Sunday 16 August 2020

Baffling Behaviourism and Autism


A sign saying Door To Remain Closed At All Times

Let's talk about Mary.

Mary, age 28, found herself in a day care centre.  We don't know if she wanted to be there.  Mary had a learning disability.  Mary wanted to leave the room she had been placed in, and go somewhere else.

Behaviourists were employed to stop her.

Here's an extract from the research paper about Mary and some others.  The paper can be found at 

Lehardy, R. K., Lerman, D. C., Evans, L. M., O'Connor, A., & LeSage, D. L. (2013). A simplified methodology for identifying the function of elopement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis46(1), 256-270.

So, Mary wants to leave the room.  If she does not ask in Just The Right Way, the Applied Behaviour Analyst physically blocked her.  If necessary, using physical force to stop her, along with refusing communication with her until she complied.

Where are Mary's rights in all of this?

Does the presence of a learning disability mean that Mary has no right to decide for herself what she does with her days?

Does the learning disability mean that Mary must comply with the instructions and physical force of a stranger, to prevent her opening a door?

No, it does not.

But, in the world of Behaviourism, Mary has few rights.  Anything a behaviourist deems to be potentially 'dangerous' can be prevented.  Thanks to the way their research is conducted and written up, if a behaviourist deems that a tiny behaviour could become dangerous in future, that tiny behaviour can be stopped.  By force.  By hour after hour of relentless coercion.

Here's some more examples, from recent research done by the Applied Behaviour Analysis industry (ABA, sometimes now called Positive Behaviour Support (PBS))

Picture of text showing that child must not move their fingers

A picture of text showing that autistic child must not move their finger

I wish these were the only examples I have.  There are journals full of these.

The behaviourist claims that moving a finger today will mean full-on self-harm if we don't stop it.  Some claim that if we don't 'normalise' the child, they will be denied basic human rights by others, so it's only right to do so.  Despite evidence that the normalisation process leads to suicide and poor mental health.

Everything is about the power and control of the behaviourist, and the hopeless cluelessness of the autistic people and people with learning disabilities.  

This is astonishing, isn't it. Utterly inappropriate, in fact, in my view.

Most recently, we have a paper claiming that young autistic children may not move a toy unless the Behaviourist approves of the way they are moving it.  A toy knight must only be played with on a pretend castle and nowhere else, for example.  Not on the table, oh no, that would be wrong.

The child is drilled for hour after hour until they comply with the 'right' way to play with each toy.

I wish I was joking.  Here's the link to a Twitter thread about the paper.  It's not just me.  Look how many different specialists are on that thread, from different spheres of work, saying, "Heck!" or words to that general effect.

This is brand new behaviourist research.  The child is forced to comply using whatever degree of physical force is necessary.  Forcing their hands onto the toy, onto the right place.

Here's some more footage of Behaviourists forcing children's hands to be precisely where they want them to be.  And, within this link, further commentary on the serious concerns so many now have about this politically-popular but curiously evidenceless theory, now linked to potentially serious harms.

There are other blogs by me on this.  And, by so many others.

Have a read through some of the research around ABA/PBS on this one:

But, mostly, worry about Mary.  Mary, as we know, is 28.  She isn't allowed to open a door to go to a different room, in her own allegedly therapeutic environment.  People force her to do what they say.

Worry about all of the Marys, and all of the others forced to perform as inmates of an asylum instead of as people living their own choice of best lives.

Let's change this awful narrative, and listen to autistic people about what we actually want.  It isn't ABA.  It's trust, respect, sharing, communication (in whatever way works best).  It's changing the attitudes of the people round us, not forcing us to be perfect robots to our detriment.

This is 2020.  We're not in the 1940s any more.

Thank you for reading.