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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Resolution Opposing Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

Submitted by: Ami Hyten

Adopted July 21, 2021

WHEREAS, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is used as a treatment intervention for people and children with disabilities, in particular those who have autism; and,

WHEREAS, the practice of ABA is a “therapy” which seeks to erase characteristics associated with autism through the provision of rewards when an Autistic obeys and withholding thereof when they do not; and,

WHEREAS, this method of providing rewards only when a person obeys puts them at risk of believing they cannot say “no” to a person when told to do something; and,

WHEREAS, the inability to say “no” and to articulate one’s own needs and desires puts a person at risk of being abused or taken advantage of by others, especially by those in positions of power over them or by romantic partners; and,

WHEREAS, ABA is a practice that follows a long history of culturally, socially and psychologically abusive practices, all subjugating individual choice, dignity and freedom in the interest of promoting normative conduct, including practices such as: the separation of Native American children from their families and their assimilation in boarding schools, the use of “conversion” therapy to promote hetero and gender normativity, over-policing and excessive incarceration of the Black community, and the present-day use of electric skin shocks at the Judge Rottenberg Center in Canton, MA; and,

WHEREAS, the founder of ABA, Ole Ivar Lovaas, used punishments such as electric shock on patients if they did not comply, and believed that Autistics were fully formed “in a physical sense”, but not “in a psychological sense”, and

WHEREAS, the system of ABA, though it has evolved from using punishments, still is designed to secure compliance from people subjected to it; and,

WHEREAS, such an assumption that simple compliance is what is needed neglects the reality that those with autism perform certain activities for a reason, and ABA seeks to supplant individual choice by rewarding behaviors consistent with arbitrary social standards; and,

WHEREAS, such an approach, by ignoring ones needs and desires in favor of simply erasing certain choices, stands in direct contradiction to the Independent Living Philosophy, which challenges society, not the individual, to change, and to put the individual’s needs, not society’s desire for conformity, first.

BE IT RESOLVED that ABA is a harmful and abusive practice that the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) opposes in all its forms; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that NCIL supports the autonomy and freedom of people with autism to live and make individual choices without having their behavior controlled or colonized through therapeutic intervention or coercion.