ABA Is Abusive – evidence and testimonies

As an autistic adult, I find myself constantly having to explain to the parents of autistic children why applied behaviour analysis (ABA) and a variety of similar “therapies” using behaviourist techniques are harmful to autistic children – as they are to any children, but autistic kids are the ones for whom it is nonetheless still constantly pushed.

It’s absolutely understandable – they don’t know much about autism, they’re confused and afraid for their child, and their family doctor, family member, or Internet parent group is telling them ABA is “a lifesaver” and “made their kid practically normal”. But when they google a little further, they find articles calling it “controversial” and autistic adults pleading with them not to subject their child to it. Now they are confused, afraid for their child, and don’t know who to believe!

If that is you right now, please read on for an explanation, supported by scientific evidence and testimonies of personal experience – on why ABA – and other behaviourist techniques – are deeply harmful and no child should ever be subjected to them.

ABA was created by the same man who created “gay conversion therapy”, and referred to autistic children as “not even human beings” when he did so.

It uses the same techniques as gay or trans “conversion therapy” in an attempt to condition autistic children into behaving neurotypical in the way those attempt to condition a person to deny their true gender or sexuality. It is notable that those are increasingly recognised as horrifying crimes against human rights and are now banned in an increasing number of countries.




There is also a significant and growing amount of evidence that ABA not only increases the vulnerability of autistic children to grooming, sexual abuse, sexual coercion and domestic violence, as it teaches children subject to it to obey an authority figure without question, with no right to bodily autonomy or to express discomfort, fear or pain, but also massively increases likelihood of PTSD and suicidal ideation in later life. 

Here are some testimonies from former ABA providers who realised their practice was abusive:




Here are testimonies from autistic people who were subjected to ABA and how it has affected them long-term:



And peer-reviewed scientific studies on the increased risks of PTSD and suicidal ideation due to trauma from being subjected to ABA:




Here are pieces from a respected neuroscientist noting that ABA causes short-term compliance at the expense of immediate trauma and long-term severe risks to mental health (podcast link and transcript)



Notably, many ABA providers are trained to use the same techniques on the families of the autistic children they are abusing. This is designed to make parents regard them as “an ally” or even “a family friend” and disregard efforts their child makes to tell them about the trauma they’re going through at their hands. It even sometimes makes the parents feel “guilty” when they become aware of the abusive nature of ABA, as if they’re “letting the therapist down” by wanting to remove their child from them. This is a technique known as “pairing”. ABA providers use it on the children too – this is why children may start off regarding ABA “therapy” as fun. It is a specific technique they are taught to worm their way into the child and family’s trust.

This resource is for ABA providers. They advertise this fact (in case you were unable to pick that up from the site name!): https://www.iloveaba.com/2013/05/pairing.html?m=1#comment-form


So why is ABA still considered acceptable, let alone what so many doctors will push for an autistic child? Primarily, due to a well-funded ABA lobby, in the US and many other countries with insurance-based healthcare systems, ABA or other behaviourist “therapies” are the only “treatments” insurance companies will fund.

But the tireless efforts of autistic campaigners and the drip of scientific papers showing the long-term psychological damage behaviourist techniques cause is slowly beginning to have some impact.

Notably, in the US, DoD Medicare will no longer fund ABA provision – because their regular value for money assessment shows it is ineffective: http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/principles-pairing-autism-aba-technicians-hurdle-2578822

I must finish with a final point – autistic children do not require therapy for being autistic. Being autistic is normal for us. It is our neurotype.

If your child has specific difficulties in specific areas, search out therapies that will help them with those – Speech and Language Therapy for communication difficulties; Occupational Therapy for motor issues or issues doing everyday tasks.

But we don’t need therapy simply for being autistic. We need accommodation, understanding, gentle parenting, and room to be ourselves and thrive.

If you appreciate my work and would like to compensate me for my labour, you can buy me a coffee here. Thanks!

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