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  • Writer's pictureCory Morrison

My Opinion on ABA

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

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According to WebMD, ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) is an interpersonal therapy where a client works one-on-one with a therapist. The therapy's goal is to improve social skills using learning theory methods. However, a lot of people don't approve of ABA.


Admittedly, this is not an easy topic for me to write about because of the varying opinions of others. Here is my take on it, though.


What Are My Thoughts and What Were My Experiences Like?


My Two Cents


I feel that parents should do what they feel is best for their child. No parent should tell another parent "ABA is bad choice for your child!", or "You must put the child in ABA after they are diagnosed!" Parents often know their child best. If you met one autistic person, you met one autistic person.


For me personally, I had a great experience with ABA. Sure, some days were tough and some aspects of it weren't always easy, but I've gone through worse in my life.


When I was diagnosed with autism at three in 1997, my parents could tell I was the type of person who wanted to achieve speech and other milestones such as getting a job or going to college. Doctors told my parents I'd have to live in a group home for people with autism and that I'd never converse with others. It left my parents searching for answers so I could live life the way I wanted.


Although there were some road bumps, there was a lot of progress in meeting the objectives everyone wanted me to achieve during my three years of doing ABA for over 30 hours a week, and I am still proud of that to this day.


Personal Story


For example, one day I clearly remember was when I was five, a few of my cousins came to visit and we went to Pizza Hut for dinner. I was super sensitive to the restaurant smell and I kept crying and screaming. We all decided to leave. Because my parents recognized this as a sensory issue, I don't remember them getting mad at for me the behaviour. Not even a year later, I go to the same Pizza Hut again, and while I still wasn't a fan of the smell, I was not uncomfortable and was able to eat there.


To this day, I am still not a Pizza Hut fan, though. Also, with me, sometimes all it took was a lot of exposure for me to be more comfortable with something after initial discomfort, and my parents recognized that.


Consequences


As far as consequences for behaviour goes with ABA, I don't agree with shocking (Which nobody used with me, thankfully) being used as a punishment for behaviour because this is abusive.


Also, I feel that if the child's behaviour involves self-harming or hurting others, for the sake of safety and well-being, looking at the behaviour and determining what is causing it is beneficial.


If the behaviour is due to sensory issues, I suggest that instead of getting angry at the person, you limit the person's exposure to the sensory issues. If the behaviour is not due to these issues, address it calmly to the person. There might be discipline, yes, but neurotypicals also face consequences for similar behaviour. To me, this isn't about "fixing autism", rather it is helping an autistic person navigate the world that, unfortunately, isn't always designed for them the way we would like it to be made.


Punishments get to me when they are over-the-top or if I see neurotypical people face less harsh consequences compared to me with a similar behaviour, as this would be ableist, but many adults I worked with back in the day were consistent with making sure I was treated the same as anyone else. I can't say this has always been the same with peers, however, mostly because of misunderstandings.


How Should I Prevent ABA From Being Hard for My Child if I Decide to Use It?


I feel that when a parent considers ABA, they should make sure the program is specific to their skills and interests to prevent ABA from being tough for their child. My parents did just that with me.


It's highly unfortunate that a 2018 study indicated that some autistic people who did ABA showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and I mourn for these people's experiences. I really do. However, a Toronto Star article from 2019 indicates that this study should be viewed with caution.


With these findings in mind, autism is a large spectrum because what may work for one person may not work for another. All approaches should be needs-based and be in best interest of the individual. If something isn't working for the child, I would suggest determining what is causing a behaviour or other difficulty and take appropriate courses of action sooner than later.


If I were to offer a strategy to make ABA a good experience for the child, what would it be? If a parent's gut tells them ABA would be best for their child, and if they are able to find good therapists and creative ways to make ABA fun for their child, the child may have a lot of fond memories of their time with ABA. The gut instinct is rarely ever wrong.


I spent parts of some sessions at the park, the library, the rec. center pool, McDonald's Playplace, Walmart, the mall, driving around my town to point objects in my environment, visiting my therapists' homes, even Canada's Wonderland, and much more. This was all because my parents and therapists agreed that I would enjoy doing these things. The basement table work and play time, however, I was still engaged a lot of the time.


If an activity was relatively stressful, my therapists would work with me on it and praise me once I got the hang of it. The key to me is to not force a child to be normal, but rather work and engage the child with stuff they would like to achieve or overcome.


Conclusion


In conclusion, if ABA is done correctly, I don't consider ABA to be "fixing an autistic child", but rather as a tool to help them progress in ways all parties can agree will be beneficial.


Also, because the autism spectrum is so diverse, what works best for an individual person may vary greatly.


Not everyone agrees that ABA is helpful, and there are two sides in all types of movements, but at the end of the day, a common ground people in the autism community share is that we all want what works best for the individual and for people to be accepting of those on the autism spectrum.














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