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Monday, May 10, 2021

ABA Fight in Australia

 In The Politics of Autism, I write:

As long as government funds so much research, politics will shape the questions that scientists ask and determine the kinds of research that receive funding.  Politics will even influence which scientists the policymakers will believe and which findings will guide public policy. In the end, science cannot tell us what kinds of outcomes we should want.  ABA “works” in the sense that it helps some autistic people become more like their typically developing peers.  Most parents regard such an outcome as desirable, but not all people on the spectrum agree.  

This conflict recently flared up at a hearing in Australia.  Adam Holmes at The Advocate:

A Senate select committee hearing on autism is hardly the place where you would expect heated exchanges and insults to be thrown, but in Launceston last month, the divisive debate around applied behaviour analysis was laid bare.

Chair of the committee, NSW Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes' questioning of a Tasmanian autistic adult and advocate - including Phillip StEvens - left them in need of consoling afterwards as she vigorously argued in favour of ABA, a framework that has the goal of improving challenging behaviour.

"I find your approach offensive, particularly with your being the chair. Your bias is obvious," Mr StEvens said.

"It's not bias, it's best practice," senator Hughes responded.

"It is bias, and you're speaking over me, which is outrageous," Mr StEvens said.

"Well, I find you outrageous. I'm done," the senator concluded.

Senator Hughes is the mother of an autistic child and has become an advocate of ABA after experiencing "huge results" in her son's behaviour using a "play-based positive reinforcement program", but the practice encounters opposition from members of the autistic community who regard it as trying to "fix" children by using methods seen as demeaning and harmful.