[Content note: ABA, gaslighting]
Something happened over the past few days which has just not ended. It should have ended – several times – but it hasn’t. For me, though, for now, though, it’s ended. I’m done with it – but I’m not quite *done* with it. I have words in my head that need to come out so that I can well and truly be done with it.
It started on Thursday afternoon when a disability rights page (read that again: a disability rights page) posted a link to an article that promoted ABA for autistic children. Their post reeked of cognitive privilege, warning their readers that they might not understand the density of the paper, going so far as to say ‘If your eyes glaze over-well good.’ So, if we don’t understand it, then it’s because we don’t know enough so therefore it must be good for us (or something?) The assumptions in that comment alone are telling. There are many autistic people who are well-versed in reading psychology articles. Some of us are either studying psychology, or have completed psychology studies in the past. Some of us even (gasp – say it isn’t so) work in the field – either in the capacity of lecturers or as professional psychologists. This shouldn’t be surprising. We’re fascinated by the way our brains work.
Anyway, a number of autistic adults expressed their dismay over the post. ABA is abusive. We know this. Even those of us who were never subjected to ABA know this. How do we know this? Because autistic adults who experienced ABA have told us many times, and we believe that their own lived experience trumps that of NT professionals who view the experience from the perspective of an outsider. If you don’t believe me, or you have never ever heard that ABA is abusive, here are just a few examples of the problems with ABA:
Those aren’t the sum total of blogs that explain the wrongness of ABA, but I share those here, because those were the ones that were shared in the post.
So, based on this information being provided to the disability rights page, did they go ‘oh – we didn’t realise – thank you for letting us know’? Nooooo… They doubled down, told us that they were disappointed in our disrespect, and then told us that ABA was as helpful to autistic people as CBT is to perpetrators of domestic violence. Yes – an organisation that claims to be about disability rights just grouped autistic people and perpetrators of domestic violence into the same category. Now, I’m not saying that no autistic person ever has been responsible for domestic violence. I’m sure that there are some, but it’s definitely not something that needs to be associated with us as a group. People are already wary of autistic people thinking that we have a tendency to be violent when most of us really, really don’t. There is no need to further muddy the waters.
After that, the moderators basically left the page which allowed one particular parent to continue to harass an autistic person. It’s important to realise that he did not initiate the conversation with her. She chose to try and rebut his comment opposing ABA by sharing her story of her son’s experience of ABA.
I want to be clear: a parent’s experience of ABA is not the same as a child’s experience of ABA. I can’t really state that any plainer than that. What you see on the outside is no indication of what is being experienced on the inside. This seems to be a really hard concept for people to grasp, but it is completely, absolutely true.
As an example, my parents believed that smiling children were happy children. If I wasn’t smiling then I would either get a stern rebuke, or I would get the ‘sulk smacked out of’ me so I learned to smile even when I wasn’t happy. Did I look happy on the outside? I must have done because my parents seemed satisfied. Was I happy on the inside? Far from it – but no one could help me with that because no one knew. Expressing any negative feelings was unacceptable so I tried my best to be acceptable.
Finally, after someone contacted the moderator of the disability rights page to request that they do their job and moderate the page, the action taken was to — delete the entire post. So, all the energy and effort that various autistic people put into trying to be heard was eliminated. We were effectively silenced.
But, at least it was over, right? Wrong! One of the autistic commentators shared his experience in a blog post which he posted to his Facebook page, and this is where the strange became the bizarre. An ABA therapist decided that she would let him know that he hadn’t actually been gaslighted even though he may have felt that way. She then proceeded to pretty much continually deny anyone’s experiences. She told us to stop being angry. She told us that we should try understanding parents’ when we point out that what they’re doing is wrong. She denied that she held all the privilege. She complained that we were being mean to her when she was the one who chose to insert herself into the conversation. For her to pretend that it was going to end well just highlights some rather misguided attitudes. It was awful, and as one comment stated, it was ‘Gaslighting – the sequel’.
So, I’m left feeling despondent, and upset, and angry – and, you know what? – I am allowed to feel all those things without anyone daring to tell me that I’m wrong to feel them. But kids who express those feelings? Well, they’ll just continue to be told – either explicitly or implicitly – that those feelings are wrong.