A Quick Q&A on Behavior Therapy

An adult looking at a child, who's trying to eat a card with the number seven on it.
Behavior therapies have been the standard "treatment" for autism for a long time, but are losing popularity. Here's a little on my position in this regard.

What’s your position on ABA?

I don’t like it. I won’t recommend it. I want it to become extinct.

That’s my position. I’m not going to throw it in your face, or try to talk you out of doing ABA.

People have pushed their opinions on me before, and I wasn’t okay with that, so I try not to do that to others.

If you’re interested, you can read more about why I don’t recommend ABA here.

Are you saying I shouldn’t continue behavior therapy?

I’m not going to tell you what choices to make.

But is it working? Is the time and effort and drama and money that you’re putting into it making a significant difference? Many families find only marginal results. 

The behavior therapists say this is because autism is so bad, but what if it’s because it’s the wrong technique?

Treating autism with behavior therapy is like putting a Band-Aid on a cat.

Sure, the cat has a cut and it needs to be treated so it doesn’t get worse, but the Band-Aid isn’t going to stick because there’s too much fur in the way.

Besides, the cat has a very definite opinion about the Band-Aid, and is going to roll and rub and fight it till she gets it off.

But my kid’s ABA isn’t like that.

It might not be.

Sometimes therapists use the label of ABA just to get insurance to pay for it, even if it isn’t really ABA.

Here are two good articles to tell if the therapy your kid is doing is worth reevaluating.

Autism Therapy Red Flags All Parents Need to Know and Watch Out For

How to Tell if an Autism ABA Therapy Is Harmful

But we need help with behaviors. What is coaching going to do?

What coaching can do for you, is to offer you insight into what your kid is going through. How he experiences the world. How she feels when X happens. What’s going on inside his skin and head. 

When you begin to see you child’s behaviors as stress symptoms instead of misbehaviors, you will look at your child in a whole new way. All of a sudden, you won’t be fighting with behaviors.

You’ll be listening to what her behaviors are trying to tell you, and working with your child to find ways to treat or work with the underlying issue, so the challenging behaviors naturally reduce themselves.

What are your thoughts on the people who do behavior therapy?

Most behavior therapists are caring, thoughtful people who really want to help autistic kids.

They went into this work because they wanted to make a difference, yet were taught a lot of things about autism that are based on outdated models of what autism is and how it works with no input from autistic people themselves.

I completely understand why some people who work in behavioral models are resistant to opinions like mine. It can be really difficult to hear that what you’ve been doing to try to help people, with all the best of intentions, may have been doing the opposite.

I’ve had to make that leap in other areas of my life as well, and it was not easy or comfortable, so I appreciate the position these practitioners are in.

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Picture of Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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