A Parent’s Guide to Hating ABA Therapy

The Angry Autism Dad
5 min readJan 5, 2018
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Sometimes I miss the halcyon days of my son’s diagnosis, in which the only struggle was acquiring this magical therapy they called “ABA” that would fix everything. What it was fixing we still hadn’t figured out. The early days were difficult because there was no guide to parceling out the legitimate concerns (gross motor coordination, fine motor skills, safety) from the superficial ones (echolalia, arm flapping, eye contact). And even now, years later, there are still those grey areas in between.

ABA sucks. Autists know it. Parents know it. The therapists know it. In many ways it resembles the medicine you buy when you have a cold. An ineffective way of feeling like you can “do something” when faced with a series of symptoms that you can, at best, slightly mitigate.

I say symptoms, because as somebody who grew up in the care of many therapists, I realize that the world can be a terrifying place when you’re a child and struggle with behavior & mental patterns you can’t control. Some behaviors are harmful, and no matter what you do you can’t grow out of them and you need assistance. The trouble with ABA is that unlike the kind of care I received when I was younger, ABA is

  1. Wildly inconsistent. There are thousands of ABA providers across the country, each pursuing their own undocumented, unregulated interpretation of ABA therapy and what it means. It can range from stringent dog training to various methods of group play, and none of it follows any particular framework that can be monitored for quality or abuse.
  2. Horribly mismanaged. The ABA industry has high attrition, low customer satisfaction, is often sloppy, and more often than not owned & operated by former instructors who have very little business acumen. It’s the only “medical” practice in which an individual can be pulled off the street, given 6 weeks of training, then sent out as a “therapist”. Therapists are often payed very little, are typically younger and inexperienced, and are managed by individuals with only slightly more time in the industry. This creates a culture of confusion or disorganization in which therapists arrive with the best of intentions only to quit or get moved too quickly up the chain.
  3. Lacks involvement from actually autistic. The ABA industry rarely leverages the knowledge and…
The Angry Autism Dad

gave up trying to figure it out but my head got lost along the way