The origins of ABA for Autism are extremely dark and disturbing.
ABA and Gay Conversion Therapy
Created at the same time as Gay Conversion Therapy, and by the same co-creators, ABA seeks to train the autistic person to behave as if they are not autistic, just as gay conversion therapy seeks to train the gay person to behave as if they are not gay.
Neither of these two “treatments” can actually change the personality and brain of the person, they can only create a shroud of shame and painful concealment of oneself.
Ole Ivar Lovaas is considered to be the father of ABA therapy, and alongside Robert Koegel, he drafted the guidelines and pioneered the studies that changed the world of gay conversion therapy as well as laying the foundation for ABA therapy.
One key difference between the two, however, is that ABA has marginally more abusive origins– aversives were not used in Lovaas and Koegel’s initial trials on queer youth, but they were used in their initial trial of behavior therapy.
Lovaas’ disturbing beliefs about autism
Lovaas saw autistic children as subhuman, deeming them “severely disturbed,” “very underdeveloped,” “retarded,” and “psychotic,” and implying that they were objects to be created rather than human beings with a differing neurology
Lovaas’ harmful rhetoric and disturbing opinions do not stop there- in his paper explaining the initial trials of ABA, he stated:
“Throughout, there was an emphasis on making the child look as normal as possible, rewarding him for normal behavior and punishing his psychotic behavior, teaching him to please his parents and us, to be grateful for what we would do for him, to be afraid of us when we were angry, and pleased when we were happy. Adults were in control.”– O. Ivar Lovaas
This is duly disturbing and manipulative. Lovaas’ himself said that at the time that he introduced behavior therapy for autism, it was “considered harmful by most psychiatric professionals.”
He then followed to explain that at the time, autistic people were often institutionalized where the focus was on accepting their behaviors. One could reasonably argue that Lovaas set the neurodivergence acceptance movement back several decades by hijacking the standard of care to introduce a harmful and hateful practice like ABA.
Radical Behaviorism, from which ABA stems
Radical behaviorism, from which ABA stems, asserts that your thoughts and feelings are behaviors that can be modified or altered through reward and punishment as consequences. As well as behavior therapy being considered harmful in the 1960s at the inception of ABA, radical behaviorism is currently considered outdated.