Public Discourse: ABA and Autism

ABA’s application in autism treatment is receiving a lot of attention. From resolutions by the National Council for Independent Living (NCIL) to the Autism Science Foundation’s statement on the use of ABA. In the month of February the Autism Society hosted a three part Town Hall series in preparation of a position paper about ABA to be released later in 2022. The three sessions hosted by the Autism Society were segmented with one each focused on  parents, a second representing professionals and a third with autistics. The Autism Society wanted a balanced representation of those who had both positive and negative experiences with the practice of ABA. Their commitment to including multiple stakeholders and perspectives is commendable. 

 As a behavior analyst I am paying close attention to these conversations, I want to stay informed. I’m taking the opportunity to learn from other voices and perspectives. Our ethics code requires us to both collaborate with colleagues outside of our discipline and to have awareness of public statements about behavior analysis made by behavior analysts and others. Some, like the NCIL resolution, include declarations such as “…ABA is a practice that follows a long history of culturally, socially and psychologically abusive practices, all subjugating individual choice, dignity and freedom in the interest of promoting normative conduct…” . This is a reminder that our practice has not been wholly culturally responsive since its inception.

View from the side. Man sitting at table looking at open computer with coffee cup sitting next to him. Hand at forehead. Appears to be thinking. Wearing white shirt, short brown hair.As James Baldwin so eloquently instructed us,  “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We have the opportunity to listen to our stakeholders and make changes, to use our science and knowledge for the greater good. We can ensure ABA in autism intervention meets its objectives of promoting socially significant change, encouraging wellbeing and resulting in a high quality life for every autistic person.