Monday, December 14, 2009

Autism, ABA and Damaged Psyches - Conor Doherty Replies

One of the biggest falsehoods spread about ABA as an autism intervention is the totally unsubstantiated allegation that persons with autism disorders who receive ABA intervention become robotic and otherwise suffer damage to their psyches. It is not clear if any of the perpetrators of this absurd myth have any actual experience with ABA. My son Conor has had several years of ABA intervention. Below are pictures of Conor relaxing on the Cozy Couch with Mom and, in a couple of somewhat blurred pics, "horsing around" with Dad. As you can see Conor was quite happy to let Dad play the part of the horse.

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Claire said...

Yes, but we all know the handsome Conor is a front for your evil ways, Harold.

farmwifetwo said...

Those of us that have had "ABA" and have seen it happen... know very well it is true.

Problem is there is as many ABA programs as there are practitioners and without structured research and same programming for all... Your playtime is Floortime... I have the book if you are interested.....

navywifeandmom said...

Natalie loves ABA, too and is really benefitting from it. She is usually filled with smiles like that, also. She loves to play "horsey" with her dad the way Conor is doing with you.

navywifeandmom said...

Natalie loves ABA, too and is really benefitting from it. She is usually filled with smiles like that, also. She loves to play "horsey" with her dad the way Conor is doing with you.

Sara said...

so true. i hear it all the time. about how ABA is like training a dog. or that they become robotic. i can testify that this is so far form the truth in our case.

Unknown said...

Oh no Claire, I'm busted! Darn!

Conor is the least robotic of any person I know, period, autistic or not.

Celeste Jean said...

I volunteer at my son's school and help with ABA. I am with you, 100% on that. My son is more social.

Celeste Jean said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...


I inadvertently posted your comment twice.

I deleted the second duplicate comment.


Unknown said...


Conor is now about 6 feet tall. It is getting harder for his increasingly gray haired Dad to play horsey. Still a lot of fun though.

Lisa Jo Rudy said...

Actually, I have an article on exactly that subject (Can ABA make a child robotic. I interviewed the folks at Lovaas to get their response. Here's a piece of the article (cited from the Lovaas folks):

"Opponents of ABA will point to some of these procedures (e.g., always asking a question the same way, using short instructions, rewarding with food) and say they lead to robotic responses, devoid of any true human interaction. What they fail to realize is that these initial responses are just one part of an intervention focused on teaching new skills and transferring those skills into a variety of new situations, until a child learns how to learn in the natural environment. From the moment ABA therapy starts, emphasis is placed on reaching a stage in which social interactions are the main form of reinforcer, children are reinforced through natural consequences in everyday life, and learning occurs with less structured teaching. For some children, these changes come quickly. For others, they require slow but steady growth. ABA has been effective in furthering this growth."

IMHO, this suggests that the Denver Method, which incorporates both behavioral and developmental approaches to treatment, makes absolute sense. In fact, it seems to me to be a no brainer: EVERY kid needs behavioral intervention to learn how to navigate the world. AND every child needs the kind of warm, loving engagement you have with Conor.


Unknown said...

Thank you Lisa, for the kind words, and the information and perspective you offered on ABA as used in the Denver Method.

Conor still receives Discreet Trial Training as an ABA method for learning specific academic oriented skills.

He also has learned much in settings, eg. the school gym, pool, kitchen, cafeteria, etc. where DTT is not an option.

The teacher assistant currently assigned to Conor has done much great work with him in these locations over the past 3 years.

Lisa Jo Rudy said...

My worry about ABA, honestly, is that there are some wonderful ABA therapists and some dreadful ABA therapists, and there isn't a whole lot of control over certification, hiring, etc.

As a result, some kids get the "real deal" - that is, structured, appropriate ABA with a lot of opportunity to practice and engage in real-world settings and a lot of social reinforcement. IMO, that's gotta be a good thing.

But all too many receive a sort of ABA-lite from poorly trained, poorly supervised "therapists" who really don't understand the thinking BEHIND contemporary ABA. As a result, they (the therapists) simply run through discrete trials and hand out crackers as a reward. 40 hours a week of that, IMO, can't possibly help a child to grasp what it means to genuinely interact or "work for" human engagement.

Problem is, outcomes from 40 hours a week of DT are measurable: child learns x number of mands, words, skills, etc. It's a bit tougher to quantify the joy on Conor's face when he rough-houses with you!