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Behaviourism Damages Autistic Children

Reward charts belong in the bin


The problems with ABA are widely publicised and well known in the UK. Many parents are aware of staying the hell away from it because it hurts Autistic children.

The thing is, it's not just ABA. It's anything that uses reward and punishment as motivation. It's behaviourism in its entirety.

What is behaviourism?

"Behaviorists believe that our responses to environmental stimuli shape our actions. According to this school of thought, behaviour can be studied systematically and objectively regardless of internal mental states. According to this perspective, only observable behaviour should be considered—cognitions, emotions, and moods are far too subjective. Behaviourists believe that any person can be trained to perform any task, regardless of genetic background, personality traits, and internal thoughts (within the limits of their physical capabilities). It only requires the right conditioning."

Now let us consider Autistic trauma. If your child is Autistic, they would have grown up surrounded by NT's constantly invalidating their sensory experience. They will feel different and push hard to keep up with their peers, not knowing they aren't like them. They will mask HARD and probably be unaware that this is what they are doing. All of this is seriously tiring…

Many Autistic children fawn. Fawning is when the desire to please and blend in overrides their own needs, wants and desires, usually at a considerable cost. Think Coca-Cola effect.

So, back to reward charts. They are coercive. All children are natural learners. They are literally designed to learn.

'Children do well if they can'.

Considering that most SEND support focuses on NT being the gold standard of being, and it is primarily designed to make children act more NT, it further encourages masking. Our children are often hyperempathetic, so terrified of upsetting a teacher or standing out. They've usually received thousands more negative messages throughout their lives because of their differences and the behaviour based approaches to things they can't help……QUIET HANDS!

So along comes a well-meaning teacher with a sticker chart, there is praise which they've probably not had much of, someone is telling them how to behave in order to please, this appeals to fawning, masking, ignoring their own needs, pushing harder than they should…. Etc etc. etc

Let's have a look at some "conditioning" behaviourist tricks…. Reward and punishment (see sticker charts), learning through association (dog sits, the dog gets a treat), aversion therapy (think slightly less palatable electric shock devices used in the states for children expressing distress).

Not only does it teach our kids to ignore their own needs and wants, but it also teaches us to be people pleasers. This is especially dangerous for our already vulnerable kids!

Let me put it another way.

Husband and wife. If the wife is good and completes all the tasks on her chart, she is allowed free time to play. She doesn't design this chart. The husband dictates it, and if she doesn't do it all, she will have to watch all the other wives go out to play while she does the things on the chart. Remind you of 'choosing time' anyone?

If this were happening in an adult relationship, it would be considered illegal domestic abuse, but it is ok for children?

There are alternatives, but that requires time, effort and mutual respect. Think about natural consequences, think about what motivates children to learn, what are they interested in? Think about collaboration.

Because behaviourism is so widely used, I understand how this might be a little hard to grasp for some, but remember. We used to think it was entirely acceptable to cane children?

Much Love

Tanya <3

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Susanna Laws
Susanna Laws
2021년 10월 07일

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