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www.autismdigest.com | November 2022 – January 2023

Some autistic advocates are against ABA, because they have had really traumatic experiences caused by sensory overload. Ariana Cernius, a lawyer, wrote in Fortune Magazine that advocates who are on the autism spectrum object to attempts to ‘normalize’ autistic children and extinguish their autistic traits, such as stimming. My approach to stimming is to have some places where it is allowed and other places where it is not allowed, such as the dinner table. Educators need to listen to some of the valid complaints from autistic adults. An article on another website called, the autism site, states that parents should ask this question: “Would it be OK if this therapy was done with a normal child?”


I have seen good ABA programs, where they were extremely helpful in getting language started in young two- to fiveyear- old children, but be wary of any program that does not let parents watch the therapy. There are rigid forms of ABA that are really bad. The child or adult is forced into sensory overload. This can be really painful. Unfortunately, there are still some poor programs where the practitioners do not believe that sensory problems exist.


By observing many teachers working with young two- to five-year-old children, I have learned that effective teachers, regardless of who employs them, all do similar things. They know how to engage the children. I define a teacher working with two- to four-year-olds as effective if the child progresses. Things to look for include:


1. The child should like going to therapy. If the child hates therapy, the teacher may be causing sensory overload.


2. The child should be learning more speech and becomes more socially engaged.


3. The child learns how to wait and take turns at games.


4. The child learns more skills, such as dressing.


The second type of poor ABA is forcing rigid compliance, which stifles an older child’s creativity. If a child is fixated on cars, then that interest should be broadened and used as a motivator for teaching reading and math, among other things.


A common mistake with ABA is not phasing it out as the child gets older or, even, in an adult who no longer needs it. ABA was originally developed to be a little kid’s program to get them ready for regular school. My advice to parents and therapists is to emphasize the importance

of early education of ABA in the very young two- and three-year-old children.


The Denver Start Model, Ayres Sensory Integration, augmentative and alternative communication, and Behavioral Momentum are also evidence-based programs. In Behavioral Momentum, the therapist starts with an easy task the child wants to do, and then they progress to tasks they want the child to do.


ABA is not the only effective program. It is one tool in the toolbox. The best ABA programs are flexible and will use a variety of approaches.


Financial Conflict of Interest


Another concern is that private equity firms are buying ABA practices, because they are lucrative. This may create a financial motivation to continue ABA in an older child, when it should have been phased out. The companies like getting the insurance money. This could

lead to unethical practices. I will never forget a teacher who had to quit her job at an unethical ABA company because they told her that her students were progressing too quickly.


Regardless of the name of a program, parents need to always ask this question: “Is the child improving?” If the child does not improve, then the therapy should be changed.


One of the most important things that older autistic children and adults need to learn is life skills, such as shopping, ordering food in restaurants, how to manage money and how to ride on a bus. These are more important than teaching colors to an adult. 


Temple is an internationally-respected

specialist in designing livestock handling

systems. She is also the most famous

person with autism in the world today. She

is the subject of the Emmy Award-winning

HBO biopic Temple Grandin. She frequently

writes and speaks on the subject of autism,

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