Ethical Challenges to the Autism-ABA Industry
by Michelle Dawson
Since the publication of O. Ivar Lovaas’ landmark 1987 study, scientific and legal attention has been lavished on Applied Behaviour Analysis as an autism treatment. Dr Lovaas’ supporters and opponents, whether principled or opportunist, have been loud, plentiful, prolific, and well-credentialed. But when it comes to the test of ethics, to allotting autistics rudimentary ethical consideration, all sides and factions for and against ABA have persistently and thoroughly failed.
In an investigation of this failure, diverse aspects of ethical standards in the autism-ABA industry are explored and compared. A framework emerges suggesting the nature and scope, as well as the causes and motives, of the unethical treatment of autistics. At the same time, a narrative emerges. It resonates with the past and current unethical treatment of other atypical human beings. Since ethics problems do not spontaneously resolve themselves, instead tending to accumulate and escalate, the interlocking framework and narrative are put to work. This results in specific ethical challenges, and some proposed remedies, for behaviourists of all kinds who have as their goal extinguishing autistic behaviour, and therefore autistic people. …