“ASAN’s objection is fundamentally an ethical one. The stated end goal of ABA is an autistic child who is “indistinguishable from their peers”—an autistic child who can pass as neurotypical. We don’t think that’s an acceptable goal. The end goal of all services, supports, interventions, and therapies an autistic child receives should be to support them in growing up into an autistic adult who is happy, healthy, and living a self-determined life.” ~ Julia Bascom

Despite some industry changes in applied behavioral analysis practices and therapy models, ABA practices will always be based upon a foundation of compliance, coercion, and behaviorist principles. It is impossible to practice ABA even gently or playfully, without attempting to control and manipulate a person’s behavior.

The fundamental goal of ABA is compliance to the will of the person in the position of authority; this is completely counter-intuitive to self-advocacy, self-determination, and upholding human rights and dignity.

The SLP Neurodiversity Collective has strong ethical concerns and philosophical differences pertaining to the use of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) on human beings, including ABA-derived therapy models. Our members pledge to provide therapy in manners that uphold the dignity of the individual while promoting self-determination. We are troubled that ABA is performed on pediatric, adult and elderly populations without consent from the humans on the receiving end.

Our therapists provide trauma-informed, research-based alternatives to ABA-based behavior management. We do so in accordance with evidence-based, ethical and empathetic practices. Current autism research published within the past three years finds ABA to be both ineffective and harmful, including the 12-page report,  “The Department of Defense Comprehensive Autism Care Demonstration Quarterly Report to Congress Second Quarter 2019,”  which determined that “76 percent of TRICARE beneficiaries in the ACD had little to no change in symptom presentation over the course of 12 months of applied behavior analysis (ABA) services, with an additional 9 percent demonstrating worsening symptoms.” Licensed and ASHA Certified Speech-Language Pathologists have the unique, necessary training and education to address self and/or other-harming client behaviors through investigation of the underlying causes. Trained SLPs and their SLP-Assistants teach clients to self-advocate through functional communication, thereby ensuring that they retain the inherent human-right of self-determination.  

We listen to and respect Autistic and other Neurodivergent voices. Our therapists do not “treat autism.” Coercing a neurodivergent person to “normalize” through masking is disrespectful and can cause substantial trauma.

Our therapists provide barrier-free access to AAC with no prerequisites.

We do not force compliance through the earning of snacks, checkmarks, behavior charts, stickers, access to favorite toys, activities or similar. We completely reject aversion therapy (punishment) for any situation, including withholding attention or affection, favored foods, activities or objects. We don’t train human beings like pigeons, chickens or dogs.

Regarding ABA aversion therapy – We are appalled and horrified that the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) chooses to condone painful electric shock aversion therapy at the Judge Rotenberg Center, which the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has condemned. It is disturbing to us that BCAB allows for the “ethical” use of punishment. (See section 4.08 in the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts.)

We do not force-feed children, patients with dementia, or those with other neurological or cognitive decline or injury. Compulsory-feeding is abusive and traumatic and poses significant physical, emotional and psychological risks.

We do not suppress stimming or echolalia, force eye-contact, or require “whole body listening.” We do not steal childhoods from children via 20–40 hours of ABA per week. Autistic and other neurodivergent children deserve unstructured free time, just the same as neurotypical children.

We presume competence in every client and patient. We speak and interact with disabled and / or non-verbal people the same as any other clients and patients we serve. We accept all forms of communication and we do not presume that every person will be, or even wants to be verbal.

Research (See 2019 Department of Defense full report on ABA at bottom of page):

Evidence of increased PTSD symptoms in autistics exposed to applied behavior analysis
Kupferstein, H. (2018), “Evidence of increased PTSD symptoms in autistics exposed to applied behavior analysis”, Advances in Autism, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 19-29. https://doi.org/10.1108/AIA-08-2017-0016

How much compliance is too much compliance: Is long-term ABA therapy abuse?
Aileen Herlinda Sandoval-Norton & Gary Shkedy | Jacqueline Ann Rushby (Reviewing editor) (2019) How much compliance is too much compliance: Is long-term ABA therapy abuse?, Cogent Psychology, 6:1, DOI: 10.1080/23311908.2019.1641258

Should we change targets and methods of early intervention in autism, in favor of a strengths-based education?
Mottron, L. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry (2017) 26: 815. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-017-0955-5

Kupferstein, H. (2019) Why caregivers discontinue applied behavior analysis (ABA) and choose communication-based autism interventions. Advances in Autism. doi: 10.1108/AIA-02-2019-0004

Treating self-injurious behaviors in autism spectrum disorder 
Gary Shkedy, Dalia Shkedy & Aileen H. Sandoval-Norton | Luca Cerniglia (Reviewing editor) (2019) Treating self-injurious behaviors in autism spectrum disorder, Cogent Psychology, 6:1, DOI: 10.1080/23311908.2019.1682766

For Further Reading:

First-Hand Perspectives on Behavioral Interventions for Autistic People and People with other Developmental Disabilities – Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)

Access to Communication Services and Supports: Concerns Regarding the Application of Restrictive “Eligibility” Policies – National Joint Committee for the Communication Needs of Persons With Severe Disabilities

Autism and Behaviorism -New Research Adds to an Already Compelling Case Against ABA
“When a common practice isn’t necessary or useful even under presumably optimal conditions, it’s time to question whether that practice makes sense at all.”

The Misbehaviour of Behaviourists, Ethical Challenges to the Autism-ABA Industry – Michelle Dawson

Is ABA the Only Way? – Barry M.Prizant, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids – Scientific American

At the Expense of Joy: Human Rights Violations against Human Beings with Autism via Applied Behavioral Analysis – Dr. Kelly Levinstein 

The Great Big ABA Opposition Resource List – Ask an Autistic


5 Important Reasons Even “New ABA” is Problematic – Kaylene George

Research-Based Approaches to Autistic Ways of Learning – Karla McLaren

Reward and Consent 

Autistic Conversion Therapy – Amy Sequenzia


For Further Listening:

Compliance is not the goal: Letting go of control and rethinking support for autistic individuals

Ask an Autistic #5 – What is ABA?

The US Government Reports that ABA is Ineffective:

On October 25, 2019, the Department of Defense reported to Congress regarding TRICARE, and the effectiveness of ABA treatment for Autism. Based on data outcome measures, 76% of those receiving ABA treatment had no change in symptoms, and 9% WORSENED by more than a full standard deviation. This data reaffirms the November 2018 assertion by Navy Captain Edward Simmer, Chief Clinical Officer of the Tricare Health Plan, that the effectiveness of applied behavioral analysis for autism remains unproven.

Full Report Here: TRICARE-Autism-Report