The practice of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has strayed far away from the works of the original behavioral ethicists. B. F. Skinner (1953/2014, Ch. 12, Punishment) warned the world against its punitive techniques in Science and Human Behavior. Israel Goldiamond (1974/2002) looked at the rights of the recipients of behavioral interventions from their perspective in his classic: "Toward a constructional approach to social problems: Ethical and constitutional issues raised by Applied Behavior Analysis." LaVigna and Donnellan (1986) kicked off the growing split between ABA and Positive Behavior Support with their Alternatives to Punishment: Solving Behavior Problems with Non-Aversive Strategies. Murray Sidman (1989) further addressed the problem of punishment in his Coercion and Its Fallout.
Then Michelle Dawson (2004), actually autistic researcher and cognitive scientist, spoke out in force as a member of the target treatment group and led the autism-based Neurodiversity Movement in its stance against ABA with her landmark paper: "The misbehaviour of behaviourists."
The outset of 2016 witnesses, however, how ABA contains a population of so-called "professionals" who badly need ethical guidance, so it seems. Reward and Consent (R+C) aims to help them in a tough but loving way, as seen below in this post.
Granted, parents of the autistic children can have problems to resolve. So do the actual autistics, especially them, as their self-injury is more their problem than anyone else's, but ABA does not have adequate solutions to such problems, not according to the vast majority of autistic spokespeople. The best people to ask about how to manage self-injury, aggression, and running away are actually autistic peer advocates, because they are the people who know what it's like, nobody else, especially not profit-driven behaviorists. Watch:
But the task is daunting for the behavioral ethicists of 2016 to teach the ABA profession how to manage such problems in a highly ethical way, because Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968, p. 94), as they were setting the stage for behavior analysis to come in Volume 1, Issue 1 of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis said in the groundbreaking, frequently-cited, preliminary synopsis of ABA method and scope, "Some current dimensions of Applied Behavior Analysis," that "an experimenter has achieved an analysis of a behavior when he can exercise control over it." ABA's main job, then, is to control human and animal behaviors. Then what stops it from recruiting many, many people with control problems just as professional boxing attracts mainly natural athletes into its ranks, in droves? Murray Sidman (2007, p. 310) nailed this concept when he asked his peers in "The analysis of behavior: What's in it for us?"
So Data is ABA's deity. It bases its claim of scientific effectiveness in the results of its data, but, then, although non-behavior-analytic medical researchers may claim to possess a power to objectively measure pain in autistic children, "without instrumentation" probes into the body, however, ABA cannot collect as data the stimulus-elicited internal organ and internal body system feelings of another person, because its practitioners with their unaided eyes and ears cannot directly observe them or sense them as they actually, precisely feel to that other person, which describes the level of objectivity it strives to achieve.
B. F. Skinner (1953/2014, p. 263) the most influential forefather of ABA, made this logical, common sense argument when he labelled behaviors which occur under the skin as "covert." Then since ABA cannot technically observe those other-person's feelings, neither can it count them, put them on a piece of graph paper, analyze them, predict their probability of recurrence, nor control their frequency rates by subsequently adding or removing positive reinforcers (Gummy Bears, Skittles) and aversives (forced ammonia sniffs, painful jolts of electricity, white noise machines, spanking, lemon to mouth squirts, water spray, reprimand, overcorrection, hot Tabasco pepper sauce, muscle squeezes, pinches) as soon as those emotions occur, as it can quite successfully ("effectively") do to the "organism's emissions" (Skinner, 1938) of outwardly-visible, musculoskeletal responses of who it calls its experimental laboratory and its applied-clinical-setting "human and animal subjects," its specimens in a vile, so to speak, representatives from the populations it commonly targets, such as special education school children and autistic toddlers who just want survive in their homes despite ABA intrusions, one can imagine.
Nor does ABA allow its representatives try to put themselves in the shoes of others. If they do try to read the feelings of their "subjects" without using scientific scans and instrument probes to see what's happening inside the body, then they're not doing ABA, as Skinner argued. To pass non-ABA techniques off as ABA is a professional ethics violation of the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (Compliance Code 8.01 (b)), unless, of course, they tell the parents they're not doing ABA, that they're doing something completely different. (Then why hire them?)
