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No, I'm Not Anti-Therapy

Posted Mar 23 2013 10:07pm
I worry sometimes that people will think that because I think ABA discourages independent learning, causes problems with lack of generalization and prompt-dependence, is ineffective for teaching complex skills, and sometimes becomes abusive, I don't want autistic kids to get therapy.

The opposite is true: I want there to be more research about how we learn and how to best teach us, and I want every autistic child to have access to good, useful therapy that will teach things that we need to know. I'm all for speech/language therapy, AAC, occupational therapy, IEPs, assistants, aides, and either accommodated mainstream or separate-classroom education, whatever helps most.

I know autism is a disability. I know it creates issues that aren't addressed by the education available to NT kids. So I agree that we need extra help. It wouldn't be a psychiatric diagnosis if we didn't.

What I disagree with is the idea that the best way to treat autism is to try to shape a child's behavior into an approximation of NT behavior. An autistic child does not have a normal brain, and so the normal way of doing things is not necessarily the best way. This is not a problem unique to autism. Children with physical disabilities are often pushed to walk rather than use a wheelchair, or walk without aid rather than with, even in cases where this means they will spend much of their energy and time on getting themselves from one place to another, rather than having that time to just be a kid. Nothing wrong with walking--it's good exercise. But the question of how to do things should be decided not by which way is most typical, but which way works best for you. If walking is possible but tough, maybe you have a scooter for long distances and wear braces to keep your ankles from wobbling when you go short distances. If it's utterly exhausting, maybe you use a wheelchair most of the time. If you don't prioritize what works best for you, then you're going to end up with ineffective, exhausting ways of doing things.

The "indistinguishable from typical" goal is not the ideal outcome for an autistic person. For one thing, the vast majority of us can't reach that goal, and even those who can will be spending effort on looking normal that they could be spending on developing talents and skills. Instead, we should be working toward a way of life that works for us, in the world we live in, the way it is--either by learning new things or adjusting what's there to make it easier for us to use.

I admit it's a bit tempting for a parent of a newly diagnosed kid to think, "I can get this fixed. That normal child I expected to have is just hiding in there somewhere." They buy into the idea that you can turn one type of brain into another just by manipulating behavior. But just like you can't cure CP by forcing somebody to walk, you can't cure autism by forcing somebody to act neurotypical, and you'll just cause them pain along the way.
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