How to Handle ABA Criticism in Five Steps

There is a dialogue being had about our field across the internet every single day and a lot of it does not put ABA in a flattering light. Have you found yourself reading articles or posts that criticize ABA and immediately wanted to defend the science with all your heart? Have you done everything you can to try to prove to others on social media that ABA has changed and evolved beyond its mistakes of the past? If so, this post is for you. We will walk through five steps that you can take in order to handle ABA criticism so that you can avoid keyboard wars and create a better space for voices to be heard.

Step 1: Listen to the experiences of others.

When someone tells you their opinion or experience with ABA, do everything in your power to listen. You can do this whether you are interacting in person, on the web, or in some other way. If you find yourself feeling anxious, frustrated, or defensive, you can tact that feeling and begin the process of understanding why you are feeling that way. Is it because you find their opinion to be negative? Is it because they are expressing a hatred of an intervention that you yourself have previously used? Try to identify the underlying reasons while continuing to listen unconditionally to the other person.

Step 2: Validate the experiences of others.

Validating the experiences of others can come in the form of not invalidating the experiences of others. After you have listened unconditionally, recognize that the experience of the other person is something they have lived through. Experiences do not have to be justified. Experiences do not need to be questioned. Instead, you can confirm that you have heard their experience. You can even reflect back the emotions that you are hearing in the other person. Saying, “It sounds like that must have been very difficult for you” will be a lot more validating than “Are you sure that’s what actually happened?”


Step 3: Resist the urge to say, “I don’t do bad ABA. I do good ABA.”

Saying that you do “good” ABA is going to fall on deaf ears to those that believe all ABA is bad. We are not going to prove any points when it comes to ABA criticism by simply “talking the talk”. We also have to “walk the walk” and figure out ways to make our practices trauma-informed, client-centered, and heart-centered. Which brings me to the fourth step…

Step 4: Analyze your own practices.

It is okay to recognize that some of the interventions you have used (past or present) are not “good”. In fact, admitting and accepting that we have room to improve is a step in the right direction. If you want to find out more about practices that need to be changed or eliminated within the field of ABA, a good place to start might be the Facebook group “Autistic RBTs and Allies for Ethical ABA”.

Step 5: Advocate for change in the field.

Advocating for things like obtaining client consent/assent, teaching clients self-advocacy, and increasing understanding of client mental health are just a few small ways that we can advocate for change in the field of ABA. Remind yourself when it comes to ABA criticism, we are capable of learning, growing, and self-actualizing. If you are reading this post, I know that you are someone who wants to help others. I believe in you. You’ve got this.



About the Author
Kayla is a graduate of Ball State University and earned her Masters of Arts in Applied Behavior Analysis. She is the founder of AllDayABA and has been a Registered Behavior Technician since 2015. When she is not caring for her infant daughter with her husband, she can usually be found hanging out with other family members or doing game nights with friends. You can follow her on Instagram @alldayabacompany or on Pinterest @AllDayABA.

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