This writer agrees it's impossible to know directly how another person feels, but he takes a cognitive approach anyway, an attempt to enter in through the skin, to get close to knowledge, if he can, to drive through the porous border between "him and thou," based on the gift of the skills of speaker and listener in their day to day intercourse, because skin sweats a scent of perfume, so to speak, and one can smell someone's sweat, take it in, as the inner from one is the inner to other. The problem with ABA is that they display puny indication that they ever even try to listen, to fully comprehend such other-feelings, as their scientific bent blocks them from moving in that direction.
Montrose Wolf (1978) advocated in "Social Validity: The Case for Subjective Measurement" that ABA should obtain feedback from the actual recipients of its interventions. ABA today gives the concept of Social Validity some lip service (Behavior Analysis Certification Board, Fourth Edition Task list, item J-08), but given the lack of dissent it grants the children of consenting parents, it is difficult to fathom how it truly listens to them.
See how the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (Conduct Code, Glossary) defines "client":
The term client refers to any recipient or beneficiary of the professional services provided by a behavior analyst. The term includes, but is not limited to: (a) The direct recipient of services; (b) The parent, relative, legal representative or legal guardian of the recipient of services; (c) The employer, agency representative, institutional representative, or third-party contractor for services of the behavior analyst; and/or (d) Any other individual or entity that is a known beneficiary of services or who would normally be construed as a “client” or “client-surrogate.”BACB (2.04 (c)) says:
When providing services to a minor or individual who is a member of a protected population at the request of a third party, behavior analysts ensure that the parent or client-surrogate of the ultimate recipient of services is informed of the nature and scope of services to be provided, as well as their right to all service records and data.2.05 (a) says: "The rights of the client are paramount and behavior analysts support clients’ legal rights and prerogatives."
Only during experimenter research does BACB (9.03) address "informed consent." It says, "Behavior analysts inform participants or their guardian or surrogate in understandable language about the nature of the research; that they are free to participate, to decline to participate, or to withdraw from the research at any time without penalty; about significant factors that may influence their willingness to participate; and answer any other questions participants may have about the research."
The code, therefore, takes no position on recipient dissent under parental or guardian informed consent to actual interventions, so ABA in practice is a better source of information on how ABA manages recipient dissent under surrogate consent to ABA recommended treatments. Clearly, then, in the coercive scenes in the videos below, in the fact that aversive stimuli cause escape from aversives, and in the fact of ABA's heavy use of what it calls "aversion therapy," it's logical to conclude that ABA does not allow dissent of recipients under surrogate consent.
So Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) are notoriously "empathy disabled," according to this blogger. Since ABA folks are disabled, as are many of those it manipulates, then its targets can view them as equals. ABA practitioners are neither better nor worse than bona fide people with disabilities!
Also, this writer has far-from-certain reason to speculate that their numbers perhaps even swell with higher than usual statistical rates of alcoholism, as was reported about the gay community, but privacy is necessary, so he cannot say what precisely has led him to ask this question. Indeed, a study of the prevalence of excessive drinking from deep inside ABA's inner sanctums would possibly help them, if this tripartite ABA/alcoholism/control-problem hunch is actually true. If it were true, wouldn't it be ironic that those who aggressively anoint themselves to be "solvers of behavior problems of social importance" would have severe problem behaviors of their own to resolve together among their legions, one inebriated club member modifying the behaviors of one more inebriated club member at a time, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum? Analyze yourselves, ABA!
All kidding aside, unfortunately, however, the primary point that drives this paper is that the proud creators of identity-first language, actual "autistics" (rather than "people with autism" - everyone knows they're people), have told the ABA industry that they generally want it to disappear, but it won't, because autism is its major cash cow.
What follows are many, but not all, of the reasons why ABA is so abusive.#AppliedBehaviorAnalysis: Do you understand that we #autistics generally want you to go away and to leave us alone?— Dave Jersey (@RewardConsent) March 28, 2016
ABA induces trauma in its victims, as told in this blog by Anna Kosovskaya and Olivia Astrid Âû.
