Not if implemented correctly.
The following statements can all be placed in the same
- ABA is likely to make children more robotic
- Phonics reading is likely to make children read without meaning
- Standardized state testing is likely to make children lose their creativity
Likewise, there is a wealth of information showing that children with autism learn new skills through a behavioral approach (i.e., ABA). Those who claim ABA makes children with autism more robotic usually make one of three mistakes.
- 1) They fail to acknowledge that rigidity and
repetitiveness are characteristics of autism rather than a
result of any well-researched intervention.
In order to be diagnosed with autism, one is required to
demonstrate “restrictive repetitive and stereotyped
patterns of behavior.” Some articles will comment on how
those receiving ABA treatment still demonstrate repetitive
behavior, speak with little inflection, etc. We know from
the research that some children with autism make greater
gains than others through behavioral treatment.
Therefore, pointing out that some children who receive
behavioral treatment still show rigid behaviors is
anticlimactic. Since no treatment claims to help all
children with autism, and since children with autism
demonstrate restrictive patterns of behavior by
definition, one would expect some children in any
treatment to still show some behaviors that look
“robotic.” However, in ABA, there is also a wealth of
research showing that repetitive behaviors can be replaced
with more appropriate behaviors that serve the same
function for a child or adult with autism. Other
treatments often talk about how they are replacing
repetitive behaviors with more meaningful or playful
interactions and can cite a wealth of testimonials.
However, their claims have not undergone the same
rigorous testing as those studies utilizing applied
- 2) They fail to acknowledge the variety of teaching
procedures in behavioral treatment.
ABA employs a wide variety of techniques that have been
supported in the research. These procedures (discrete
trial teaching, incidental teaching, mand training,
natural language paradigm, functional communication
training, etc.) do more than teach children to answer
questions or make statements without thinking. They teach
children to communicate by requesting their needs. They
allow children to take the lead and learn in the natural
environment. They create positive relationships between a
teacher and child with a major emphasis on making social
interactions the reinforcement for learning.
- 3) They fail to understand the importance and emphasis on systematic generalization utilized in ABA. An underlying philosophy of ABA is that children with autism have failed to understand what well-meaning adults have attempted to communicate in the natural environment. As a consequence, these children have encountered continuous failure in learning situations. Therefore, every effort is made to construct a teaching situation so as to maximize a child’s success. When necessary, this is accomplished by simplifying requests or contriving situations. Opponents of ABA will point to some of these procedures (e.g., always asking a question the same way, using short instructions, rewarding with food) and say they lead to robotic responses, devoid of any true human interaction. What they fail to realize is that these initial responses are just one part of an intervention focused on teaching new skills and transferring those skills into a variety of new situations, until a child learns how to learn in the natural environment. From the moment ABA therapy starts, emphasis is placed on reaching a stage in which social interactions are the main form of reinforcement/link], children are reinforced through natural consequences in everyday life, and learning occurs with less structured teaching. For some children, these changes come quickly. For others, they require slow but steady growth. ABA has been effective in furthering this growth.