The Controversy Around ABA Therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis)


It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally made it to the release of my research and look into one of the most controversial therapies commonly recommended for autistic people in the United States: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

Please note that this is not even everything that could be mentioned and there is a wealth of information and personal accounts regarding different aspects floating around on the internet for your consumption. During editing, there were some points that I didn’t directly state but I believe are possible to infer from the information provided.

The full (minorly edited) interviews from the ABA group, “ABA-based” group, and former RBT will be released in the following weeks. If you have the time, I highly encourage you to take a look at them as it will provide the full context for statements and also bring up things I couldn’t or didn’t cover in the video.

Full interview with ABA group:
Full interview with “ABA-based” group:
Full interview with former RBT:

References and sources used in this video can be found here:

I found this information and these criticisms immensely important to share to help inform. However, I want to repeat the request for respect for those included in the video. I sincerely believe people are only acting in what they think is the best interest of their children or clients.

I would also like to acknowledge that there are more extremes out there. The people I spoke with were all from very moderate groups, perhaps what people aim for when they say that ABA isn’t “bad” anymore. Despite what may be shown in positive lights, there are plenty of places that have, from parent testimony, openly and casually made a direct correlation between an autistic child and training dogs.

However, I didn’t want this video to be skewed deeply in one direction or another, though I do take a clear stance regarding my personal views and where research led me. I want this video to be more informational than any sort of attack or fear mongering.

I also want to make it clear that I am NOT accusing ANYONE of anything and do not intend to infer that the professionals interviewed are bad people or doing bad things. A lot of statements used were to indicate the thought patterns and philosophy behind ABA and behaviorism, and how those could potentially lead to negative effects, not to attempt to say or imply that anyone included in this video that I had contact with are causing negative effects.

I encourage you to look at the information presented and make up your own mind. I also highly encourage you to proceed with caution if you are considering ABA for your child or family member or to become a practitioner, as it is shown, there is a wide range of how people implement ABA in any given space.

There are other evidence-based options for autistic individuals who need extra support. Not having ABA does not mean not helping autistic children.

If you find this video helpful, informative, eye-opening, interesting, or anything of that sort, I would appreciate you sharing it. Even if you disagree with some of my thoughts or how I presented things, I’d love for there to be an open conversation.

Timestamps:
00:00 – Introduction
01:45 – What is ABA?
04:13 – ABA’s Psychological Influences
07:37 – Psychology’s Failure & Ivar Lovaas
12:06 – The First ABA Programs or The Lovaas Method (EIBI)
18:02 – What ABA Programs Look Like Today
38:50 – Defining ABA
44:47 – ABA Practitioners
01:01:10 – Compliance, Expectations, & Bodily Autonomy
01:08:26 – Adhering to Data Over Actual Needs
01:10:53 – Compliance in Sensitive Situations
01:16:14 – Preferred Items & Misunderstanding Autism
01:22:37 – Trying to “Fix” Autistic Children
01:34:28 – Generalizing Skills & Working Against How Autistic People Learn
01:37:48 – “Appropriate Play”
01:41:56 – Emphasis on External Motivation
01:43:10 – “Everyone Uses ABA”
01:44:32 – Self-Injurious Behaviors
01:47:33 – “ABA Has Changed”
01:53:23 – Cornerstone Study for ABA & “Evidence-Based”
01:58:42 – Recent Report Shows ABA Ineffective
01:59:32 – Psychological Impact on Autistic People
02:03:42 – If Not ABA, Then What?
02:07:44 – Conclusion

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30 thoughts on “The Controversy Around ABA Therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis)”

  1. *NOTE*
    For those who have difficulty with mentions of abuse, emotional or otherwise, please proceed with caution. Parts of this video may be upsetting to some, especially autistics.

  2. ABA is a way to parents don't get shame about their kids and make kids miserable. It's such a misunderstanding about autism that is grose. Listen to Autistic people that are verbal and can talk about It and not a stupid neurotypical psychiatrist.

