, they will have time for nothing else. They are not able to be children. This amount of time segregates children from their peers.

ABA robs us of our dignity, power and self worth. Nearly half of people exposed to ABA went on to develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is compliance training.

The goal of ABA is to decrease or increase targeted behaviors. The child is conditioned to a cue. The child does the correct behavior. Then the child is given a reward. Very similar to the conversion training. If the child does an incorrect behavior, there is something called "planned ignoring." This means the therapist or parent will ignore the child, no indication that the adult is paying attention to the child. This causes distress to the child. If the child knows that this stress will be placed on them if they do not do it correctly, they will do what the adult wants. An item is also taken away.

There is no consideration for the child's emotions or well being. They only focus on the behavior.

Let's use my experience as an example. If I would hand flap, my plush cat would be taken. This item brought me great comfort. I hand flapped and it was taken away for five minutes, I would cry, beg for it back and slowly work my way into a meltdown. Then I would be yelled at to stop. It would just get worse. I would then take a break and they would try again.

The child is told they need to be a certain way. If they act or think the way they are, it is wrong. What similar ways of thinking did to Kirk, it did to me. I have attempted suicide many times but did not know why for a long time. My ABA experience became a blocked memory until it became unblocked. It became unblocked when I got involved with the autistic community and it all came back like a vivid movie. I needed intensive therapy for that. My husband was there to help me through it. I swore I would never do this to my children and I never did.



  1. One important point you missed.
    George Rekers was the first author of that article about Kirk/Kraig.
    The second author was Ivar Lovaas.

    It was published in the Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis.

  2. they have nothing in common and I have never heard anyone compare the two.
    It is difficult for an aspie with a high ego and inability to look in from an outside perspective or look from other's perspectives to see how this is a fundamental need for autistic children. It can be the difference in them dying or living.. or living in an institution or being able to live at home.

  3. This is not ABA. "If I would hand flap they would punish me". I have never heard of ABA even caring about hand flapping. Yes, it can be dangerous.. you could break your hand.. fling it on a stove top, hot someone on the street who doesn't care if you have autism.. but I have never heard of ABA caring about it. Proper ABA wouldn't be punishment.. it's all about reward. If they wanted you to stop flapping they would be creative and give you something to hold.. maybe something heavy.. massage.. exercises... ask you to put your hands on the table when writing and then you can take a break and flap all you want. Maybe you just had a really bad teacher.

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