Alfie Kohn offers a very helpful and easily-understood, for-the-layperson breakdown on that recent meta-analysis of psychological research which found little to no evidence that Applied Behavioral Analysis actually works as an autism treatment even on its own terms.
You might assume that those who use the phrase “evidence-based practice” (EBP) are offering a testable claim, asserting that the practices in question are supported by good data. In reality, the phrase is more of an all-purpose honorific, wielded to silence dissent, intimidate critics, and imply that anyone who criticizes what they’re doing is rejecting science itself.
Before even getting there, though, Kohn does the yeoman’s work of obliterating behaviorism generally and ABA specifically on several grounds, most encompassed by an all-important moral one.
- It’s dehumanizing and infantilizing.
- It ignores internal realities.
- It undermines intrinsic motivation.
- It’s all about compliance.
- It creates dependence.
- It communicates conditional acceptance.
I once argued that “if by social and coping skills you’re talking about how to move through the world without overly disturbing neurotypical standards, then you aren’t engaged in psychology or social work, you instead are engaged in a form of social control.” It’s easy enough, and even more obvious, to replace “social and coping skills” with “outward appearance of improvement” or, for that matter, “compliance”.
I’m not at risk from ABA, although I continue to wonder how many mental health practitioners have had their views of autism shaped by ABA’s prominence when it comes to treating autistic children and whether or not that informs how they approach autistic adults.
I’ll just have to start asking them—in my apparently-ending quest even to find someone covered by my insurance who treats autistic adults—where they stand on behavorism.