Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is highly unethical.

I'm in dialogue with an "auti" who has informed me that the topmost paragraph in my blog heading had been misleading people, especially the autistic "NeuroTribes" who oppose Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in very large numbers, into believing that I do indeed support ABA, if only it can be done ethically. I agreed. The heading was not clear. So the new upper heading reflects her feedback.

This misled-by-my-lead-paragraph understanding, if it occurred, however, is not indeed the case. ABA is inherently unethical, as recent posts and the introduction, over on the stable right hand column of this blog, have been saying. ABA is highly dependent upon coercion as its ultimate method of control. Precisely ten Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) job skills and understandings required in the Behavioral Analyst Certification Board (BACB) Fourth Edition Task List include the word "punishment".

There is practically zero expressed willingness among ABA professionals to listen to the dissent of the autistic recipient of ABA behavior control interventions. As long as the parents consent, even if they are panicky about the future of their children and hire a BCBA in desperation, well then if the autistic child says by word or by resistance, "Leave me alone," well then the autistic child has no power to fire the therapist. I have never heard of a single BCBA allowing an autistic child to fire her.

According to ABA, behavior is data because it can be observed, counted, predicted, and controlled by manipulating things in the environment. For example, a therapist presents a Skittle to a starving child who moves a red block on top of a blue block in order to make her move blocks ad infinitum, ad nauseam, in order to teach her how to obey orders: "Do this! ... You did such a fantastic job moving that block next to the other one! Do it five hundred times with a tiny variation each time!" What they will count in this absurd Lovaas ABA methodology, Discrete Trial Training, DTT, is the rate of block moving, their dependent variable, the rate of occurrence over time of a target behavior as a function of the environmental manipulations, the independent variables, the morsels of food pushed into the mouth of a bewildered child who must be wondering to herself: "What kind of a three ring circus is this?" DTT is a form of submission training. It is allegedly a very positive way of doing things, so they claim, as they use positive reinforcers, Skittles paired with artificial, phony, unauthentic praise, always backed up with a magic bag of punishments should a problem behavior emerge, a spritz of cold water in the face, perhaps, to the behaviors they provoke by such therapeutic tomfoolery but which elude their positive reinforcement techniques. What is their answer to the problem behaviors they unwittingly provoke? If the rewards don't control them, punish the daylights out of her!

Lest the curious readers of this blog post believe that the DTT parody leading the preceding paragraph is a gross exaggeration of what DTT is really all about, watch this video of actual DTT sessions all the way through to the end. It is not hard to see how the children often don't appreciate being touched and tickled by the so called "therapists." See the block stacking, the food pushed into the mouths, the phony praise. Notice the therapy is called "intensive," while autistic adults elsewhere have been describing the problem of "sensory overload" in autism. DTT, this commonplace autistic "therapy," is insensitive to the problem of sensory overload. In the meanwhile, this video encourages the therapist to raise her voice while making demands of the very young children here. Could that be considered unwanted noise to an autistic child? What if he wants to get away? Well ABA calls that "elopement" and it must be "treated" because the child has the "right to effective treatment," aka imprisonment, blocked escape.

Since other people's feelings cannot be observed by anyone except the feeling subject, it should not have come as a surprise to me that ABA practitioners have shown, in frequent online dialogue with me, that they have an inherently systematic mental blockade toward any approach involving empathy, or involving any kind of understanding of the feelings of others. How can they? It's not data to them. The feelings of their subjects is completely foreign to their profession, anathema as a subject of inquiry!

They failed in debate miserably in their Facebook groups when I argued with them many times under the flipped Golden Rule of Ethics: "Don't do unto others what you don't want done unto you." Under the pressure cooker opponent of sound reason and logic, they can often be seen engaging in character assassinations to let up on the steam that must be boiling over inside their big angered heads. (For the love of Pete, I'm laughing out loud, really truly out loud, as I edit this paragraph!)

