By: Ashleigh Lara, RBT
The field of Applied Behavioral Analysis can get a bad rap. This sub-par reputation finds its roots in the dark history of early ABA, clinics or technicians not following the ethics code, or misinformation from those who do not understand the science. That being said, it’s time to bust the myths of ABA by learning the TRUE goals and standards of the field.
ABA therapy seeks to eliminate unwanted behaviors like stimming
Applied Behavioral Analysis is the study of the relationship between the environment and socially appropriate behaviors. The goal of ABA is to provide the skills and tools to promote the highest quality of life for the client. If stimming (self-stimulatory behavior, e.g. hand flapping) is not physically or socially harmful to the client, ABA does not seek to eliminate the behavior! However, if the client or parents communicate that the stimming has resulted in the client being unable to make friends or being physically harmful to oneself or others, the BCBA and therapy team will then work on finding a more appropriate replacement behavior that can minimize the behavior that is harmful to the client. Other “unwanted behaviors” ABA may work to eliminate would be behaviors that are harmful to the client or others, such as: head-banging, eloping, and aggression. Many people misrepresent ABA as a field aiming to “change” who a person with autism is. Contrastingly, ABA aims to teach the client skills to be WHO THEY ARE while living the best quality life they can.
ABA focuses on behavior but doesn’t take into consideration individual needs
While ABA does focus on socially relevant behavior, all technicians and BCBA’s are trained to maintain client dignity by ALWAYS considering the client’s needs/wants/desires. Maintaining client dignity is actually part of the Behavioral Analysis Certification Board’s Ethics code! Therefore, if a clinic or therapist is observed to ignore or go against the needs of the client and the client’s family, they could be breaking the ethics code and could be reported to the BACB. Examples of maintaining client dignity would include: supplying a snack if the client communicates hunger, running a less intensive session if the parent reports a poor night’s sleep, taking brain breaks, calling parents/ending the session if the client is showing symptoms of illness or severe discomfort.
ABA therapy is conversion therapy
FALSE. Let’s get into some of ABA’s darker history to understand why some people believe ABA is a type of conversion therapy. When ABA began in the mid-19th century, there was no ethics code, no educational requirements, and no one to hold anyone else accountable. During this time, there were a lot of unethical practices for unethical reasons. Methods, such as electric shock, were practiced and the procedures were incredibly rigid. Sadly, but understandably, early practices traumatized many who went through this form of ABA, typically referred to as “Old ABA”. ABA has since made huge strides to separate itself from its sad start by developing an Ethics Code and Committee, an international board that requires training and the passing of an examination, as well as adjusting its practices to follow a person-centered approach. This means the “New ABA” has much higher standards, puts the client FIRST, refrains from any harmful interventions or practices, and maintains flexibility within the session. That being said, ABA is NOT conversion therapy and has ZERO intent to impact a person’s sexuality or make a person “less autistic”. The goal of ABA is to teach skills and provide tools so the client can live the highest quality of life while maintaining their unique personality and preferences.
ABA is harmful or abusive
The truth is, when ABA is implemented by well-trained BCBAs and technicians under the correct supervision, ABA can be incredibly beneficial for the clients and their families. However, it is also true that INCORRECT implementation of ABA can be more harmful than no intervention. This is why it is extremely important for those in the field of ABA to follow the ethics code standards to ensure quality services are being provided. Additionally, going back to the dark history of ABA, there are some clinics still known to practice harmful intervention practices. It is these clinics, technicians, and BCBAs that continue to limit both the progress of the client and the field as a whole. Furthermore, the technicians and BCBAs that DO follow the ethics code strive to provide the highest quality services with fidelity.
There are plenty of misinformed ABA myths or half-truths out there. However, the current practice of ABA has massively raised its standards to ensure the science is benefiting the client rather than harming them. Have questions? Feel free to research the BACB ethics code or contact the Cutting Edge ABA teams!