I read an article today called, “Invisible Abuse: ABA and the Things Only Autistic People See,” written by C.L. Lynch, published on The Aspergian (link below).
This isn’t the first article I have come across that carries this same message and advocates for autistic adults who claim that ABA therapy caused emotional damage and tried to make them non-autistic the way controversial conversion therapy would attempt to change a gay person. What caused me to write about this was the comments at the end of the article and how much support it received from autistic adults.
I’m writing about this because I disagree in the case of my own child. In no way do I feel like I am exposing her to abuse.
To sum up the article quickly, the author essentially proves that ABA does not consider the emotional wants or needs of the child, therefore, causing them unhappiness. It is also teaching them that compliance is valued over their own feelings.
Okay, well first of all—Did I not just describe the real world here?
For typical people, this is essentially how the world works.
If I am having a bad day and don’t want to go to work and feel like I would rather stay home and binge-watch Game of Thrones, I am expected to ignore those urges and get my ass to work.
It’s basically the same thing—we are teaching our kids how to participate and become a part of society.
After all, for my family, I want my kids to learn how to empathize beyond their own wants and desires and understand that the world does not revolve around them (just my world).
As a parent, I need to teach my daughter to respect authority, to accept the word NO, and to have consequences for her actions. Otherwise, I am setting her up for failure in life.
It doesn’t make me feel guilty to ignore tantrums and attention seeking behaviors or to follow through on rules or proposed consequences. This is part of the parenting journey and we are not our child’s friend. I care if she is hurt because she fell, not because her feelings are hurt because I told her she couldn’t have cookies for lunch. I will tune out a thirty-minute fit because it’s what needs to be done; giving in would be the easier thing to do while also teaching the wrong lesson.
“In the video with the crying child, an autistic person wonders why she is so unhappy. Is she exhausted? Overtired? Overwhelmed? And when she stops fussing and goes back to doing the work, we can see the resignation on her face. She isn’t happier. She’s just accepted that her feelings don’t matter and the fastest way to escape the situation is by complying.”
Again, getting through the school day is important. I would never teach my child that her feelings don’t matter, just how to regulate herself through the situation.
Later at home, we could address her feelings or talk about what happened at school.
To me, coping strategies and skills take precedence.
ABA therapy and techniques have made me a better parent. While this treatment may not be appropriate for everyone, it has changed my child’s life for the better.
It has enabled her to function and socialize with her typical peers (which she is conscious of and desires their acceptance), it has helped her diversify her diet to include healthier foods, and it has taught her social norms and behaviors when interacting with others. Just to name a few because let’s face it—the world isn’t changing to accommodate our kids. Its never going to become socially acceptable to hit people and scream at them until they do it your way.
Treatment plans are tailored to each individual person.
For instance, our goal is to teach our child to communicate with words and reduce aggressive behaviors, to increase her skills, and to comply when demands are put on her by authoritative figures such as parents, teachers, bus drivers, etc… These are skills that have to be taught.
And they need to be reinforced for her to function outside of our home.
What kind of life would she have if she didn’t learn that throwing things at people was unacceptable behavior? Was she supposed to go her entire life living on muffins and cheese sticks? Or shitting in diapers forever?
Every person with autism is unique. While input from someone who has autism is valued in evaluating the effectiveness of their own treatment, I have seen ABA change my child’s life for the better.
For our family, it would be abusive to let her remain in her own little world at home, isolated. I’m not putting her through anything that I wouldn’t put myself through.
In my early twenties, I went through a bout of anxiety that crippled me. I struggled to drive, leave my home, and found myself hyperventilating several times per day. I felt out of control and out of sync with myself. It took 6-8 weeks of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to become myself again. If you aren’t familiar with CBT, it is essentially training your brain to change the way you perceive the objects or situations causing anxiety.
I can’t throw away the most scientifically proven method of teaching my child how to behave because it might hurt her feelings. While it is sad that her typical peers don’t need to spend hours upon hours per week learning how to behave because they auto-adapted, I cannot deprive my child her best shot at making her own dreams come true because for her as an individual, those dreams include socializing with others.
And to do that she needs ABA therapy.