*Please note that this interview is not an attack against well-intentioned parents who use Applied Behavior Analysis. I personally know a few parents who employ ABA in the home and these parents are great people with their children's best interests at heart. ABA is, however, controversial and questionable.
Behavior analysis is a science that studies the behavior of people, as well as the behavior of animals. It is a science (though some note it as a pseudo-science) attempting to explain, predict, record, and understand behavior. Applied Behavior Analysis is used as a teaching tool for autistic children.
Some examples of controversies surrounding ABA: lack of autistic rights (ex: psychodynamic acceptance), misinformation surrounding ABA, discrepancies in the training of ABA practitioners despite the existence of a Behavior Analyst Certification Board, widespread misunderstanding of autistic behavior, et cetera.
Interview with Anonymous
Elesia: What drew you into the field of Applied Behavior Analysis? What type of training did you receive, and what qualifications were required for you to be hired?
Anonymous: I took an Experimental Analysis Behavior course where I was exposed to Behaviorism. Toward the end of the term, my class completed an introduction to B.F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior. A guest speaker, the director of a language treatment clinic, visited my class to give a presentation. The director showed us how the theories we had studied applied to treating children with developmental disabilities. He spoke about his cases, mentioning that his clinic had over an 80% success rate. I was hooked, so I applied to intern. I loved playing with the children, as I related to them well, plus I had a knack for working with difficult children. I had just turned twenty-one years old, and this work gave me a way of understanding my own social interactions.
After graduating with a B.S. in Applied Psychology, I had to go through a one-week ABA training again, where materials from both my class and interning were reviewed. Additionally, there were trainings on how to respond to difficult behaviors by giving alternative demands, ignoring the behavior, et cetera. Assault training was also incorporated where we were taught combat moves for defense of both the children and ourselves. We also learned policies and protocols.
As far as qualifications, the only requirement was to possess a B.A. degree, preferably in psychology, social work, or another similar concentration.
Elesia: How long did you work as an ABA therapist? Did you ever begin to have misgivings or second thoughts about this work?
Anonymous: I officially worked as a therapist for one year.
One day, I was sitting next to one of my favorite clients. He was the sweetest nonverbal foodie (he ate everything) who smiled often, and listened well. We had just gone through his set of verbal training programs, and we were having a relaxing break. He was stimming [ex: finger flicking/rippling, humming, rocking, spinning] on a musical toy and then he began hyper hand-flapping. My job was to click each hand flap and *reset* his hands every time. I sat back in realization and wondered to myself: is this treatment truly helping him to become independent? Will he be institutionalized for his entire life? Why does it matter if he hand flaps? Will he find love in his life?
During this rush of emotions, it was like I saw a film reel pass my eyes, and I could see my client sitting in a home twenty years into the future, having never been given an opportunity to grow to his full potential. He had been stunted by diagnosis after diagnosis, prescription after prescription, and treatment after treatment.
How do we expect to *socialize* someone if we never give them a chance to interact socially, and we treat them as if they are rehabilitated animals at a nature center of some sort?
I began to take on a new attitude regarding therapy. I changed the way I connected with the children I worked with, avoiding operationalized responses, unless I was being monitored. Though I utilized the philosophy I was trained in, I wanted mostly to make sure the kids were able to have fun, to feel love, and to have a chance to communicate with me in their own language. I formed real friendships with my clients.
Consistent environments are conducive to learning, but boredom hinders learning. I wanted to motivate learning, and not just prove learning to parents, insurance companies, and supervisors.
Due to the lack of joy in many of the children I saw, several of them exhibited depressive behaviors. There were few toys in the playrooms, and so I requested that new toys be purchased, especially since the center was charging exorbitant fees for treatments. Was there no person who could not stop to think about what those children wanted?
Some therapists assume they are great at knowing what children think because children's thoughts--in their minds--could be nothing more than simple.
Elesia: Did you ever witness any incidents that you felt either violated human rights, or disregarded a client's, or an individual's, right to dignity?
Anonymous: There were times when I witnessed a therapist become fed up with a particularly difficult client, and this therapist would pinch the nipples to get him to stop the annoying behavior. The nipple pinching method was shown to me by my closest colleague. Pinching was a common method of abuse I witnessed. Pinching is easy to do, as well as difficult to observe; we were all so hands-on with the children.
Elesia: Thank you, Anonymous, for your interview.
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