the advocacy monitor

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

Resolution Opposing Applied Behavior Analysis (Plain Language)

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is a treatment for people with disabilities. It is usually used with autistic people.

ABA is a type of therapy. Therapy is supposed to help people. ABA does not help people. ABA tries to erase signs of autism. It does this by giving the autistic person rewards when they do what the therapist wants. People don’t get rewards if they don’t do what the therapist wants.


Johnny flaps his hands when he is happy or sad. If he does not flap for half an hour, his therapist gives him a cookie. He does not get a cookie if he flaps.

People in ABA only get rewards when they do what other people want. This can make a person believe they can’t say no when someone asks them to do something.

ABA makes people believe they can’t say no. People who have been through ABA may not be able to communicate what they want and need. This can lead to abuse.

ABA is like other ways people are abused. Things like ABA take away someone’s choices and freedom with the excuse of trying to make them “normal”. Many things were done to groups of people to make them seem more “normal”. A lot of these things are still happening.

  • Native American children were taken away from their families. They were put into boarding schools to learn to act like white people.
  • Queer people have been subjected to “conversion therapy”. The therapy tries to make them straight or cis.
  • Black people are punished and threatened with harm if they do not do what they are told.
  • The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts is a place where disabled people live. Most people don’t get a choice about living at the JRC. The JRC uses electric shocks on people’s skin to punish them.

Ole Ivar Lovaas created ABA. He punished patients if they did not listen to him. One of the punishments he used was electric shocks. He believed that Autistic people looked like people, but were not full people.

ABA doesn’t usually use punishments anymore. But the goal of ABA is still to make the person listen to the therapist no matter what.

Autistic people do things for a reason. ABA rewards people when they do things that are socially acceptable. The person doesn’t get a choice in what they do.

ABA erases choice. The person doesn’t get a say in what they do. The Independent Living Movement says that society needs to change. The disabled person doesn’t need to change. Society thinks everyone should look and act in the same way. We think that people should do what they need even if society doesn’t like it.

ABA hurts disabled people. ABA is abuse. NCIL is against all types of ABA.

NCIL wants autistic people to make their own choices. We don’t approve when people are forced to do things they don’t want to do. We don’t like it when forcing people to do things is called therapy.