As a student at Shenandoah University, I have been navigating my path to a future career. What do I want to study? What are my interests? Do I enjoy helping others? These were all thoughts I had going through my head when deciding what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, when I stumbled upon the idea of pediatric autism. I want to be able to help kids and give them the best opportunities they can have in their life. I started doing observation hours with occupational therapists at different schools in the county to see what they did for the children and how the children benefit from these techniques the occupational therapist was doing. Through this process, I learned a lot of these children receive outpatient ABA (applied behavioral analysis) therapy. This got be curious, mainly because the discussion on this therapy was focused with autism and autistic children, and how we can modify and change their “unwanted behaviors.” Sounds great, right?
The problem that becomes of this and is up for debate is that today, it is taught to be your own unique individual with your own ideas and to stand out from others. How is this true if we are finding children that do not fit into our societal norms, and we are putting them through therapy to “fix” them. Parents typically believe that their child is perfect in every way, so why do we, as a society go about changing that?
What exactly is autism? Many have heard of it, know someone with it, or have it themselves, as 1 in 54 children in the United States have autism (4). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad range of conditions, as it is based upon a spectrum, typically affecting social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and communication skills (4). Everyone that is diagnosed with autism has their own characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses (4). More and more knowledge has been developed over time as more research is being conducted. It used to be thought that vaccines could cause children to become autistic. It also used to be more focused on young boys than girls, as not much research was done. As more research and knowledge develops, more treatments and medications are surfacing.
One type of ABA therapy is Discrete Trial Training (DTT) (3). This type of ABA uses trials that are teaching the child a desired behavior or response (3). When the correct response or behavior is given, the child is given positive reinforcement to reward that response, whereas if their response was undesired, they will be ignored (3). Who determines what the correct response is though?
The argument against this rigorous and strenuous therapy of ABA is that the focus is on getting rid of unwanted behaviors (2). There is not enough focus on what the child should be learning to do instead of these behaviors (2). There is also a strong emphasis on not doing behaviors for self-stimulation, such as the flapping of hands or clapping, which is placing a strong emphasis on making the autistic child “normal.”
Most research done on autism is focusing on the treatments, as there is no cure and no known prevention yet. Autism can be managed with medication and treatments to manage symptoms. One organization, Autism Society, provides many different types of approaches in treatments for autism, whether it be nonmedical or evaluation style, without giving any recommendations, as there is no one treatment that best fits everyone on the spectrum (1). This organization shows that there are many different options for treatments and making ABA the sole treatment for modifying the individual’s behaviors is not suitable for every child (1).
Although ABA may be perceived as a great and wonderful perk to helping autistic children accel as much as possible in life, there are reasonable arguments against it. The purpose of this was not to say ABA is horrible and anyone who is doing this kind of therapy or has their child in this kind of therapy is wrong and horrible. Instead, the goal is to bring awareness to these topics. Many are not sure what autism spectrum disorder entails and can be persuaded into therapies and treatments they are not sure much about. Advocacy is key. The more everyone is educated on autism, the more they are able to advocate for themselves and others. Some autistic individuals may even be nonverbal. Those individuals cannot advocate for themselves. Do they like the therapy and treatments they are going through, or is it too demanding and strenuous? There needs to be more knowledge and education for everybody. With the prevalence of autism, everyone should know how to treat them, how the classroom they are in may look, and what we should be doing to not try to fit these individuals into a bubble. Consider checking out this website https://autisticadvocacy.org/about-asan/ for more information about autism, to make donations, and to see those in the autistic community advocating for themselves.
- “Intervention and Therapy Options.” Autism Society, 9 Aug. 2018, http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/treatment-options/.
- “The Controversy Around ABA.” Child Mind Institute, 22 Apr. 2021, childmind.org/article/controversy-around-applied-behavior-analysis/.
- “Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Sept. 2019, http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html.
- “What Is Autism?” Autism Speaks, http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism.