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B. F. Skinner, the founder and primary proponent of what would become of behavior modification, was right to warn the world about the problem of punishment (2014/1953, p. 183), but he was wrong to say it’s unnecessary to “quibble” about how we decide if a behavior is good or bad (1961/1955, p. 3, p.6). He was on the first editorial board of ABA's flagship Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) (Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 1968). This would eventually play out as a critical leadership mistake.
In JABA 1(1), Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968) wrote their frequently cited Some Current Dimensions of ABA and set the tone and scientific guidelines for the ABA age to come. The popular-norm-of-the-day became and remains chief among ABA standards for their ethical judgments regarding what constitutes a "socially important behavior problem," what they had set out to solve. They valued heterosexuality in Current Dimensions to the implied degradation of gays. ABA had also been known to “treat” the “sin” of feminine boy mannerisms. (See Dawson, 2004.) In the same inaugural issue, the very same Risley (1968) published an experiment for torturing away the “autistic behaviors” of a so-called “deviant child.” What did she do wrong? He electro-shocked the young girl and told her mother to spank her for climbing upon the precious family furniture and she acted like a "freak," which is a cruel word from back in the day.
(This blogger recalls seeing a movie called "Freaks" from the mid 1970's at the Red Bank, New Jersey Carlton Theater, currently called the Count Basie Theater. It showed graphic images of disfigured human beings displayed at the side show of a circus. Risley writing this report to his peers in the technical language of ABA science leads the blogger to ask if he could ever view his "subjects" as real human beings.)
— "Her climbing was a constant source of concern to her parents due to the threat to her life and limb (her body bore multiple scars from past falls; her front teeth were missing, having been left embedded (sic) in a 2 by 4-inch molding from which she had fallen while climbing outside the second story of her house), and the attendant destruction of furniture in the house. She had attended several schools for special children but had been dropped from each because of these disruptive behaviors and her lack of progress." (Quoted directly from Risley, 1968, p. 22.)
What did he conclude?
— "The benefits to the child, in fact, far exceeded the author's expectations" (p. 34).
He didn't discuss how, if she could learn from the pain of electricity, then she could also have learned from her own falls. To get her off the furniture, buy her a set of monkey bars and train her to join the trapeze act at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Then tell Risley to shock himself.
So he and Skinner set the stage for misguided judgment. Punishment remains, to this day, the actual, if unapparent, bottom-line rage of ABA, despite their "dissemination" to the contrary.
An ABA promotion might say, "Most behavior analysts use only positive reinforcement in their programs."
If we accept this kind of statement or give them the benefit of the doubt, then we can fairly conclude that unless they are fully schooled in the kinder sister profession of ABA, Positive Behavior Support (PBS) (See LaVigna and Donnellan, 1986), then ABA practitioners are always armed and ready to fire a good shot should the felt need arise, because the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB) contains exactly ten different job requirements containing the word "punishment" in its Task List of skills needed to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).
They may go to punish with over-correction, because it's not as severe as electric shock, which they "only" use in one institution any more, the Judge Rotenberg Center outside of Boston, with most victims arriving from the New York City public school district at the taxpayer expense of $30 million a year.
— In order to be ethical we must manage with contingency combinations of both reward and punishment. I say to Mike, the autistic boy, "Look at me," but he's not looking enough when I give him "a small piece of a specific brand of bologna... for each glance within five seconds of the verbal prompt." I even say, "Good, you looked at me." But he's not looking enough; he's not responding well to the cold cuts. I must "over-correct" him to make him keep looking. He must "move (his) head in one of three positions: up, down, or straight...and maintain each position fifteen seconds, after which" I tell him to look at me again. (Quoted and paraphrased from Foxx, 1977, p. 490-91, first sentence interpreted from implied meaning in the article. )
— But that doesn't sound so good, so instead of "overcorrection," let's call it "restitution training, positive practice of functional behavior, and guided movement training" (McDonald, 1990).
What the heck was she talking about? Looks like gobbledygook.
So now today, as new discoveries of different sets of contingencies accumulate through various configurations of aversive and appetitive consequences, punishment, as coupled simultaneously with reinforcement by the hard punishment advocates or as only the last resort by the genteel minimalists, is the ultimate method of control and compliance.
Also today, on the other hand, standing tall and proud, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) has announced loud and clear, “Neurodiversity please!” The movement has begun! It's time to insist, "No more forced eye contact!"
Meanwhile, however, neurotypical BCBAs still “treats” autistic "stereotypy," even though it causes no harm. The "actually autistic" speech hasn't sunk in to them yet. If this what Skinner intended, did he hope this would happen before or after he wrote the book he called Verbal Behavior? (Skinner, 1992/1957)
— She must not be adept at flipping, running her finger in rapid succession across each and every page of a National Geographic in order to feel the gentle breeze of the maneuver brushing softly against her cheek. How can she read a magazine and flip it at the same time and place? This is impossible! They're incompatible behaviors!
