A BCBAs Journey Through Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance.
When I first began in the field back in 2012, I honestly had zero clue the potential harm that could come to autistic individuals in the name of the therapies they are often recommended to receive. I knew that often families were painted as needing support, short on it from family members and other stakeholders. I knew it to be true that agencies were often struggling to find qualified people they could trust to work with children.
In 2015 when I commenced by graduate program, the bad side of ABA and the comments about it were discussed at a surface level, but quickly rebuffed and we were taught scripts on how to respond to this. I cannot image now how we were taught to respond to such raw human emotion and question with not simply data, but being completely in denial. I recall that all other treatments were spoken down, called "non-evidence based", and that we essentially were shaped to have some type of God complex so to speak.
From 2017 to present, I have been so fortunate to work alongside some very amazing occupational therapists and speech language pathologists. It became evident to me early on I cannot do my job effectively without them! It also became apparent: ABA is not for every learner nor every family. Most importantly, it became irrefutable that the potential for and truth of accusations at the hand of "bad ABA" were true. From that time on, I could not view the applied practice of the science the same ever again.
I recently read a post from a connected colleague online stating that the neurodiversity is harmful. I don't really believe this to be true; most members in the ND movement have expended a lot of energy to advocate for their experiences. I believe many of the "old guard" of ABA are ardently fighting against these voices and opinions being heard, but we are moving forward. With the shift of ABA from an active empathetic practice to a business based on billable treatment hours, families and other stakeholders are correct to be concerned.
Ways I have found as a clinician to actively fight against what has become the norm include:
Ensuring my treatment plans do not include excessive goals targeting autistic behavior, such as low intensity stimming, especially when there are more dangerous behaviors occurring.
Keeping my caseload small to keep supervision hours high quality.
Being open to hearing criticisms and feedback-- and not arguing back.
Talking with newer behavior analysts about red flags to avoid when interviewing at agencies they are considering employment at. If we can keep supervision quality high even after they pass the test, we can grow strong critical thinkers who will also advocate for their learners.
Choosing my continuing education units wisely, not based on just sheer availability.
I don't have all the answers and I am still continuing to learn, but I truly hope other behavior analysts are open to challenging their perspective to grow. We are an ever changing field and we HAVE to determine what our non-negotiables are when it comes to working for agencies and organizations. I am so thankful to all the autistic individuals who have interacted with me, challenged my view, and expended spoons to allow me to access resources I typically would not. It is not enough to just be aware of autism, but how can we societally become more inclusive to make a seat for everybody at the table?