Unlike LGBT status, autism is a disability. When autistic people are closeted by their psych professionals and families, it’s an additional layer of burden. It requires faking, and constant high level social performance skills, skills we autistics are sort of known for struggling with. Being constantly tasked with an overly challenging assignment eventually breaks us, in what we call autistic burnout.
Right now all across the country hundreds or thousands of ABA therapists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and autism warrior mamas are cheerfully explaining to a disabled child that they can have their favorite toy, once they pretend not to be disabled. They can have a treat (or avoid an aversive) but only once they demonstrate compliance.
The goal of ABA is a disabled child who is “indistinguishable from peers”. The goal is masking the accommodation needs. The goal is a closet. An autistic child who has gone through years of ABA will be more vulnerable to peer pressure and predatory adults than an autistic child who hasn’t. Orneriness can have protective value.
A disabled child, or adult, who is indistinguishable from peers is a person who doesn’t look like they need accommodation. This invisibility of distress harms the individual and their relationships with others. If Jenny has learned never to suck her cheeks or twirl her hair when she’s overwhelmed by sensory input, how can her friends know she needs help staying calm until a fire drill is over?
LGBT conversion therapy and autism conversion therapy share the same set of premises: that these conditions are behavioral rather than innate, and that they are inferior to the alternatives. Autistic children are demanded to work full time jobs learning how to pretend they don’t experience a sensory processing disability marked by social deficits. That is not a kindness. That is a closet.
ABA is conversion therapy and should be viewed as the harmful bigoted quackery it is, for queer and disabled people alike.
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