It has a long history of equating autism with "deviance" in both explicit and subtle terms (labelling physically harmless behaviors as aberrant, abnormal, pathological, inappropriate, problematic, challenging, unwanted, difficult). It tells parents it will treat "stereotypy," such as harmless body rocking or other forms of what actually autistic adult peer advocates call "self-stimming," which they can say they love to do. But ABA claims, "Nobody will ever hire a young adult who doesn't make eye contact or who doesn't put his hands in his pocket as soon as he starts doing his finger stereotypy," but Bill Gates, rumored-to-be autistic leader, doesn't care whether or not they look they look him straight in his eyes or flap their hands as long as they can see Microsoft's computer screens and produce them some code and some revenue streams.
Its mammoth Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) officially "approved" ABA's Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) of extremely painful electric skin shock contingent upon different classes of behaviors, including non-compliance and classroom disruptions, as being "aligned" with ABAI's "mission," soon after the United Nations called JRC an institution of "torture" (Méndez, p. 85). Except for one group of ABA professionals in Great Britain who recently published a statement against ABA uses of pain, there is no known ABA organization which has otherwise issued any official position against ABA's use of intense skin shock pain.
ABA shock devices are intended to hurt. They are different from the ECT brain electricity devices used in psychiatry. ECT does not intend to cause pain. ABA's JRC does. Its founder, Dr. Matthew Israel, also known as Dr. Hurt, has admitted their shock is supposed to hurt (Kahn, 1985). JRC also admits to shock to noncompliance because when some of its students (prisoners) get out of a seat without "teacher" permission allegedly because this leads to aggression (Neurological Devices Panel Transcript, 2014, p. 144).
Skin shock is ABA to its core. It is supported, not by all ABA, but all throughout its ranks. A major ABA studies textbook author, Richard Malott, sits on JRC's Board of Directors. So does an influential ABA disseminator, Josh Pritchard, sit perched there like a bird of prey. Anna Kosovskaya, who courageously and successfully escaped from JRC, told this blogger that she felt like her mother wanted to get rid of her so she could be with her partner without Anna hanging around the home. ABA has Maria Malott, CEO of ABAI, to thank for its approval of JRC, if the ABAI "buck stops with the executive in charge," as said by President Truman whose decision led the USA to drop atomic bombs dropped over Japan to end World War Two. They're quite an ABA duet, those Malotts!
"The effects of punishment on responses that can occur concurrently with the punished behavior or in a different context as the punished behavior also have been studied in basic and applied research. Among these side effects, collateral increases in aggression, escape behavior, and emotional reactions are most commonly described in basic textbooks and literature reviews ... and by authors who recommend against using punishment in clinical settings.... (Lerman and Verndran, 2002)."
So ABA punishes even though it knows it causes aggression. Anna Kosovkaya described how she defended herself against JRC staff when they left Massachusetts to chase her down in New York City to capture her and bring her back to Canton near Boston. So ABA punishes the aggression it provokes.
ABA uses intensive interventions upon autistic people who report they can be "extra sensitive to certain stimuli" when "too much stimulation can lead to sensory overload" (Brown, 2016).
ABA's "compliance training" looks and sounds hauntingly similar to training for submission.
It demands in-seat behavior and wants it devoid of much movement. It does not allow the child to walk away from its "professionals and paraprofessionals" during its so-called "effective treatments." It calls this form of escape "elopement" and "treats accordingly." It forces children to eat when they don't want to eat, even though proudly identified autistic leader Lydia Brown reports that "autistic people have severe olfactory sensitivity -- and will not eat certain foods or will develop headaches or other problems around certain smells, like cleaning products, wipes, or perfumes." Brown's sensitivity-to-cleaning-products-information offers critics a direct challenge to ABA's use of forced ammonia sniffs.
ABA depends on sugar-laced reinforcers and so it creates diabetic eating habits at an early age. ABA teaches block-stacking and color-matching with its ridiculously voluminous praises. Like Pavlov making his dog salivate to a bell, ABA pairs its phony "great job!" with morsels of cookie crumbs it shoves into underfed mouths of little kids as young as toddlers who are saying to themselves, "What the heck is going on here? Mommy, Daddy, please help me!"
Or else it allows them to eat one piece of popcorn at a time.
