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can ABA “bring back” normalcy?

Bold claims of the ability to turn an autistic child normal or make them “less autistic” are among the most popular reasons that parents choose ABA.

There are many issues with this argument- firstly, a child who is autistic has always been autistic. It’s inaccurate to imply that they could “return to normalcy” when they have always been and always will be autistic. Secondly, autism is not curable, and even Lovaas himself cautioned that recovery is not a reasonable expectation (despite trying to assimilate children to behave as typically as possible.) Third, there would be no benefit to being less autistic, even if it were possible.

However, the Autism Spectrum is not linear and there is no “more” or “less” autistic. An autistic person’s entire brain works differently, not just part of it, and you can’t make part or all of their brain work like their allistic counterparts.

Throughout literature on ABA one will see phrases like “correct behaviors”, “desired behaviors”, and “appropriate behaviors”, which reinforce the idea that ABA can bring an autistic child back to normalcy.

How do we define normal? The distinction between normal and abnormal is certainly not black and white. Different cultures have different social expectations and typical behaviors, there is no universal sameness for which we should strive; forcing autistic children to blend into the societal norms of allistic people does not serve to do them any benefits.

Donald King

Another closely related reason for subjecting children to ABA is the belief that ABA will somehow improve the quality of life of autistic people.

“People seem to think that if you act normal, you must feel normal.”

Carol Millman

For autistic people, acting in a way that others perceive as normal is unnatural and unpleasant- a necessity at times, but exhausting and an inevitable step toward meltdowns for most autistic people.

“Non-autistic people believe that ‘normalcy’ is a fundamental need; indeed, a stated goal of ABA is to make the autistic child ‘indistinguishable from [neurotypical] peers.’”

Carol Millman

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