What is ABA and My Experience

What is ABA?

ABA stands for Applied Behavior Analysis. ABA is a type of therapy that focuses on improving behaviors such as social skills, communication, reading academics, etc. ABA is effective on children and adults with psychological disorders and neurological differences. Some methods are opperant conditioning, classical conditioning and other dog training techniques. Its goals it to make a child appear typical. There is no room for a child having emotions or feelings through the process. It leaves the child to feel over time that they are not good enough and they need to mask. They must never show their true self.   If a child does not comply, they have been known to restrain, take away a comfort item, etc. It has been known to cause PTSD. A link to the study.

History of ABA

ABA's roots are with behaviorism. In the 1950's Dr. Ole Ivar Lovaas started his work in institutional settings were treatments used using Freudian approaches. People who were self injuring were given hugs and given love (no body autonomy there). There was a theory that they were acting out because their parents did not show them love or were incapable of doing so. In 1960, Dr. Leo Kanner described parents of autistic children as "happening to defrost enough to produce a child." This is where the term "refrigerator parent" came from. Bruno Bettelheim promoted the use of the term. Bettleheim felt the children would benefit from a "parent ectomy" or removed from the home. They would be better served in a clinic or an institution. This was when autism was viewed as a disorder of faulty parenting. 

Don Baer, Montrose Wolf, Sid Bijou, Todd Risley, James Sherman and Ivar Lovaas were establishing behavior modification at the University of Washington. Lovaas introduced behavior modification to institutions for people self injuring behaviors. Some were sever enough to cause premature death. 

Treatment included no longer providing hugs and love when engaging in self injurious behavior. Love and hugs were given when the patients were not injuring themselves. They would apply punishments. One example is electric shock. The results of the data showed on most occasions self injury was a result of prior learning, not traumatic childhood events. It could be modified by altering contingencies following their occurrence. Self injury was acquired through positive social attention, and reduced when removed. Attention, first behavior function, was identified. 

In the 1960's, Lovaas attempted to "help" children avoid the path to institutions by creating an intervention to teach language to autistic children. The hope of it was language would generalize other core differences that autistic people experience. This is when they started to pathologize play. Children received 40 hours a week of this training for about thirteen months. After the thirteen months, children were discharged to their home or institutions. The second phase was years later. The treatment and no treatment phases were a result of loss of acquisition funding. This lead to a research design known as AB-BA reversal. This is now considered unethical, along with everything he did. This study was the first to demonstrate young autistic children could learn at an accelerated rate. New parameters for treatment were discovered. This was the first intensive early intervention study. 

During the 1980's, practitioners were working off the strengths and limitations from the 1973 study. These were significant steps to alter the way autistic children received treatment. A study called 'Behavioral Treatment and Normal Intellectual Functioning in Young Children with Autism" was published. 60 children were put into three groups. Two groups received 40 hours a week. The control group recieved 10 hours per week of the same "therapy." Lovaas was known as the "father of ABA after this study. 

In 1993, Lovaas published "Long-Term Outcome for Children With Autism Who Received Intensive Behavioral Treatment." This was to answer the question of "What happens to the children after they receive therapy?" The findings show 8 out of 9 had maintained their masks. They no longer acted autistic. 

My Experience with ABA

Everyone raves about ABA and how wonderful it is. Not a lot of people have asked an autistic adult about their experience with it. I had blocked out my memories of it until I got involved with an autistic support group prior to my diagnosis.

My mother called it “therapy to make her normal”. I am the only girl so it was me. I was forced to maintain eye contact through the tears. When I did, an M & M was placed in my mouth like you would a dog during a training session. While that happened, i remember my parents calling me dog names. “be a good doggie for the nice lady trainer” and other things like that. My parents have Narsisistic Personality Disorder.

I was made to sit on my hands when I would clap or flap. It hurt. She would call me bad. I was a very sensitive child. Having ADHD would do that.
My stim as a child was squeezing and petting a plushie. It was always taken. The therapist told my mother I should never be allowed to do that.

The therapist told me I would not eat or a preferred toy if I did not look at her. She even slapped my hands when I started to fidget. Just the name of the therapist caused a bad reaction with me. Her name was Rebecca. The only major meltdowns I had as a child were during these sessions.
My true self was being suppressed and caused major depression as I continued to do this. When I close my eyes, I see myself in these “therapy” sessions. Its almost like I relive them.
I was not diagnosed then but my parents paid out of pocket for this to make me normal. They started this soon after my ADHD diagnosis. They even gave my other brother pills to try to stop a head tick.
To this day I do not make eye contact, I do not like it. I fake it by staring at a person’s forehead when necessary. Just because I am not looking you in the eye, does not mean I am not listening to you.
My meltdowns at 9 became so bad, this Rebecca could not handle me. She quit. After ABA stopped, I was as happy as I could be, being raised by NPD parents.

This is not made for sympathy, but I want people to be aware of the dangers of it. This was very painful to write. I had these memories blocked out for years. It resurfaced when a friend of mine was doing her job in spreading awareness of this harmful practice. I thank her for unburrying it for me so I can educate people from my experience.

I teach my children to love themselves for who they are. They do not need to change who they are. They do go to therapy like speech, OT and play therapy. Nothing like I experienced.

My Comparison of ABA to Gay Conversion Therapy