Why I Left ABA

Trigger Warning: ABA, ableism, institutionalized child abuse

[Image Description: A bright red door with a brass knob and a faded mail slit. To its left, there is a long, dark windowpane with some decoration and smudges. The door itself has chips in its paint and markings on it, despite the bright color. It is closed, possibly locked.]

When I first became an ABA Therapist, I was thrilled. I was actually going to use my psych degree, get paid more than minimum wage, and above all, make a positive difference in Autistic children’s lives. Or at least, that’s what I thought.

Now I look back, and the year I spent working in ABA is my single greatest regret.

When I left, it wasn’t a decision I made overnight. It was a long, difficult process, full of denial and confusion. I don’t enjoy talking about it because I did so many wrong things that affected kids’ lives, and I don’t want to offer any excuses for myself. But I do want you to get a sense of what the process was like, in case anyone reading this happens to be in the same position.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I’m so grateful for the Autistic community for sharing about their lives and their experiences. I’d probably still be working in ABA right now if it wasn’t for their tireless efforts to call out ableism, which helped me recognize it in my own life and in my work. Listening to their voices and their traumatic experiences of ABA is what made me quit, and none of these critiques of ABA are my own. I learned everything from Autistic people, and I’m going to link to many of their writings and videos that influenced my decision to quit.

Since ABA affects Autistic people’s lives first and foremost, their voices are the most important part of this discussion, and it’s essential that you listen to what they’re saying.

And of course, the links in this post are only just a small sample of all the invaluable information that exists within the Autistic community – you can learn so much more by continuing to seek out Autistic writers and speakers. Before you continue reading, I recommend checking out this FAQ page about Autism by Autistic Hoya and this video by Amythest Schaber, because there is already so much misinformation about what Autism even is. And there is no better expert on Autism than someone who actually is Autistic.

I also want to recognize that many forms of therapy for Autistic kids are called “ABA,” but not all would actually be considered traditional ABA and thus they may be less problematic than the forms I’m going to discuss in this post. Many times, a therapy is labeled ABA simply to get covered by insurance. This is why it can get confusing to discuss ABA since the term is used to encompass a broad variety of teaching methods. Please understand that when I’m talking about ABA in this post, I’m speaking from my own personal experience of it. This page is a good summary of the kind of ABA I did (though I never worked at that place specifically), which included Discrete Trial Training (DTT), Natural Environment Training (NET), and errorless teaching.

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On Anxiety and Speaking Up

[Image Description: Photo is in black and white and shows a tight close-up of two hands. No other part of the person is visible, but you can see a watch on one of their wrists. One of their hands is closed in a loose fist over the tip of the index finger on their other hand, suggesting a feeling of fidgeting and apprehension.]

You speak with volume and determination. Your tone does not waver.
My voice is quiet. My words stick and stumble, stop and start.

You stand with confidence. Your body language is bold, fearless.
I close up outside-in. My shoulders want to sink into my heart.

You betray no doubts in yourself. Your words are facts, jammed
close together – no room for dissent.
My mind is doubts and questions and worries. Every thought and
feeling is examined, dissected, put back together a thousand different

Your face does not blush. Your body does not sweat.
Sweat slides down my arms, pools in my palms. My face is burning.

You are a leader.
I still have a voice.

(Photo: Copyright -Taro cc // Unaltered)

Love, God, and Sexuality

Trigger Warning: suicide, homophobia, sexuality discrimination in religion

[Image Description: A backdrop of a sun-dappled forest, with green leaves criss-crossing over small glimpses of a blue sky. In front, several rainbow banners hang, at varying distances from the camera. They are not solid pieces of fabric, but look neatly tattered, as if someone tied many different-colored strands to the same oblong hanger. They cascade in long, beautiful colors out of the frame.] 

Sexuality has always been a weird thing to me.

Growing up in a conservative Christian community, I quickly learned that talking about anything sexual was off-limits. Not only off-limits, but bad. Not only bad, but sinful. As a kid, that word used to scare the shit out of me. I feared anything described as a sin, anything that threatened to send me to hell.

Mixed up in all of this was, of course, the issue of sexuality. In my case, I was lucky, because I’m attracted to men and I enjoy relationships with men. I never felt a sense that something was off or missing when I was with guys. Simply put, I identify overall as straight.

That meant I never had to sit through a church service that told me God forbid me from having a relationship with another person, no matter how deeply I longed for it. Or that my feelings of romantic love and attraction toward men were wrong, sinful, perverse – that I was an abomination in the eyes of God. As a straight person, nobody in church said that God would send me to hell due to the feelings I was born having.

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I Don’t Have to Be Part of Everything

Trying to be an ally has been a learning experience. I started out thinking I could do no wrong as long as I cared about whatever community I wanted to support. I put so much faith in my ability to empathize that I assumed it gave me license to defend a cause in any way, and I didn’t think twice about speaking over other people or acknowledging that I can never truly understand someone else’s experience just because I watched a moving documentary about it. As long as I genuinely cared, I reasoned, how could I go wrong?

I’m still learning, but I now realize it’s not that simple.

One lesson I’ve learned only recently is that I don’t have to be part of everything in a community I want to support.

I repeatedly see this issue come up whenever a marginalized group tries to have a space or a conversation of their own. One of the most recent examples was the Twitter campaign #BlackOutDay, where Black people shared pictures and stories about themselves to celebrate Black beauty. The campaign was so popular that it’ll now become a tradition for the first Friday of every month, with the next one happening April 3rd. But on the first day of it, many white people called the whole thing racist and complained that a “White Out Day” would’ve been shut down instantly.

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First Blog Post: What’s This All About?

Hello! Thanks for checking out my blog!

I’ve been wanting to jump on the blog bandwagon for months, because writing has always been a natural form of expression for me. Pretty recently, I’ve realized that I have a lot of stuff I want to talk about, and that’s when I got the idea to start this thing.

So, what exactly is this all about?

Basically, I want this to be a space where I can share my thoughts and hear what others think. I would love this to become a respectful community open to dialogue and discussion – and where, hopefully, we can learn from each other’s perspectives. A huge focus of my life right now is trying to be the best ally I can to causes that I care deeply about, and I want to use this blog to not only participate in the online community of advocacy, but also to continue learning about what being a good ally means by engaging with other people.

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