By Kate Norrish
Around a month ago, a person came to the lobby of the McCarthy Center to hand out pamphlets on what a career as an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist would be like. For students, this may have seemed like an interesting job opportunity.
But I can say from experience that being a child receiving ABA can be hell.
ABA is a form of therapy for autistic people to encourage social, behavioral, and independence skills. It was created in the 1960s by Ole Ivar Løvaas, according to The National Institute of Health.
According to Psychology Today, Løvaas was also heavily involved in gay conversion therapy. In fact, the techniques and philosophy applied in conversion therapy are also present in ABA therapy.
For years, ABA tended to be hyper-focused on making the person receiving it act as “normal,” or as non-autistic as possible. Stimming, a form of movement autistics use to self regulate, is often discouraged. And those receiving it are often told to maintain eye contact when speaking to people, even though for many autistic people, that can make paying attention more difficult.
There is no harm to any one in allowing this behavior. It is natural, and not allowing it can lead to meltdowns and, as I can personally say, a lifetime of feeling like a part of you is not accepted by society.
Additionally, ABA is heavily associated with electroshock therapy and restraint and isolation, the latter of which I was subjected to. Restraint and isolation consists of a person being physically held down and locked into small “isolation rooms,” sometimes for hours, when they become overwhelmed. It has also killed people, including 13-year-old Max Benson from California in 2018, according to an article in The Sun.
Løvaas himself was a supporter of electroshock treatment. To quote Neuroclastic, a website about the autistic experience, “He thought he was saving them, turning a bundle of raw nerve endings into something resembling a human being.”
Electroshock therapy is still used in Massachusetts, most famously at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in suburban Boston, according to NPR.
At the center of this inhumane treatment lies Autism Speaks, an extremely popular charity that claims to work with people with autism to make their lives as fulfilling as possible.
In reality, Autism Speaks has referred to autism as a “disaster to families,” and has shown sympathy to a mother who contemplated killing her autistic child in a PSA video. Many people, myself included, consider them eugenicists. Therefore, I would not recommend anyone to “Light it up Blue,” as it was an event created by Autism Speaks, and makes many autistic people, myself included, feel unsafe.
Instead, I would recommend supporting ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network), an organization that helps autistic people advocate for themselves.
Because of my experience in ABA therapy, I had years of severe suicidal thoughts, and my self-harm addiction was severely worsened. No one should be made to feel like that, and such a practice should not be advertised as a harmless career, especially at Framingham State.
If a therapist cannot work with a child without hurting them, then they are not a good therapist, and no matter what their neurotype, no one should be tortured because of their behavior, especially normal, autistic traits.
No matter what.