Analysing the behaviour of behaviour analysts 

Analysing the behaviour of behaviour analysts 

Over the past few weeks I have heard two stories from behaviour analysts . 

The first one I read told me that non-speaking Autistics couldn’t really learn to communicate with S2C  (Spell2communicate).

Instead of accepting that non-speakers can’t speak because they have  motor-neuron conditions like Apraxia for example the article insisted that S2C facilitators instead, were lying. 

They argued that non-speakers couldn’t possibly know the things they communicated through S2C because it went against what is “well established” about child learning. The well established idea that you can’t know something unless it is directly taught to you? The well established idea that Autistics are autodidactic learners? The well established idea that children can learn without speaking? They well established idea of presuming competence? Not sure what literature or “well established” idea they mean unless of course they mean their own limited understanding of human beings. 

So as well as basically calling S2C facilitators and parents of spellers liars and fools they also say that S2C works because the communication partner is prompting the speller, sending secret messages through their eyes and body gestures.

Then I watched a presentation from some Irish behaviour analysts  where they explained that Autistics who are opposed to PBS (positive behaviour support- a version of ABA) just don’t understand PBS, because it’s so complex.

Autistics who oppose the abuse of our community through ABA and PBS are often referred to as “angry” or “misguided” and it is said that we “don’t understand” and even that we can’t understand the lives of others who really need abuse, I mean ABA or PBS. Basically saying that we lack competence and empathy.

So what do we see here again? Behaviourists presuming incompetence in Autistics and assuming superiority. In this presentation by ISBA (Irish Society for Behaviour Analysis, not to be confused with ISBA- Irish Society of Botanical Artists!) the presenter gave a feigned attempt to listen to Autistics. He said that we need to listen to clients who tell us not t enforce eye contact or inhibit stimming. So they’ll listen to us on these things that we know about ourselves (after decades of explaining this to them) but they won’t listen to us about PBS being harmful because we just don’t understand. Time for them to join the dots I think. I’ll even give them a glitter gel pen out of goodwill to help them along rather than a way to motivate them to do it 🙂

What do these two stories have in common? In both cases the mind is protecting the heart. This is what the human brain does. It makes up stories so we don’t have to deal with awful realties. It protects us. So ABAers and PBSers are not really analysing their own behaviour very well and that’s because they don’t have the tools to do so. It is far easier to make up wild stories about misled parents, lying communication facilitators who are capable of great voodoo. It is easier to make up stories about angry, ignorant Autistics who just don’t understand ourselves and how behavioural approaches work than to look inside and face the reality that their work is doing harm. 

This is why the defence from ABA/ PBS is always the same, instead of focusing on the harms that it does and listening to the community it is harming it makes up scripts like “it’s not old ABA, it’s new”, “it’s not new ABA, it’s neuro-affirming”, “the Autistics and allied professionals pointing out the harms just don’t understand our complex “science””, “the scientists against our science just don’t understand it” and so on and on the scripts go because the mind protects the heart and it’s far easier to make up stories than to face the dark reality of the harm that has been done and is still being done. 

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