ABA does not require the consent of the child. Behavior analysts frequently disregard a child’s bodily autonomy by restraining or touching them without their permission.
We know the importance of teaching our children to take control over their own bodies, to say “no” when they do not like or want something. We know that in order to set up our children for success in a world where rape culture is on every corner, we must stress consent so that our children know when someone has gone too far– and know when to stop themselves as well.
In ABA, where consent is often violated initially because they do not require consent of the participant or consent to touch and interact with the child, children are also not permitted to say “no” and refuse.
When a child refuses or says “no” during an ABA session, they are either forced to participate anyways or punished. By punishing a child that is exercising their personal right to say no when they have had enough, we are effectively teaching children that they are not allowed to stop unwanted advances, and that they do not have to stop when someone else asks them to.
Children are not permitted to say “no” or refuse to participate during ABA.
We see the long-term consequences of this act every day– sexual assault and abuse happen when one party ignores the consent of the other and in many cases, the victim was not adequately equipped to assert their personal right to refuse.
But what about the short term? Those aggressive or harmful behaviors that people want their children to stop so badly are reinforced in ABA. This might seem counter-intuitive, but when you consider that a child is repeatedly told that someone else can hurt and upset them and they must allow it, what is stopping them from applying that information and that learned skill to other scenarios? If an autistic child is repeatedly shown and told that even when they are being hurt or harassed by someone, they cannot say no… they may in turn hurt or harass someone and not stop when they are told no. And it will not have been their fault.
If a child hits, kicks, or bites a behavior analyst or parent or sibling, it may well be directly linked back to ABA, where the behavior analyst hurt them which showed them that hurting someone else was allowable.
When behavior analysts ignore a child’s refusal, it sets a precedent. When behavior analysts harm a child in order to force them to comply or punish them for not complying, it sets a precedent.
And that precedent is that hurting people is okay.
In order to teach children the importance of consent, to keep them safe and help them understand what behaviors are expected from them, we must allow them to give and refuse consent to participate in their own treatments.
What’s more? Autistic people are statistically more likely to be victims of abuse or sexual assault than their non-autistic counterparts.
Autistic people are already at an increased chance of being abused or assaulted, and teaching them that they must comply with the requests of another person even at a great personal expense will likely lead to more victimization.