Behind the Scenes: ABA Therapy Horror Stories Reveal the Dark Side of Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is often touted as one of the most effective methods for treating children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Its primary aim is to improve specific behaviors, such as social skills, communication, reading, and academics, as well as adaptive learning skills. However, despite its widespread endorsement and success stories, ABA therapy has faced significant criticism and controversy, particularly concerning its methods and impact on the mental health of its subjects. Here we will explore some real life ABA therapy horror stories, shedding light on the darker aspects of a therapy designed to help.

The Foundation of ABA Therapy

Before diving into the personal accounts, it’s crucial to understand what ABA therapy entails. ABA is a system based on behaviorist theories which assert that desired behaviors can be taught through a system of rewards and consequences. While this can lead to positive behavior changes, the approach can sometimes be mechanical and emotionally draining for the child.

The Controversy

Critics of ABA argue that the therapy can be too rigid. It often focuses on making autistic children appear “normal” rather than helping them learn to cope with the world around them in their own way. Some argue that this can lead to suppression of the child’s true personality and feelings, causing significant psychological stress.

ABA Therapy Horror Stories

1. The Case of Emotional Distress

A young boy named Alex underwent ABA therapy for over a year. His sessions were intensive, often spanning 40 hours a week. The therapy involved repetitive tasks that were uninteresting to Alex, and any deviation or failure to perform these tasks was met with a withdrawal of affection and sometimes favorite toys. Over time, Alex developed signs of severe anxiety and distress when it was time for his sessions. His mother reported that he began to show signs of regression in behaviors and skills that he had previously mastered independently.

2. Loss of Autonomy

Sarah, a high-functioning autistic girl, was subjected to ABA therapy where compliance was a major goal. The therapists focused heavily on making her compliant to typical social norms, such as making eye contact and not engaging in repetitive behaviors, which were comforting to her. Over time, Sarah felt that her autonomy was being stripped away, as she was not allowed to express herself in ways that felt natural to her. She later described the therapy as an attempt to “reprogram her,” which led to long-term issues with trust and self-esteem.

3. Physical Restraint

In one of the more severe cases, a child named Michael was restrained during sessions to prevent him from leaving tasks that he found distressing or unstimulating. These restraints were not only physical but often involved verbal reprimands. The use of restraints led to a traumatic response, where Michael began to exhibit aggressive behaviors at home, something he had not done before starting ABA therapy.

Staff Writer
Staff Writer
ForEveryMom staff contributed to this article.

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