Applied behavior analysis

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ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is the use of simple aversion and/or reward system therapy used on autistic children: a desired behaviour is rewarded, while the disapproved behaviour is punished.[1] Some ABA therapists refuse to participate the aversion side of ABA, instead focusing on reward and praise to improve the behavior of autistic children.[2] In any case, the state of ABA therapy is getting better as the aversion aspect is getting phased out.[2] It is described by proponents as "the application of principles derived from learning theory and the experimental analysis of behavior to issues of social significance."[3] This does not much reflect how it's done in practice.


Some claim this can hypothetically be beneficial in removing harmful behaviors like self-harming, and in encouraging learning through positive reinforcement.[4] A scientific review has stated that this therapy is effective for improving intelligence, academic performance, and adaptive behavior in young children on the autism spectrum but also states the evidence strength is low.[5] Scientific consensus seems to be that ABA therapy is probably effective for young autistic children judging from the systematic reviews. More studies are needed as another systematic review concluded that they was insufficient evidence.[6]

Evidence is also seemed to be lacking for other conventional therapies for autism however the results are promising.[5] However this is NOT an excuse to try alternative medicine for autism as that probably will not work and probably harm the child.

Remember: the conventional therapists actually have evidence of actual benefit.

The bad side[edit]

Recent research shows that autistic people who were exposed to ABA are much likely to show signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, suggesting that abuse is a widespread issue.[7]

Some organisations use ABA therapy as a form of torture to the subjects. *Cough* Aversive therapy.[8] *Cough* Judge Rotenberg Educational Center using electric shock therapy.[9] Aversion therapy is considered unethical to use on autistic children.[10]

Some people do seem to seriously believe it is the cure to autism.[11] This ABA cure thing is absolute pseudoscience. Some parents seem to take too far with 40+ hours therapy per week and forcing their children on the spectrum to act completely normal — which many autism acceptance activists argue is cruel.[12] They claim that things like harmless stims are in fact beneficial to the child as it provides comfort. Canadian based researcher and activist Michelle Dawson has worked hard to have ABA banned as an autism treatment and has written in detail about its pitfalls.[13]

Introducing some messed up history: Ivar Lovaas, a proponent of ABA, used such techniques for the Feminine Boy Project - an early attempt at reparative therapy for homosexuality - at UCLA in 1974.[14]. The experiment was met with major criticism from within it a few years later. [15] [16] But experiments continued, with one of the "success stories" ending in suicide.[17] Psychiatry has some dark roots.

ABA can be used for other disorders[edit]

Current insurance policies regarding coverage of ABA-derived therapies for children with autism have caused the term ABA to become synonymous with "autism therapy", as therapists in the US trying to do actually useful things label their work "ABA" to get it funded. For example, ABA therapy can be used for the treatment of OCD.[18]

Hi, parents![edit]

Look, there are many therapies for autism, so talk with a psychologist to figure out which is best for your child. Different kids have different needs. Not all autistic children benefit from ABA, and not all autistic children need any therapy. Look at what areas your child struggles with (like communication or assertiveness or anxiety) and focus support on those. Don't worry about the things that are odd but harmless; they're usually important to your kid's well-being.

If you want your child to have ABA therapy, but don't want your kid to end up traumatized, set limits on what the ABA therapist can do. For example, agree on ground rules like no aversives, no suppression of harmless stims, and your ability to review therapy goals. Always try to find an ABA therapist that understands you and likes your kid.

There are resources available to help you distinguish between helpful and harmful therapy.[19] Reading from and talking to autistic adults can also help you figure out what is and isn't a good idea for helping an autistic kid.

Alternatively, let your autistic child autism autistically and don't try to turn them into yet another part of the neurotypical hivemind. You'll never succeed. They're always going to be autistic, and most likely everyone will be happier if everyone accepts that. Instead, look for ways in which you help your child be themselves within neurotypical society. Even the use of rewards to try and eliminate autistic traits can ultimately be harmful in the long run, as it teaches autistic children not to be themselves, which can have a negative effect on self esteem.