One of the most “popular” BCBA-Ds known in the autism community is a woman by the name of Mary Barbera. She is the mother of an autistic child, and she has made a huge name for herself for being able to “turn autism around” for thousands of her kids, using an approach called “verbal behaviour”.
One look at her website, her books, or her media releases and you can see that she HATES autism. She says she was horrified, and never wanted to hear the word autism again. This was in the 90s, so maybe some benefit of the doubt could be given…. if she didn’t base her entire career off of “treating” her son with behavioural modification. If you act fast, you can eliminate tantrums, and help the child to “catch back up.” Right now, in 2021, she states that because she didn’t know how to help Lucas quickly enough, he was diagnosed with moderate to severe autism.
Mary Barbera is suggesting therefore that behavioural treatment at an earlier age could have prevented her son’s moderate autism diagnosis. However, we know that autism is a developmental and neurological disability and difference, and there is no way to change your brain structure or neurotype through behavioural treatment.
According to Mary, autism is being diagnosed at an “alarming” rate. But hmm… don’t most BCBAs argue for earlier diagnosis so that earlier intervention can be implemented? Mary Barbera’s goal therefore, is to eliminate or drastically reduce the amount of autistic children in the world. But how can that be possible when the autistic brain is a neurotype?
Mary Barbera thrives off of these parent’s fears of losing their children to the “monster” of autism. She makes money off of her books about behavioural treatment and her videos stating that autism can be “turned around”, a more palatable word for recover, I argue.
Mary Barbera and her views are praised, taught in school, viewed as the way to “help” autistic children. We will not make a dent in the discrimination and mistreatment of autistic children until Mary Barbera is challenged for her harmful and dehumanizing views of autistic children, until she stops being the go-to for parents and professionals.
Mary Barbera, I am not an epidemic. I am a human being, with a bunch of wonderful, beautiful, and important human beings in my community.