All the drama can be seen in the ABA and the Ass. for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) Facebook groups. Check them out. Join the groups. Have a giggle with Chuckles the Clown! (Watch the funeral of Chuckles here.) Go way back into the timelines. You can see their dealings with me, Dave Jersey in Facebook: "He's a troll! He's nothing but an attention seeker! What are we to do? How can we possibly extinguish his behavior! Ignore the man! There's nothing to worry about. Dave doesn't publish in our journals. He's just too unprofessional for serious consideration. Don't you know we're all supposed to ignore inappropriate behavior if we hope to make it disappear! Stop arguing with him. What he wants is to argue with us. You're rewarding his bad behavior. Stop it. Stop him! Haven't you been reading your Skinner? We have in our midst some blockhead ABA peers who don't know a thing about extinction! Let's kick him out of the group! Cast him away by a count of the stones! Send him to Palestine! Yeah, that's the ticket. We did it once and for all. Thank goodness, he's gone! Oh no! Dave Jersey strikes again. Is he back in the group again under cover of another Facebook name? Is he some kind of a spy? Is it the KGB, the CIA, the NSA, or is it Chaos, Control, or the Martians? Heaven forbid! What next, another blog post?"

All kidding aside, this blog inquiry began in 2007 and continues as an informal investigation into what could be the worst ABA institution in the country, the school of painful electric skin shock. The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) near Boston, Massachusetts, who the United Nations calls a school of "torture," has been officially "approved" by the ABAI. I was the first person to expose this horrendous fact to the world wide web. Meanwhile ABAI officials, anonymous ones, said by email to me that I have disseminated "false and misleading" information about them. I denied it, called them the pot calling the kettle black, and asked them to be specific. Then they fell silent. Glenda Crookes, JRC Director, in email, also accused me of "misleading" disseminations about JRC. I told her the same. I paraphrase in quotes again: "I'm just a mirror to you at the moment. You see yourself in me when you say I'm misleading the public. Exactly what did I say that's so dishonest?" Again. Their ABA behavioral patterns are predicable and controllable! No reply from Mrs. Crooked either, to the exact same question: "What the heck did I say that was so bad?"

It took me some time to realize that ABA has strayed far from the teachings of B. F. Skinner, my idol, whose legacy remains as the world's foremost psychologist against coercion. I figured naively at first, in 2007, that his following must be opposed to punishment. Did I ever learn the hard way in direct dealings with some of the major ABA characters and with over ten thousand minor ones in their Facebook groups that my initial expectation of an ethical scientific practice was entirely mistaken.

Positive Behavior Support (PBS), the theory of it, not necessarily the practice, on the other hand, the gentle sister profession to ABA, has broken away from ABA, despite claims by ABA professionals that PBS is a form of ABA. They are very different. While PBS theory would describe how to prevent the problem behaviors of a homeless man by finding him a job and a home, ABA would look at a problem like aggressive begging and depend upon punishment as its ultimate form of control if their so-called positive linear interventions did not succeed in solving their ABA perceived and judged problem behavior. The linear approach is ABA's catch all strategy, Antecedent Behavior Consequence (ABC). It composes the diet in ABA data collection, one line at a time, one response at a time. Unlike ABA, PBS and its wide array of non-aversive strategies has a major preventive component, including an examination of behavior as communication. PBS includes a whole smorgasbord of nonlinear strategies that ABA never even dreams of trying, as far as I have ever seen.

So then, here's the new blog head, as shown above, with many thanks to my new autistic online friend who has courteously declined to be named.

"With autistic advice, I now make it abundantly clear that ABA is and always has been highly unethical. ABA shows little concern for the dissent of its 'subjects.' This blog advocates ethical uses of behavior sciences, with no coercion of anyone, ever, especially autistics and other disabled folks. It's preposterous to modify behavior sans reason! This blog asks, 'When is it good to do so?' So please dive in with me here!"

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I am an advocate for people with disabilities certified to teach special education with a Master of Arts in Teaching. I am not a Licensed Psychologist or a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. When in doubt, seek the advice of an MD, a PhD, or a BCBA. My ability to analyze the ethics of ABA stems from the fact that I am disabled and ABA interventions are often done to people like me, which I voluntarily accept, but only when I alone am the person granting consent, and not a parent, sibling, guardian, or institution.