Applied Behavioural Analysis – First hand accounts

pinocchioApplied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), one of the first things mentioned when your child receives a diagnosis of Autism.

The paediatrician may recommend it and you are sure to read glowing reports about it.

The ultimate goal of ABA? To make your child indistinguishable from their peers. To stop all self stimulating behaviour and enforce eye contact whether it be uncomfortable or not.

Children complying and a therapist fully in control of the child’s every action, even down to where they look. Try searching ABA harm or tantrums. You will see a very different view then, children screaming and forced to do the same thing repeatedly till the therapist is satisfied that her commands have been followed. Restraining while in meltdown for no other reason then an intense desire to make the child obey, comply.

The Autistic community’s view is predominantly against and after researching I found its not only Autistics but also other professionals and parents who have a dim view of it.

I have spoken to Jane Johnstone who is an Integrative Psychotherapist for her opinion both as a professional and as a mother of two sons Evan and Daniel who are both on the Autistic spectrum.

On asking Jane how she first came to hear of ABA:

“I first heard of ABA when a home tuition grant was sanctioned when my eldest son was diagnosed. Other parents of Autistic children spoke very highly of it and it seemed the answer to our prayers. Evan was just three years old at the time and we wanted to optimise his potential. We heard many pros at the time, we heard stories of non verbal children learning to talk under an ABA programme. ABA at the time offered us hope. Evan was non verbal and we were desperate to chat to our little boy. At the time it was the only firm of communication we knew and we couldn’t foresee how he could progress through life in absence of speech. Little did we know!

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About Emma Dalmayne

Emma Dalmayne has been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome along with Synthanesia. She has six children on varying degrees of the most spectrum so easily. When she is not writing exposes as an autistic advocate, her days are spent doing sensory play, reading, outings, and taking them to therapies e.g. play therapy, music therapy, speech, and language.


  1. As you said, this is YOUR opinion. I find this article very one-sided and bordering on calling aba a form of child abuse. Which on my opinion is incredibly irresponsible of you as a journalist. If you are going to take a position on something. Just state that in the beginning. Don’t pretend to write an objective article and then deceive your readers.

    • Roberta Hill says:

      Robyn, this is an opinion piece and I agree it presents one side of the issue. ABA is very unpopular in Britain – read our account here:

      We often report on successes of ABA in our news reports and will be doing a series in the next few weeks that presents the other side of ABA.

    • I guess the fact that every adult autistic that has been through ABA therapy sees it as abuse means nothing, as long as the parents are happy dont matter how the kids feeling I mean their only autistic how could they possibly feel anything (((sarcasm btw)))

      • Lisa-I assume you are speaking for all autistic adults and or have interviewed all world wide?

        • Obviously not Robyn but considering every autistic person I have spoken to or came across that has had ABA have all said the same thing that its abusive, that pretty much says to me that its something to stay well clear of, even Carly Fleischmann believes that ABA caused her debilitating OCD

          • The article is very one sided as you stated, and it is somewhat ignorant On what ABA really is, and not necessarily at the fault of the author. One example of the ignorance of the article is when one of the people cited stated that aba is ‘cognitive’ which is very inaccurate. In fact, ABA is the opposite of cognitive focused.
            Sadly there are people out there who use the techniques of ABA very inappropriately, and even worse there are people out there who claim to provide ABA services who are not certified to do so. This is one reason why in the U.S. we are trying to get state licensure to ensure that unqualified people can not claim to practice ABA.

            my ultimate point is that yes there have been horrible and horrific ABA services provided to many people, and that is not ok; HOWEVER, ABA is an amazing field and helps many. I have met and worked with many individuals who have received ABA services and loved it. One person with autism actually had such a positive experience that he now volunteers at the company to give back. Rather than discounting ABA, a therapy that can be an amazing benefit to many, you should speak about the inappropriate use of ABA and call out those who are unethical in their use of ABA, so that individuals can receive quality appropriate ABA services in the future.

