Whence ABA?

Executive Brief: Despite its claims, ABA is not grounded in positive reinforcement. When used for conversion, ABA “therapy” is:

a) a punishment-based practice that

b) enforces masking compliance in Autistics to (ostensibly)

c) reduce the inconvenience experienced by some Allistics.

There is nothing positive about reinforcing fear. There is nothing positive in deliberate harm being inflicted on people just to placate the xenophobic irritation of the Dominant Paradigm. No one should be punished for transcending stereotypes.

 That punishment includes the consequent pain inherent in IEP goals for masking. 

That’s all that I really wanted to say (for the moment).

If you are interested in some elaboration, keep reading, and/or take a look at Devon Price’s book entitled Unmasking Autism.


The express justification for conversion therapy is familiar to us from such conservative social politics as the Abuser’s Whiny Lament, namely:

“My sadism is your fault. I’m not abusive. You earned your punishment. I don’t want to beat you, but you deserve it. Why do you make me beat you? You think I like hurting you?”

The ABA folks seem to think that this wording sounds better:

• Some Allistics are compelled to protect themselves by punishing those who do not follow their xenophobic rules.

• Such people will always exist.

• It is therefore an inescapable fact of life that Autistics will be targets of xenophobes.

• Therefore, Autistics should be forced to placate their bullies (with abjectly submissive obedience).

• “It’s for their own good.”

Now there… doesn’t that seem reasonable? Through ABA conversion therapy, Autistics can be (painfully) taught camouflage skills so that they will have the option available of choosing to worship their abusers (or else be beaten by frightened bullies).

To the degree that Autistics are still at risk of being murdered by an inconvenienced Allistic police officer (or some other brand of phobic), there is sadly still residual value in such a rationale (just as drained cess pits have residue), so ABA conversion therapy can be argued to still have a place in contemporary society; after all, the same kind of (dubious) merit is associated with (conservative) conversion that helps gay people to avoid being murdered by homophobes.

That said, and after having given the situation a great deal of careful consideration, I’d like to suggest an alternative proposal:

 Let’s convert the phobics instead. 

Naturally, I wouldn’t want to hurt the phobics in the process, but it would be for their own good; after all, if they learned not to hurt people for the crime of stimming (for example), then as an Optimistic Pacifist I’d be much less likely to “pound them flatter than piss on a board” (as my grandfather said at least once in the range of my childhood’s indelible hearing).

This sort of thing led me to differentiate types of “own good,” because a good deal of my life has been based on the good notion that it is good to pay attention to other people’s (own) good. I wanted to know if this were a good tool that I had been abusing.

For Their Own Good: School specialists in such fields as speech and language, autism, and behavior, are in the delicate position of making decisions based upon what we claim is for someone else’s own good. This practice is enormously dicey in its power inequity.

Our empathy is the only safety net; that is to say, without our personal experience of their pain acting as a governor on our decisions, such an approach would be unconscionable. In fact, the “our/them” distinction is non-trivially artificial (I say not just as an Autistic).

Empathy supports our striking a necessary balance, where a student is sometimes required to endure some significant discomfort in order to avoid even greater risks of harm across their lifespan; for example, they might feel a strong sense of joy at being able to run wherever they like, so they experience pain at not being allowed to run out into the street. We inflict that painful restriction to avoid the harm that would otherwise be associated with being struck by a car.

In contrast, when an Autistic is stimming, we do not inflict the pain of hunger (and damage tied to nutrient deprivation) just to avoid the harm inflicted by an Allistic who feels uncomfortable in that environment. Neither do we inflict the pains of shaming, isolation, restraint, and so on. In such cases, it is the Allistic who should adapt.

It’s one thing to help someone avoid the risks of darting out into traffic, which is a mindless threat; and another thing entirely for some Allistics to mindfully demand the luxury of pretending to be traffic, or matches, or poison, or baby carrots, or any of the other indiscriminate hazards that we reasonably help our students to learn to live with (or without) safely.

To reiterate, entirely unlike those mindless risks, Allistics are not mindless. They are evitable. Such people can (and should) learn not to stigmatize stimming, and similar.

But when we finally do get to the point where people no longer tantrum-in-privilege when exposed to the likes of stimming, or sharing spacetime with people of color, or being forced to witness women wearing pants (much less men wearing dresses)… what will ABA conversion therapists do with all of their extra leisure time?


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