An Autistic Writes on ABA

Ubirr, Kakadu, Rock Art
Ubirr, Kakadu, Rock Art

My name is Kaelynn and I have autism, ADHD and several learning disabilities. I started speaking very early and because of this, I went undiagnosed until I was 10 years old. School was always extremely difficult for me. Shortly after being diagnosed, my mother chose to homeschool me for the rest of elementary and middle school. For high school, I attended the place that I am currently employed by; a school for children on the autism spectrum. I work as an ABA therapist, I’m a Registered Behavior Technician. In the 4 years that I was a student, I learned many skills that would be a necessity for my employment. I learned the importance of eye contact and time management. I learned when certain jokes are appropriate and when they aren’t. When I was born, the chances of being diagnosed with autism was 1 in 1,000. Today the chances are 1 in 45.

ABA stands for applied behavior analysis and is a therapy that is often used for people with autism. Some people think ABA should be dismissed because it goes against the “neruodiversity” movement. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on what the neruodiversity movement actually stands for. The basic idea is that neurological conditions such as autism, dyspraxia and ADHD are to be respected and treated as any other human variant. The problem with this ideology is that it promotes acceptance not of the individual, but of the disorder. Some see it as an attempt to ‘normalize’ some of these neurological conditions. The end goal of the neruodiversity movement is to create a more accepting society. However, it fails to define the term “accepting” and therefore it has been left to interpretation. Is an “accepting society” one that does not seek to give individuals the tools to communicate effectively because they are not neurologically “wired” to do so on their own? Is it one that does not seek therapies and treatments? Is it one without hope?

Supporters of the neruodiversity movement oppose ABA because of its aim for children to become “indistinguishable from their typically developing peers”. So let’s take a moment to define what we mean by “distinguishable”. Distinguishable would be a 13 year old girl, who still needs lots of assistance in the restroom because she cannot take care of her own feminine hygiene. It would be a 6 year old boy who smashes his own head into the ground when he is asked to wait for something. Distinguishable would be a 10 year old who spends several hours a day flicking his fingers in front of his face obsessively to the point where he is unsuccessful in school. ABA can offer solutions to some of these restrictive and harmful behaviors. A child who used to engage in severe self injury due to being hungry and unable to ask for a snack, can now use his iPad to communicate that he needs something to eat. An adolescent who used to bite himself to get out of a stressful environment can instead be taught to ask to take a break or leave the situation. A toddler can be taught to point to something she wants rather than crying until someone is able to guess what it is.

To accept that a child is the way they are, and that nothing can or should be done to help them gain skills is borderline neglectful. It dismisses the idea that they have higher potential. It’s complacency. If everyone embraced the concept of neruodiversity we would have no reason to better ourselves or seek help. If someone is capable of learning to use a communication device, but some people accept grunting and whining as means for communicating, what motivation does that person have to learn more skills?

There is a difference between acceptance and understanding. If you only accept something, that means you don’t desire improvement or change and that you are satisfied with the way it currently is. Understanding comes from a place of both love and knowledge. Understanding is loving the person for who they are, while knowing that they have the potential for more. There is nothing morally wrong with teaching people to communicate and take care of themselves. In fact, it’s morally wrong not to.