  3. i went through this as a kid. Probably one of the most uncomfortable moments in my life at that time because apparently in the early to mid 1990s (I was diagnosed formally with Aspergers Syndrome in 1993 at 3 years old) with all the funds and stuff the government was throwing at the military at the time (I was an Air Force brat) you'd think the dept. of Veterans Affairs and DoDDs would be able to let Spectrum Military families have better more ethical therapies….NOPE! I learned when I was a teenager that the VA didn't even recognize my level of Autism. Which really make one wonder what else does the military "forget to recognize"? Personally, this "therapy" is nothing short of manipulative as it uses a rewards/punishment system in order to make Spectrum kids "act normal".

  4. Absolutely fantastic video! It made me sick at time’s especially since I have autistic brothers who were forced through ABA. I remember the crying, screaming, and frustration they went through as a kid and I remember my mom thinking she was doing her best for them. Just all around awful but I wanna help make better treatment of Autistic people

  5. TD;RL: OT is pretty cool I respect OT therapists.

    I've been going to the same OT place for around 2-3 years, and have left due to mastering the skills we worked on. It was absolutely amazing going there every week, and I always looked forward to it because there was so much to do. They basically had the ultimate indoor playground and craft area, where I could play around. Working on my goals were also fun! I had a finger dexterity goal, and to improve that one we made tons of cool little crafts I could bring home (some I still have today!) After we did some of my goal I got to pick whatever I wanted to do, which would usually be try out a new swing they had. (THEY HAD SO MANY)

    Most of this is probably just me going on a tangent. I fully respect anyone working in OT to help improve autistic peoples lives.

  6. I'm not autistic, but, I'd freak out if I was a child trapped in a room with an adult who is putting his or her hands all over my body and kissing me. There's no excuse for touching a child that way, EVER.

  7. I should probably mention that one of the autism support centers in Newfoundland that practices both social thinking and ABA is in the basement of a pharmacy which has METAL BARS over whatever very few small windows they have.

  8. As an autistic and ADHD adult, I am in ABA now because I often make the choice to not do daily self-care and my homework in an extreme manner that is causing me many issues. I believe that if I was identified as being autistic sooner and if they knew how much I would struggle in the future, I could've been helped through ABA sooner. I do not agree with how ABA was founded, how it used to be, and how it can be with bad practitioners. I do believe that it can benefit certain individuals and can be implemented in a caring, ethical way. There is a lot of work to be done in this field to make it so that it is always implemented in the best way.

  9. Please do not put music in your videos. It is completely unnecessary and adds zero value to the video. I am an Autistic adult and the ONLY thing your bass beat does is make me have massive meltdowns which makes it impossible for me to listen to the content. I love your content. Please make your videos more accessible to Autistic people who have severe auditory sensrory processing disorder. Thank you.

  10. It would be nice if you used modern footage of the practice. This video is incredibly misleading and most ABA's, RBT's, etc. work nothing like this now.

    I work as a DSP in a group home for Autistic teenage boys. I see ABA's and RBT's work with the kids I take care of five days a week. All four of them are non-verbal and exhibit aggressive behaviors for a multitude of reasons. I have seen two clients in particular who's quality of life has improved dramatically just from a few months of practice.

    For example: I have a client that we'll call M.A. M.A. was previously diagnosed as totally non-verbal (you may not like the phrase but it's the scientific term being used right now. Sorry…) but family and loved ones noticed that M.A. loves to mimic others and is quite good at it. We tried everything to get M.A. to try and convey through just one word any needs he may have with very little progress. It wasn't until his ABA showed up that things started to change. After about TWO WEEKS of practice, M.A. would use single-word prompts to tell staff what he wanted. It has now been about 8 months since he got his ABA and he can now say "I want _" with no problem whatsoever. He has to say it slowly, one word at a time, but he can do it with 100% consistency. He only has trouble if someone tries to rush him.