ABA touches and tickles even when children clearly dissent from it.
So how are the children of ABA supposed to learn to say no to an abuser when it punishes "non-compliance" with its facial water spritzes, its bitter lemon on the lips, its muscle squeezes, its over-corrections, its white noise machines, and its extremely painful electro skin shocks?
It's not only autistics who get "treated." ABA also shocked what it called "deviant homosexual behaviors." It electro-mechanically measured male arousal by inserting penises into mercury-filled tubes and showed them pictures of male nudes, faded them out, and faded in pictures of female nudes, it its attempt to "cure" them.
JRC took a schizophrenic off his antipsychotics, shocked him, and then decided he needed his medicine after all. (Do a web page keyword find search of JRC's technical website at the JRC Papers tab with keyword "schizophrenia" and go to the second result.)
ABA targets prisoners and delinquent youth. Glenda Crookes, current JRC Director, told this blogger on the telephone that JRC also takes New York youth from juvenile detention facilities and treats them.
ABA sets its binocular on geriatrics, intellectual disability (which ABA used to call retarded deviants), United States Congressmen and women, movie theater litterers, smokers, gamblers, alcoholics, drug addicts, schizophrenics, bipolar people, and ADHD folks. Even wheelchair users are not immune from ABA behavior control.
ABA also uses ABA technologies on neurotypical adults when it issues its "disseminations" as a propaganda machine about how ethical and effective it proclaims itself to be. (Miller, 1991, p. 645) recommended to his ABA peers: We should avoid the "countercontrol of our practice by normal adults." So ABA disseminators have dominated Wikipedia's Applied Behavior Analysis page and pronounced that ABA is the "most effective treatment for the main characteristics of Autism" without mentioning a peep about ABA's Judge Rotenberg Center, which the public is up in arms against.
It issues guidelines to persuade healthcare funders, regulatory bodies, and government health programs parents that ABA is the best thing for autistics. It convinced the United States Attorney General to recommend it for autism and pushes that point in its disseminations. It combats insurance companies that don't want to pay for it. It clearly wants the state to force unhappy insurance companies to pay for long weeks of many hours of ABA. So if it doesn't bankrupt uninsured parents it consumes valuable government and corporate funds and taxpayer moneys.
ABA disseminator Amanda Kelley, BCBA-D, also known as Behavior Babe, claims that "if the inclusion of aversives is warranted by the behavior, all parties must be in full agreement," which is clearly false by virtue of careful observations of the dissenting children in the general ABA videos contained in this post. One can argue against Kelley with the Healthy Adult test under the flipped Golden Rule of Ethics: Don't do to others what you don't want done unto you = Don't do to people with less power what healthy adults don't want done unto them.
Would neurotypical adults allow their own behaviors to be modified by any of the aversive stimuli listed in this post such as treatment seen in the following video?
Would Kelley agree to the following kind of extremely painful electric skin shock treatment to be done to unto her for many years as an imprisoned JRC "student"? Apparently so—right?—because she claims that "all parties must be in full agreement" to ABA's use of aversives. According to Davies (2014), JRC "treated" with its ABA aversives a huge variety of harmless behaviors:
Shocks have been used at JRC for an incredibly wide variety of behaviors. Although JRC claims that the intention is to stop self-harming or violent behaviors, it also has shocked students for many other things, including: involuntary body movements, waving hands, blocking out sound overstimulation by putting their fingers in their ears, wrapping their foot around the leg of their chair, tensing up their body or fingers, not answering staff quickly enough (xxx), screaming while being shocked, closing their eyes for more than 15 seconds, reacting in fear to other students being shocked, standing up, asking to use the bathroom, raising their hand (Miller), popping their own pimple, leaving a supervised area without asking, swearing, saying “no” (Ahern and Rosenthal 13), stopping work for more than 10 seconds, interrupting others, nagging, whispering, slouching, tearing up paper, and attempting to remove electrodes from their skin (Ahern and Rosenthal 20-21). Additionally, students are shocked for having 5 verbal behaviors in an hour. These behaviors can include talking to oneself, clearing one’s throat, crying, laughing, humming, repeating oneself, or “inappropriate tone of voice” (xxx). A former JRC teacher recalled how “one girl, who was blind, deaf, and non-verbal was moaning and rocking. Her moaning was like a cry. The staff shocked her for moaning. Turned out she had a broken tooth. Another child had an accident in the bathroom and was shocked” (Ahern and Rosenthal 3). The behaviors that JRC considers punishable by shocking are also discovered by surveillance footage, with shocks then administered after the fact. Shock has even been used as a threat to pressure students to say positive things about JRC in front of the state legislature (Berrington). Non-speaking students tend to be subjected to shock the most, and are the ones who often have a more difficult time speaking up about their abuse (xxx).ABA needs to frighten autism Moms and Dads into believing that being atypical is an awful, terrifying thing, which it's not, according to autistic spokespeople such as Amy Sequenzia, "non-speaking Autistic activist, writer and poet. Once said to be less than human."
