Applied Behavioral Analysis: An Autistic Perspective

ABA is not the most effective means of reducing problemaic behaviors in autistic people. It is not useless and it is a tool that should be used but, let’s be clear, it is not a great means to treat most autism. The most effective means is trial and error in the context of social immersion with a peer ally. The idea behind ABA is to treat problematic behaviors in a context where normies don’t get offended. If you can condition them out of problematic behaviors in a private setting then the public is rescued from the horror of having their feelings hurt by weirdness. The institutions are going to get more “normal” adults if they let the kids be weird and let social immersion and some special friends alongside them iron out and guide them there. ABA should be used for behaviors which are so inappropriate that should not happen in public or so severe and impeding to functionality that they require more intense help.

ABA and its current popularity is, partially, born of the hypersensitivity and fears of the uncanny natural to bourgeois suburban culture. If people can’t handle being offended by a tweet or a comedian, they are equally livid and petrified by the social quirks of a special needs person and will desperately try to change them to abate their rage and terror and in such a manner that is contained and inivisble to them. My advice to the institutions are to grow testicles and get the courage to tolerate their neurodivergents. The chief issue with ABA among the autistic community is that it is regarded as conversion therapy but that argument is problematic since it supposes a deontology that all differences should be accepted. While caveats and amendments can be made after, a utilitarian premise is easier.

Until recently, ABA emphasized compliance with neurotypical wishes. The most common way disbled people (included myself earlier) are bullied is “Circus Monkey” bullying where the lack of social awareness of a disabled person is exploited for the amusement of their bullies. ABA basically spent the first decades of its existence giving bullies easy victims.

There is a cost benefit analysis of whether the masking induced by ABA, when other methods are less merited, is a worthwhile price for the eudemonia and welfare of society, generally. ABA comes with some psychological side effects for the patient, namely the hypervigilance and self-consciousness that masking entails. The symptoms of masking are cited as contributing to the four times average autistic suicide rate. Most autistic people who mask don’t kill themselves but do get PTSD and we must ask whether a behavior is so troublesome that some PTSD is worth it. If an autistic person throws incessant tantrums in public, I’d say the PTSD is a worthwhile risk. Normal repetitive behaviors are another story. Most Asperger’s traits are either perfectly ethical and should be accepted or are not so bad that guided immersion isn’t a better option. The valid uses of ABA are few and myopic.

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