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aversives and torture in ABA

Aversives used in ABA therapy span a wide range from strategic ignoring and verbal disapproval to smacking and spanking to electric shocks.

“There’s nothing in the [Behavior Analyst Certification Board] ethics code that says you can’t use electric shock. In fact, it doesn’t say anything at all about what type of ’aversives’ are acceptable.”

Carol Millman

In fact, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board explicitly states that the only cautions for using aversives is that they should be practiced by professionals with “increased training”, for which they have not specified what type of training is required.

While most places have done away with electric shock therapy since the UN and FDA have both condemned them as torturous, there is still one ABA-based school program in the United States that routinely performs shock “therapy” on its students- the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC)

At this year’s Applied Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) annual conference, the JRC will be featured and will be speaking about their use of aversives and their electric shock device with the full support and endorsement of ABAI.

“ABAI’s endorsement of the abuse taking place at the JRC is a symptom of longstanding problems in the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). ABA was founded by O. Ivar Lovaas, and derived from the same principles as conversion therapy, of which he was a co-creator. Conversion therapy for LGBTQ individuals has since been condemned as a form of torture, and survivors describe conversion therapy and ABA as having similar traumatizing consequences. Yet ABAI routinely ignores the voices of autistic self-advocates who challenge the harmful methods that ABA practitioners use every day. By hiding behind the claim that ABA is “evidence-based”, ABAI continues to avoid accountability for ABA’s abusive history and current practices. “

Autistic Self Advocacy Network

It seems incomprehensible to support ABA with the knowledge that ABAI, the worldwide organization dedicated to teaching and encouraging ABA, endorses torturous practices. 


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