Published in November 2023
This is the final part (for now) in my look at ABA, in which we look at the potential for meaningful change and how autistic people can benefit from so-called “behavioural” approaches.
I have heard conversations with Andy Swartfigure who works as a Positive Behavioural Support consultant. He is someone who has had a long career in behaviourism and who is pushing for the regulation and recognition of ABA therapists in the UK.
I was initially very sceptical about his angle but I have listened to what he has to say and I must note that he presents himself very well and avoids being drawn into making any misleading statements. He comes across as someone who considers his words and who is passionate about helping people.
He comes across as someone who places a high value on social validity and quality of life outcome measures for ABA type interventions and in fact, does not seem to adhere to any of the commonly held conceptions about what ABA is.
He talks about behaviours as skills; as an expressive action rather than as a receptive action. I discussed the difference between these in part 2, the context there being that ABA is usually considered to act on receptive behaviour i.e. making the child respond and react in a certain way. If ABA, or to use a better phrase, supportive therapy, works on developing expressive behaviour skills, enabling and empowering autistic people to advocate for themselves and to obtain and retain autonomy and agency, I think we are looking at something other than what ABA is regarded as by the wider autistic community.
I will continue to engage and listen with what he has to say, as this is a rare opportunity for there to be a genuinely two-way dialogue between autistic people and the ABA community. This is our chance to be heard, and to input into the social validity metrics of ABA type therapies.
I also think we need to work with a different terminology; the DIR and RDI models discussed in the previous part seem much closer to what Andy talks about than what many autistic people would recognise as ABA. A conversation with an autistic friend on this topic discussed the terminology and social validity of therapies for autistic people, in which we decided that life skills and learning about people and social games were socially valid goals that support autonomy.
Autistic Radio will be broadcasting these conversations and hosting discussion on the topic as part of Radio Days on the 27th to 30th of December this year.
*Image credit: mine; one of the AGAPÉ sculptures by Anton Smit at Leonardslee Gardens, Sussex
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