BCBAs need parents of autistics to worry they won’t fit in with their childhood peers and sustain themselves into and beyond adulthood, somewhat independently. Just as the parental group, Autism $peaks (A$), raises its abundant funds with no "actual autistics" speaking, so do lucrative BCBA salaries depend upon the same cancer analogy that A$ uses. This is one reason why ASAN boycotts A$:
— Autism at age two? Tragic disease. Cure it now and prevent the divorce!
As for BCBAs walking in stride with A$, Lerner (2011) reported, "Eric Larsson...who founded the Lovaas Institute Midwest, an autism treatment center.... says ABA is more than just a treatment — it’s a way to rescue children 'from the ravages of autism.' He tells parents that nearly half of children can recover if they start ABA soon enough.... 'They’re coming to us because they want to cure their child,' he said. 'Just like you or I would do if we had cancer.'"
— So target Bx (behavior) for elimination. We've heard a grunt! Experiment upon this subject. Sit her down for intensive therapy! So what if she's overstimulated! She's not looking into my eyeballs! I'll teach her this or else— She's pushing me away! If we can’t fix it with lemon on the tongue, then send for the patty wagon! Lock her away!
(Nothing would satisfy this blogger more than to discover how this criticism is completely inaccurate, but he fears for its truth. If they don't like to hear this kind of feedback, then it's easy to conclude that they can dish it out, but they can't take a taste of their own medicine.)
Meanwhile, at their own gatherings, autistic groups actually embrace ABA's "God-awful stereotypy,” but they don’t call it abnormal. Instead they might call it communication and say to ABA, "Leave us alone when we cause nobody harm!" They’re even holding “Stim-Ins” with stim toys to educate members of the public that self-stimulation stim is okay during under-stimulation.
So can a special education teacher of a self-contained class do the same as ASAN and teach his students to embrace the "deviant child's" unconventional activities rather than aim with the slings of behavior reduction? Can we move her out to the mainstream class and teach her typical peers to support her even when she doesn't sit as still as them while she studies along at an exceptional rate, either faster or slower? Does the BCBA say, “Quiet hands, stop flapping?” Does a university diploma really care whether or not a "noisy" hand reaches out to accept it on Graduation Day? Does Oracle really care if she's rocking her trunk while she generates code and maximizes the return on their investment in her?
Therefore, please allow the disabled peer advocates to present to the public the “deviant” child of 1968, now the virtual autistic elder stateswoman of 2015, the next Bill Gates of the autism spectrum, a member of the group so bold at times as to call themselves evolved, the next multibillionaire to fill every library on the planet with a network of PC's, whether or not Gates truly does have Asperger's Syndrome. You see, he's only worth about $80 billion. His lifetime giving, about $30 billion.
Maybe some day she'll even donate to another worthy charity: Lobby groups paid to persuade politicians to legislate insurance coverage for autistic children to receive Applied Behavior Analysis "treatments."
— Lucky stiffs!
Baer, D. M., Wolf, M. M., & Risley, T. R. (1968). Some current dimensions of applied behavior analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1(1), pp. 91-97. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1310980/pdf/jaba00083-0089.pdf
Dawson, M. (2004, January 18). The misbehaviour of behaviourists: Ethical challenges to the autism-ABA industry [web log post]. Retrieved from www.sentex.net/~nexus23/naa_aba.html
LaVigna, G. W. and Donnellan, A. M. (1986). Alternatives to punishment: Solving behavior problems with non-aversive strategies [Reprinted 2007]. New York, N.Y.: Irvington Publishers
Risley, T. R. (1968). The effects and side effects of punishing the autistic behaviors of a deviant child. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1(1), 21-34. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1310972/pdf/jaba00083-0023.pdf
Skinner, B. F. (1961). Freedom and the control of men. Cumulative record [First published 1955] (Enlarged Edition, pp. 3-18). East Norwalk, CT, US: Appleton-Century-Crofts. doi:10.1037/11324-001
Skinner, B. F. (1992). Verbal behavior [First published 1957]. Cambridge, MA: B. F. Skinner foundation.
Skinner, B. F. (2014). Science and human behavior [Original work published 1953]. Cambridge, MA: B. F. Skinner Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.bfskinner.org/newtestsite/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/ScienceHumanBehavior.pdf
Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior. (1968). Administrative content: Journal masthead, notices, indexes, etc. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1(1) Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1310969/pdf/jaba00083-0001c.pdf