Autism Speaks represents parents of autistic children and barely speaks for actual autistics. Playing up parental fears in order to raise funds, Autism Speaks published its "I am autism" ad which said, "I work faster than pediatric aids, cancer, and diabetes combined." Autism Speaks has an online resource guide which is heavily populated by ABA providers. ABA also likens autism to cancer.
Without the fear of autism, parents wouldn’t hire ABA to perform its subtle eugenics attempts to make autism and autistics go away.
In conclusion of this section, ABA harms not only autistics, many other groups it targets, the state, and the insurance companies, but it also harms parents, because they don't want their children unhappy, even though that's how it makes them feel.
On the other hand, however, highly ethical behavior science under the full and balanced consent of parent, child, and state, is a completely different approach to learning. Reward and Consent (R+C) methodology is not ABA.
Consent and dissent are akin to opposites. In R+C, dissent need not be fully informed, as even an infant can shut his or her mouth and spit out the food to tell Dad or Mom it's time to stop feeding. Behavior is communication, so any form of resistance, spoken or not, is tantamount to dissent. In R+C, when the child says, "Leave me alone," the professional either quits or goes back to the drawing board until all parties to the outcome of the method consent. In R+C, the recipient of behavioral interventions sits at the head of the behavior change table. The actual recipient decides first whether or not to go ahead with a plan. Others follow in suit.
When an autistic child cannot represent him or herself at behavior change and behavior maintenance meetings, if they're even necessary, then actually autistic adult peer support representatives fill the number one seat of the child, in substituted judgment for the children (or the incapacitated adults) by the people who know best how the child feels, actual autistics for actual autistics.
In R+C, when a child approaches tantrum, when possible and when parental attention or other reinforcement unwittingly provokes and causes temper strength, then the parent removes him or herself from the room and monitors for safety, rather than bodily carrying the child into a timeout area.
When children's escape from adult demands causes unwanted behavior, R+C views the demands as the probable, unreasonable, and inappropriate cause of the problem. Escape is an opportunity for the teacher to learn from the child how to teach better.
In R+C, when children dispute, they work out their differences between and among themselves whenever possible, or with adult guidance in such a process, if assistance helps.
In R+C, a crisis situation is not an opportunity for behavior modification. It is, rather, a time to de-escalate and to protect people who are under an imminent threat of harm, with as neutral, non-reinforcing, and non-aversive a set of stimuli as possible, should a highly threatening situation ever occur. The teaching and learning come later.
In following some of the method of cognitive science or of psychoanalysis, R+C attempts to find out exactly what is happening inside the skin of another person, although, as cognitive science will admit, it has not yet discovered a way to know precisely what and how someone else feels and thinks. Cognitive science can claim it gets pretty close, as can R+C. ABA focuses, however, exclusively only on what it can directly observe, as told above, hence it's indubitable empathy disability.
Punitive stimuli are unnecessary and therefore unethical. As in Positive Behavior Support, pure R+C never adds them. It only uses the wide array of alternatives to punishment, or else R+C uses nothing at all, because more often than not, the problem is not in the behavior, but in the misjudgments about behaviors being problematic, but which cause no real physical harm after all, especially from the point of view of the behaving persons.
