Monday 22 January 2024

Why is Brand New ABA still relying on evidence from these methods?


A photograph of a padded cell

On social media, I am often told that Applied Behaviour Analysis is now kind, ethical, considers potential harms, and seeks consent or assent from all participants.  I am also often told that it does not use punishments on autistic individuals (or indeed other people).

Oddly, the evidence doesn't support this positive view.

Today, for example, this paper appeared in the research journal lists.  It's from the Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) industry.  

In it, the researchers search for good ways to stop 'extinction bursts' from the children.  In other words, where a child fights back against the ABA team and continues to do the alleged 'bad behaviour', sometimes getting much worse before the child gives up and complies with the team.

The team set out a lot of very troubling information.

The children are as young as three years old.

There appears to be no mention of the children giving their assent to any of this, or how they would signal a lack of assent.

There is no discussion of the ethics of what the team is doing.

There is no mention of considering potential harms or adverse effects from ABA, nor discussion of how the original teams did any follow-up to find out if their alleged treatment 'worked'.

The 'bad behaviour' included trying to escape from the padded cells (no, you're not imagining this - that's where the 'treatment' takes place).  Or, falling on the floor, which could be a form of epilepsy, or a motor co-ordination difficulty, not a behaviour.  Or saying anything the team didn't like.  Or trying to take items of clothing off, which might be a sensory pain situation for the child. 

We are told that the children had this 'treatment' for 6 hrs a day, 5 days a week, for example.

The paper makes a lot of mention of punishers given to the children to force compliance from them.

It's hidden behind a paywall, like most ABA research.

Now, I am sure there will be some who say, "But Ann, this is based on older research.  We don't do this stuff now, honest guv".

But, this is brand new research.  And, if the ABA industry doesn't do this stuff now, where are the team discussing how they don't do this now?  Where is their ethical consideration?  Where is their denouncement of the punishers and the padded cell and the endless compliance-training to stop children from trying to escape this (in my view) living nightmare?  Where is the consideration of consent/assent and how meaningful it is if a child fighting, trying to escape or shouting is all seen as 'noncompliance' and not as 'a child saying no to this treatment'?

Is this brand new ABA?  Or is this yet another endorsement of the very same ABA it's always been?

We need to move on from the 1980s.  This wasn't fit for purpose then, and it's not fit for purpose now, in my view.  

I'll leave you to have a look at the external research on ABA, which can't even find evidence of it doing anything much to 'improve' the behaviour it sets out to 'improve', except in the very short term when stared at by the compliance team. Plenty in this blog.  Plenty on X, where I discuss the ABA findings regularly.

If you are in a position to rethink the 'therapy' your child is having, please do.  There are better, kinder, modern, collaborative, ethical, consensual approaches that enable real progress.  Ask the autistic communities about them.  

Leave this in the past, where it belongs.

Thank you for reading.