I found this controversial article on The Atlantic.
When Lisa Quinones-Fontanez’s
son Norrin was diagnosed with autism at age 2, she and her husband did
what most parents in their position do—they scrambled to form a plan to
help their child.
ABA involves as much as 40 hours a week of one-on-one therapy.
Certified therapists deliver or oversee the regimen, organized around
the child’s individual needs—developing social skills, for instance, and
learning to write a name or use the bathroom. The approach breaks
desirable behaviors down into steps and rewards the child for completing
each step along the way.
ABA was tough on everyone at first, says
Quinones-Fontanez: “He would cry sitting at the table during those
sessions, hysterically cry. I would have to walk out of the room and
turn on the faucet to tune it out because I couldn’t hear him cry.”
But once her son got settled into the routine of it, things improved,
she says. Before he began therapy, Norrin did not speak. But within a
few weeks, the ABA therapist had Norrin pointing his fingers at letters.
Eventually, he learned to write letters, his name and other words on a
dry-erase board. He could communicate.
Norrin, now 10, has been
receiving 15 hours a week of ABA therapy at home ever since. He is still
in an ABA-based school. His therapists help him to practice
age-appropriate conversation and social skills, and to memorize his
address and his parents’ names and phone numbers.
“I credit ABA with helping him in a way that I could not,”
Quinones-Fontanez says. “Especially in those first few years, I don’t
even know where we would have been without ABA therapy.”
recent years, Quinones-Fontanez and parents like her have had cause to
question ABA therapy, largely because of a fiercely articulate and vocal
community of adults with autism. These advocates, many of them
childhood recipients of ABA, say that the therapy is harmful. They
contend that ABA is based on a cruel premise—of trying to make people
with autism ‘normal,’ a goal articulated in the 1960s by psychologist Ole Ivar Lovaas,
who developed ABA for autism. What they advocate for, instead, is
acceptance of neurodiversity—the idea that people with autism or, say,
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or Tourette syndrome, should be
respected as naturally different rather than abnormal and needing to be
“ABA has a predatory approach to parents,” says Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network
and a prominent leader in the neurodiversity movement. The message is
that “if you don’t work with an ABA provider, your child has no hope.”
more, the therapy has a corner on the market, says Ne’eman. Most states
cover autism therapy, including, often, ABA—perhaps because of its long
history. But in California, for example, parents who want to pursue
something else must fund it themselves.
criticisms haven’t made Quinones-Fontanez want to ditch Norrin’s ABA
therapy, but they confuse her. She says she can see what the advocates
are saying on some level; she does not want her son to become a “robot,”
merely repeating socially acceptable phrases on command because they
make him seem like everyone else. Sometimes Norrin will approach
friendly people on the street and say, “Hello, what’s your name?” as
he’s been taught, but not wait around for the answer, because he really
doesn’t understand why he’s saying it. “He just knows to do his part,”
The message that ABA might be damaging distresses her. “I’m trying to
do the best I can. I would never do anything to hurt my child,” she
says. “This is what works for him; I’ve seen it work.”
is helpful or harmful has become a highly contentious topic—such a
flashpoint that few people who aren't already advocates are willing to
speak about it publicly. Many who were asked to be interviewed for this
article declined, saying they anticipate negative feedback no matter
which side they are on. One woman who blogs with her daughter who has
autism says she had to shut down comments on a post that was critical of
their experience with an intensive ABA program because the volume of
comments—many from ABA therapists defending the therapy—was so high. Shannon Des Roches Rosa, co-founder of the influential advocacy group Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, says that when she posts about ABA on the group’s Facebook page, she must set aside days to moderate comments.
Read the whole article HERE