I’m reaching out because I feel at a stand-still.
I’m currently enrolled in an ABA graduate program, and I have learned a lot so far. My issue with the program is their stance on stereotypy.
We have a student who emits a lot of stereotypy–nothing self-injurious, but definitely present. He jumps up, shakes his hands/legs, and scrunches up his face. He does this while playing, eating, etc.
My problem is that I am instructed to tell him to have “quiet hands,” and to only give him attention/praise when he doesn’t engage in these behaviors. I reallllly hate this because it is a method of self-soothing, and he isn’t hurting himself or others.
Does anyone have any literature–or personal experiences–on the benefits of emitting stereotypy? I really don’t want to suppress his stimming because I feel that it goes beyond the realm of helping them socialize (such as teaching sharing and communicating with peers), and crosses over into the “making them seem neurotypical” side.
oh, hey, figured out how to make my browser show reblog buttons
Long story short: I know lots of adult autistics, and this crap is why they mostly regard ABA as horrifying abuse.
What are the benefits of adjusting to a comfortable position? Blowing your nose when it’s stuffed? Scratching at itches? They make you more comfortable and reduce stress and make you happier and more effective at basically everything. And consider the phrase “talk with your hands”, as applied to, say, different cultural norms, like people who guesture expansively while talking. (I’ve seen this in ads for Italian restaurants as a way they express the kind of atmosphere they aim for.) A lot of these are things non-autistics also sometimes do!
So basically, your instincts are right, your teachers are horrifying torturers, and I have no good ideas on how to suggest improving this situation. But also, be aware that in general, ABA’s entire model is based on… well, you know the myth that autistics have no “theory of mind”? ABA is based on having no “theory of other mind not identical to my own”. If a person isn’t just like us, they must not be aware or intelligent. It’s nonsense. The people I know who have had good results trying to help kids learn to blend in when it’s socially necessary do so by explaining the thing. “There’s a convention that people expect you to behave this way because if you don’t you seem different and they don’t like things that are different. So sometimes it’s useful to be able to stop those behaviors for a bit so people feel more comfortable.”
It’s a budgeting thing. I can totally act neurotypical-ish for quite a while, but it burns spoons and makes me less productive. I do it when it’s useful enough to justify the costs.
I broadly agree with this, but my understanding is that describing ABA — at least in the strict Lovaasian sense — is premised not so much on “no theory of mind not identical to my own” as “no theory of mind, period, except as a black box taking stimuli and contexts for those stimuli as inputs and generating behaviors as outputs.” Or, to put it another way, “no theory of phenomenal consciousness,” or “no theory of qualia.”
Because behaviors are observable by the practitioner and qualia are not, which makes attempting to produce joy or about causing suffering unscientific.
Statements the subject makes about their experiences of joy or suffering are observable, of course, but those are themselves behaviors, and can be targeted for modification just like any other behaviors. Trying to make a child be happy is unscientific; trying to make a child smile, assert that they are happy, and/or tell their parents how grateful they are for the therapy they have received and how greatly it has improved their lives, on the other hand? Those are all perfectly valid goals, as success in achieving them can be assessed in an objective fashion.
It’s not that autistic kids (and gender non-conforming kids — Lovaas was also a pioneer in scientific conversion therapy) specifically are p-zombies. It’s just that anyone could be a p-zombie, and so there’s no reason to treat them as anything else.
So why modify a kid’s hand-flapping or feminine mannerisms instead of their parents’ attitudes toward those traits? Well, because the behavior that the practitioner wants out of the parents is for them to give the practitioner money and praise for their successful correction of the child’s deviance.
I’m not sure if this is really more or less horrifying than the version you describe, but it’s certainly different.
Of course, there’s the further complication that since “ABA” is considered to be an evidence-based treatment for autism, many insurance companies will cover “ABA” and not anything else. Which creates an incentive for people who are doing anything that could reasonably be described as analysing behavior and applying the results of that analysis to call what they’re doing “ABA,” even if their attitudes toward phenomenal consciousness are vastly different from Lovaas’s.
Which then muddies the waters further in trying to discuss how fucked up ABA in the strict sense is, since there are people out there who can honestly say “I received ABA, and it was nothing like what you were describing.”
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