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Well, that got a little heated... (on ABA) :: Part 2

Posted May 20 2009 1:24pm
I got a reply to what I wrote last night. The person with whom I am discussing this is currently working as an ABA therapist in Ontario (pardon me, that's IBI in Ontario). I'm afraid I don't recall just when she finished her training program.

She said she's skimmed Michelle Dawson's paper on ABA and will read it later; she is offended by the use of "autistics" in it:
We only use people first language, so we don't really use the word "autistic." So, to me Dawson's article is like reading an article advocating the well-being of First Nations people that keeps referring to them as "Indians."

She also points out that they don't use aversives at all and defines the types of punishments used in the programs. (I, of course, know all about this, as I worked in the field for several years.)

Ontario defines ABA as a treatment, not an educational method. Why am I not surprised? Let's ignore what it truly is in favour of the definition that will get the most attention! (That's autism advocacy at its best, people!)

And, of course, I get the line about helping the children be as independent as possible. "It's not about making them appear normal, it's about independence!" Except that in ABA programs, little attention is paid to the actual developmental curve the child is on. No, we must instead focus on where the child "should" be, according to his age. Never mind that autistic development is not only delayed, it is markedly different from non-autistic development. That's why the skills profiles of autistic people are spotty. They tend to develop more advanced skills without first developing what the rest of us would consider to be "foundation" skills. I don't totally understand how that's bad; Einstein was unable to perform simple arithmetic, but he was able to come up with profound theories about how the world functions.

Anyway, here's what I said in response:
Michelle herself is autistic, so she's using the term she herself is most comfortable with. I prefer to use the word as an adjective, but I say "autistic children," "autistic adults," and "autistic individuals" out of respect for the preferences of the vast majority of autistic people I have met, both on and off the internet.

I would be appreciative of the literature review reference.

ABA is educational. That is what it is. Pretending that it's going to eradicate autism is what people are doing when they call it a treatment and call it medically necessary. It isn't. Autistic people won't die without ABA. Not if they are receiving the correct supports to enable them to live as independently as possible.

I know a woman in the US who is "severely" autistic. She also has a movement disorder. She lives on her own, with staff who come into her home during the day. She communicates with an augmentative communication device - she types, it talks for her. She uses a wheelchair a lot of the time, because her movement disorder affects her ability to walk.

I know an autistic man in the US who has a full-time job (last I checked, at least) and who prefers typing to speaking. He used to talk all the time, but eventually found that the energy it took to form speech just wasn't worth it. He can express himself much better if he types it out.

I know autistic adults who have had "nervous breakdowns" in their twenties because they have been "pretending to be normal" for so long. It is incredibly stressful to try to be something you aren't (or at least to appear to be so).

I speak from extensive experience. I spent my entire life trying to be someone I wasn't. Then I got my ADHD diagnosis, and things changed. I'm ADHD. That explains a lot of my "quirks" and most of the things I have always had difficulty with in my life. The world isn't set up for me any more than it is for autistic people. My executive functioning problems get me labeled "lazy;" my distractability gets me labeled "ditzy;" my hyperfocus gets me labeled "obsessive." But put me in a situation where my "deficits" are accommodated and my gifts are channeled, and I am incredibly successful.

It's the same with autistic people. The challenge is finding the right situations and environments for them, particularly since autistic people have so many more sensory processing differences than most ADHDers.

By the way, I'm not picking on you. You just happened to ask about something I am incredibly passionate about. This is helping me put things into words. So thank you for the dialog. (And for what it's worth, I felt the exact same way you do, ten years ago when I started in the field.)
And now it's time for me to go do something else for a while.
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