    Here's another: We'll call this child C.C. He had practically no communications skills other than single-word prompts. The vast majority of the time, when he wanted something, he would immediately engage in Self Injurious Behaviors and it would oftentimes escalate into aggression towards staff if they couldn't give him what he wanted. C.C. started receiving help through his RBT about 14 months ago and hasn't been aggressive for approximately 5 months. His baseline for SIB's has been reduced by nearly 90% and like M.A. can also say, "I want _" without any issues. He can also type his parent's name, their address, the address of the group home and even the phone numbers of his parents. None if which he was able to do before. He no longer coughs in people's face to get attention, he doesn't repeat the same work for hours on end and he also no longer obsesses over his housemates getting more attention than him. This is a child that before he met his RBT was considered "impossible to work with" by a majority of staff that came through our house. Now he's our model client.

    That being said, when I see someone as high-functioning as yourself talk about a program that you most likely haven't even participated in, when I know for a fact that it works when done properly, infuriates me to no end. I wish you could meet the parents of these truly amazing children so they themselves could tell you how wrong you are.

    I would also like to point out that in both cases, these children have an incredible relationship with their ABA and RBT respectively. They're like family to them and the kids light up the moment they enter the house. The ABA/RBT NEVER lay a single finger on the kids nor do they ever tell them that that they can't do anything unless they are physically hurting themselves or others, and not even then are they allowed to go hands-on with the kids. We have to step in to de-escalate the situation and, God forbid, perform CPI if someone is in physical danger. So stop spreading misinformation about abuse. I'm sure there are some companies out there that do indeed practice this way, but to blanket every single ABA and RBT in this light is completely disingenuous and, quite frankly, places you in a place not that far off from the same people that blanket all people with Autism as the same when there is a massive spectrum to take into consideration.

  11. Yes, I made it to the end.
    Yes, you do have some ideas I may disagree with.
    Yes, I deeply appreciate the amount of effort you put into this.

    I've been having these weird Inception movie moments in my head because I was exposed to the autism community years before I knew anything about autism and also years before the existence of autism speaks. I was hanging out with the autism rehabilitation therapists. I knew these were not bad people. So I needed to explore what was going on.

  12. Methods like this can backfire, especially with kids who also have ODD or conduct disorder. I had ODD and autism and people used to get angry when I had "tantrums" because I was overstimulated or tired from socializing 5 days a week 8 hours a day with school, then 1-2 hours therapy, then coming home and having screaming siblings and no room for myself. My parents would hit me or attempt to humiliate me in front of others. Even take food away from me… sometimes for days.

    I started to fight people, use weapons, severely injure myself to cause medical bills, and vandalize stuff including breaking windows or flushing pens and washcloths down the toilets. Told them exactly why and that I would keep doing it forever until they stopped, I was old enough to leave, or I was dead and it didn't matter how much they hurt me. When I dropped out of school at 16 and was left alone by my parents, I became a pretty ok person to be around. All I wanted was to be treated with dignity and have my boundaries respected, or be left alone. I figured if I couldn't have dignity or boundaries, I would make being around me so miserable that everyone would leave.

  13. Thank you for making such a comprehensive video! This is everything that I wanted to know about ABA. I'm still researching myself, as one must, but it's so helpful to have all of this great info in one place.

  14. Fuck ABA you damn evil fucking monsters trying to change someone’s life forcing them to do what you say NAH bro I don’t wanna hear any any ABA shit I have high functioning and I don’t need this and I don’t need to worry about this because I will never need it and I act just like a normal person that’s why we all need to trust God we live in a corrupted world and evil place that’s why we need to pray

  15. A lot of inaccuracies in this video, unfortunately. ABA does not promote masking, or suppressing traits… we want the kids to stim too when they aren't harming themselves. Sigh.

  16. “Lisa tantrums whenever someone attempts to teach her.” No, Lisa communicates her immense discomfort of being manhandled by an adult man 4x her size and not having her needs listened to or met.

  17. Everything isn’t for everybody. I’m sure some people choose ABA therapy—negatives notwithstanding—because they see more
    positive outcomes that make the method worth it. If you find more cons than pros on a method, then offer another method(s) with evidence of its benefits as an alternative to each of the other method’s cons. You preface your videos with disclaimers about not engaging in negative comments under your videos, etc., when your videos on these subjects are more often than not negative and critical in nature themselves.

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