            Also keep in mind that many of the autistic community who had bad experiences are older. The ABA community has become much more organized over time, and the ethical use of ABA has become a priority. Things are different now than they were 20 or even 10 years ago. The same is true of other fields such as psychology. That does not mean the inappropriate uses of ABA in the past don’t matter, or are justified, it means that ABA has grown.

  2. robyn,i think your being unfair to emma.
    i am the person who gave a first hand account what its like to have ABA in that article. i have suffered greatly from it,yes it helped with a lot of issues that were causing my functioning to be so low but at the same time i suffer greatly from flashbacks of the therapy and i also attack myself when the flash backs come in my head which then leads to needing PRN medication. i wish i had never been given ABA at any time in my life.

  3. just wow says:

    The experience described does sound horrific and I don’t doubt it happened, but it sounds like an extreme version of ABA. Most form of ABA at least here in the U.S. does not involve the form of physical punishment that is effectively being described (e.g. physically held down, people screaming, etc.). Here in the U.S. ABA is rewards based – you get rewarded and if you refuse to cooperate or throw a tantrum, you are ignored or simply not given the reward. It, along with variants of it with a touch of naturalistic and or relationship influences (e.g. JASPER, Floortime, ESDM) are the few therapies with proven results. Despite having a century head start, psychotherapy on the other hand has almost no support and in fact there are studies showing no effect (or worst detrimental effect).

    Again I’m sure the experience here happened but it is a gross/bias misrepresentation of what ABA is. It’s like me finding a few cases of broken bones during the game of basketball and concluding basketball is a blood sport, or finding a few violent autistic kids and concluding all autistic kids of being violent. Can’t believe this article would stoop to the very same fallacies that autistic children are so often subject to.

  4. Hi.

    As you have mentioned my clinic, I believe ip I should reply to you. I have 3 boys that are not autistic, but they still don’t like doing their homework and projects, especially over the weekend, when they believe it is their free time. Furthermore, I remember myself going through exams and ending up in hospital of fatigue because I had overworked and over stressed myself. I personally believe that educating a child even though it might be something they might hate, doesn’t mean you do not care for them. That is my comment for general education (just so that I do not get misunderstood)
    As for ABA now. I have been working with children within the spectrum for the past 17 years and I cannot see myself doing anything else. They have taught me so many things and I feel extremely lucky to be working with those children. What you are describing in this post does not reflect ABA programmes, as we work very much on creating rapport and having fun with our children, way before we start putting any demands on them. Personally I believe that if by using ABA techniques we give voice to autistic people to criticise ABA that is a triumph for ABA. Moreover, I disagree with the idea that children with autism should be left to do whatever they like and should not be give then chance to learn as every other child who doesn’t have autism.

  5. ABA is just one tool among many in a toolbox for teaching new skills. Like other tools, it will not work for everyone. Like other tools it is not just for children on the spectrum and has been used for other people, in other situations. In fact, compared to other tools this one is most widespread among those withOUT special needs. ABA encompasses a very wide range of strategies and interventions based on basic behavioral principles. Parents use ABA based strategies constantly as they parent their children- whether knowingly or not. Like other tools it can be overused or used inappropriately or abusively- and I support people speaking out against such practices! However, that should not change our opinion of the tool itself, since it comes in many other forms that are NOT abusive. Many have moved away from “discrete trial ABA”, a highly repetitive form of ABA used for children on the spectrum. Increasingly there is a focus on “positive behavioral supports” and more relationship- based and play- based ABA to help the child be focused, organized, happy and engaged while learning new skills. I have worked with hundreds of children on the spectrum- many have had “behavior plans” to help them change, stop, or increase a behavior or skill. We ALL have behaviors that we might wish to modify to make our lives easier. Right now I am working on increasing my daily exercise and, yes, I am using behavioral strategies to do it!