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I’d like to hear from those of you who have had experience with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for the treatment of Autism for you or your family members. Did you find it had better or worse outcomes over other therapies?

hugh 5 Sep 26
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This is what I have heard about it , and based upon this video

, my impression is negative . I sort of feel relieved that I was able to fly under the radar , back in the 90's , and so was never subjected to it in any form , if it is how it's portrayed .
Marmion Level 6 Sep 30, 2018

I've seen this video before. I would like to know what qualifications this commentator has and what are the sources of her data. She says many things which she does not source or qualify in any way. I've heard the PTSD arguement before but I have never seen any data to back it up. And she also talks about "aversives" which were used at one time but are now not included in many programs. And she talks about "training" a child to never refuse anything. This is a common misconception as part of the therapy is to not allow destructive behaviors as a means of avoidance. Asking appropriately is usually encouraged and rewarded (and by "appropriately" I mean without a tantrum or without the child being physically aggressive). And as for "breaking the child down", nothing could be further from the truth. Encouraged behaviors are rewarded profusely - high fives, "AWESOME!", "The best!", etc. Also, the emphasis she places on "socially acceptable behaviors" is a little disingenuous. The main "socially acceptable behaviors" that I am concerned with are things like not breaking things, not having a tantrum when a transition happens, eating more than just candy. I'm not concerned with flapping or spinning.
My son's been getting ABA for 3 years. We did our research and paid a lot of attention to arguement like these but never found any real data behind them. While there's a lot of data pointing to the efficacy of ABA. Nevertheless we spent a lot of time researching different places and finally went with someplace that doesn't use aversives, is based upon positive reinforcement, works with our University and has excellent reviews. We've observe the therapy multiple times and my wife receives training weekly and is there for hours. Frankly, I wish I had the calm and stamina that we see the therapists have.
One thing that does bother me when I hear these types of arguements is the statements that are always made or implied that ABA is "for the parents.". As if parents somehow only want their kids to "fit in" - like it's a way we "keep up with the Joneses" or something. There's an implication there that we somehow don't know what is best for our children or that we're not concerned with their happiness or love them less because they are autistic. Let me tell that is bullshit. My son is perfect however he is. I just want him to have a good life and be able to maybe hold down a job, support himself and perhaps have his own family someday. I think that is what we all want. I don't care if he flaps, spins, has hobbies or not, has a ton of friends or not. I just want him to be happy. And I think he'll have a better chance at it with ABA.

@towkneed I agree with you. It appears that she may have had an experience with ABA that she did not find helpful to her, but to take one's limited experience only and lambast an entire therapy without reviewing objective data of the thousands of peer reviewed studies that have been done or even without acknowledging the countless others who have benefitted from ABA is disingenuous. She mischaracterizes ABA saying that the focus is on making the child appear "neurotypical" to fit in with others thereby potentially creating trauma to the autistic child later on as the therapist fails to recognize the meaning and significance of certain autistic behaviors. I have found this to be far from the truth. ABA therapists can only work with autistic children if they already have clinical experience or, if not, they are then directly supervised by a practitioner who does have that experience. Stereotypical behaviors such as hand flapping or rocking would not be targeted behaviors for reduction. Targeted behaviors are prioritized based on the actual or potential harm they cause to the individual. Also, replacement behaviors are taught that are directly meaningful to the individual and that produce better outcomes for the individual.
The primary client is not the parents of the autistic child but the child him or herself. Therapists work with the parents, and often schools, and other caregivers to ensure that interventions are collaboratively created, research based and continually measured to ensure they are working and that there are no harmful side effects.


It can be seen as rather uneven ground due to humans rights issues. Perhaps the most important factor is an individual approach.
This therapy is not effective with every person with ASC, but I have read of some very positive results when administered by well trained professionals.
When I worked for the National Autistic Society UK, it was in effect against working policy.
As long as people don't just jump for a non-existent cure via some 'online quack', but use skilled professionals then it may be worthwhile. I think in the UK, there is only one accepted location on the Isle of Anglesey.

Sofabeast Level 7 Sep 27, 2018

Not clear on what you mean by human rights issues tied to ABA. ABA practice has been around for a relatively short amount of time, but proven to be highly effective for treatment of individuals with ASD.

@hugh It has been put by some professionals that choice is removed. To force by any means a person to do something they do not wish to do can be interpreted as punishment. There is a person I work with, who I think would blossom through ABA, but it is unlikely that we could get them into a programme. As far as I know, the Scottish government doesn't support the method at this time. It could be argued that not to give them a placement is also an infringement of their human rights (duty of care Scots law) too! As a psychology student, I'm fascinated by the methodology. I doubt I carry it though.

@Sofabeast Thanks for your clarification. I do think that any professional who argues that ABA removes choice or forces their client to do something they do not wish to do is a total mischaracterization of ABA therapy. ABA is all about respecting choice and preference and building on behaviors that are meaningful and significant to the individual. It's essentially helping individuals make choices that are healthy and socially significant to them.

@hugh I do see where it will make positive differences, but in the UK system it can be seen as abusive. A counter to the abuse argument is chemotherapy for cancer sufferers. Our set up wouldn't hesitate in letting someone that go through. So, given greater professional support it could be accepted in the UK.

@Sofabeast I've been googling and I don't see anything about ABA not being supported in the UK. Everything I see seems to point to just the opposite. Would you mind referencing your source? I've seen so much misinformation.

@towkneed Nation Autistic Society and the BBC. We can't use at work. I'll push for some investigation at college in the morning, as it sits within our area of study at the moment


I replied to another post asking a similar question and was attacked until I finally blocked a user. Be careful asking about ABA online. People feel to free to offer unqualified opinions.
My son was diagnosed ASD level 2. After 2.5 years of ABA he's now considered "high functioning". We did a lot of research and went with a place that only uses positive reinforcement and that works with our University. We haven't used any other type of therapy and are very satisfied with his progress. Although it is very expensive and we do struggle to pay for it.

towkneed Level 7 Sep 27, 2018

BCBAs have high ethical standards and should never offer specific advice online. I am very glad it worked for your son.

@hugh I agree. I meant that I've seen some people attack ABA in general when they don't really understand it. I've been subject to vitriol from anti ABA posters. I try to point out my positive experience but some people are dogmatic in their hatred.

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