Under R+C for the classroom, the only rule the teacher really needs is "Do your work." All others follow, for when students work, there's no time for mischief. Allow talking during work time, as in the workplace. Allow for fun breaks, both short and occasionally very long, as in party time. Rules are minimal, only a few, or some teachers will like none, no formal rules. That's okay too. Students set most of them. Flip all negative rules to positive. "No hitting" from student advocates becomes "Keep hands and feet to selves." Their "No teasing" equals "Use friendly names, friendly talk." The teacher never adds aversives after rule infractions. S/he only adds or withholds reinforcers accordingly. To manage discussion, teacher puts green hand up on wall in plain view of all, teacher only calls on students who raise hand without calling out, does not react to calling out. Blind students get to hear a song about green in the background. When discussions are done, nobody displays green. Hand raising is not required then. Too much demand for silence, raising hands, and harsh rules is absurd, unrealistic, overbearing, unnecessary, and most of all damagingly authoritarian. Intense competition is wrong. It is eugenics in disguise. Cooperation is stressed. All contributions are good and valued of all in the class. Competition leads to hero worship of those who excel. It leaves most feeling left out, especially children with disabilities. Class reward is never based on an individual student's behavior. Group punishment is the worst of all punishments. It's not done. See also Altier(i) (1993, p. 3, Democracy in the Classroom.)
Be on the lookout for constructive, happy, communicative, beautiful, talented, skillful, loving, helpful, intelligent, and friendly demos, performances, and improvements. Everyone makes them, almost always. Then praise them with heartfelt, honest praises, but don't overdo it. Reinforcers, done well, are often very subtle. Do not try to modify the behavior of your friends and peers unless you want to damage the relationship. People love praise, decent, non-controlling, authentic praise, when it's not done in order to solve a behavior problem or to make the behavior occur more frequently, when you want to show affection, appreciation, kindness. In a position of authority, heart-felt praise and pinpointed feedback of something done well or correctly is effective. Never provide food reinforcement to an underfed person. Use the healthy, neurotypical adult standard. If s/he wouldn't want you to modify their behavior with food reinforcement under the motivating operation (ABA lingo) of food deprivation, then don't do it. It's unethical. It violates the Golden Rule of Ethics flipped: Don't do to others what you wouldn't want done unto you. But healthy snacks after meals, as a special treat, the whole lot of them, a bag of popcorn, not doled out a morsel at a time and severely controlled by the person in charge, as ABA will do, can be a nice reward for a child who likes to earn it with a job done well. To those who call this an inappropriate bribe, show this blogger a society filled with adults who have hungry mouths to feed who won't work for money when paid employment is available, and then this blogger will concede that such a bribe is harmful. For others, simply knowing that an answer is correct is sufficient reinforcement. Reading a book and playing a guitar contain built-in reinforcement. Why praise book reading then? On the other hand, rare is the musician who shy's away from applauding audiences.
Jail time is forever out of the question for anybody on the planet, except for a humane, comfortable, fun place out of the way for people who repeat severely violent crimes, not to punish, gain revenge, and retaliate, but only to protect the populace. Prison does not stop crime. In its current form it only teaches criminals how to improve their act and abuses everyone in the system, prisoners, corrections officers, and wardens included, for they become prone to punishment and punishment harms everybody in the long run, including the agent of punishment, as B.F. Skinner warned, even though ABA is highly punishing despite its frequent denials to the contrary.
In addition to Reward and Consent methodology, which is as yet non-institutionalized, there are several established therapies that adult autistic peers from the Neurodiversity Movement advocate in lieu of ABA, specifically excluding ABA.
Therefore, "ABA Therapy" is an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. ABA is not therapy. It's a cult, because it tries to silence dissent of its critics, as this blogger knows well. It's not science. It's a pseudoscience, because, unlike legitimate scientific systems, it almost always only promotes only what makes it look good. See DeanM of Google's commentary below the R+C "ABA is a cult" post about why ABA is not science. ABA is unconstitutional in the USA because it issues cruel and unusual punishments. It's not necessary when non-punitive alternatives such as Positive Behavior Support exist. ABA, in sum, is vicious and self-serving.
It's very effective, however, as it loves to say, if by "effective" it means "it effectively manufactures submissive zombies" out of the "raw materials" of real-life human beings, whom ABA views as bags of behavior.
There are very good ways to help instead.