My Experience With ABA

I’ve been dreading talking about this. Dreading. I was a volunteer at an ABA school as part of my post-graduate certification. This ABA school was progressive – it used tactics like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, it was well known in the area and frequently received praise for its work. And for a while, I was really starting to think that this school was one of the “good ones”.

But the truth is, it wasn’t. There could never be a “good one” because no matter how hard they tried, the ABA industry and the ABA mindset infiltrates, and ABA has taught these workers to be numb to these children’s pain.

About a week and a half into my placement, I watched a “popular” RBT continually ignore a girl trying to get her attention (through speaking to her), until that girl was in a meltdown. That girl was then removed from the room (she seemed extremely confused), and the other children were told that they would get “points” for ignoring the girl in distress.

Before we go any further, let me say, I know I should’ve said something. I regret not doing so. But you have to understand how intimidating it was to work there. I had disclosed myself as autistic, and I was pretty low on the totem pole at that place. Also, even though it had only been a week, I felt pretty desensitized to “behaviours”, after being told, several times, that I had to be firmer, stricter, stop assuming things about these kids, where was the data, stop, stop, stop Taryn stop, FIRMER, ignore it, stop letting them escape, FUNCTION OF BEHAVIOUR, STOP, FIRMER. I shut down watching that girl be pulled from the room. I shut down when I had to watch a boy being restrained because he ran out of the classroom. I shut down. I shut down.

I should have said something. But when you’re an autistic person, and every time you question something, they start in a speech about behavior analysis, you can see it – behind their eyes – they’re reading off a script. A script they live by now.

There was good moments at that school too. Sometimes it seemed like they were doing good things. Sometimes it was gentle, kind, loving. Or at least it looked that way.

But it was still ABA. It was still hurting them. It was hurting me. And maybe it was hurting the professionals too. I don’t know. But I do know that even if I was desensitized after a week, I can only imagine how desensitized they must be after years.

A scary thought.

Published by Taryn Jaye

Autistic. Writer, advocate, and future therapist. Yes, I support individuals with high-support needs.

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