Recently, the New York Times put out an article under its health section titled, “Early Behavior Therapy Found to Aid Children with A.D.H.D.” Here is a choice quote from the article:
Behavior modification for A.D.H.D. is based on a fairly simple system of rewards and consequences. Parents reward the good or cooperative acts they see; subtle things, like paying attention for a few moments, can earn a pat on the back or a “good boy.” Completing homework without complaint might earn time on a smartphone. Parents withhold privileges, like playtime or video games, or enforce a “time out” in response to defiance and other misbehavior.
And they learn to ignore irritating but harmless bids to win attention, like making weird noises, tapping or acting like a baby.
The analysis did not account for the psychological cost to parents — in terms of a child’s tantrums, slammed doors and hurled tableware — of carrying out behavioral techniques.
If this sounds a lot like what is used on autistic children to extinguish stimming and reinforce “positive behaviors” and discourage “negative behaviors…” that’s because it is. What they are discussing is fundamentally Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). But wait, you say. Isn’t ABA good for Autistic children? Isn’t it evidence-based?
Yes, ABA is evidence-based in that it does what it’s designed to do – extinguish or replace certain behaviors. But it’s kind of like Jurassic Park, except no one gets eaten by dinosaurs, because people were so intense and focused on what they could do that no one thought – should we do it? B.F. Skinner and Ivar Lovaas would be thrilled that states are mandating private insurers pay for ABA for autistic children.
And that more children are falling under its scope. ADHD is often thought of as a “cousin” to autism by many – and with that comes the pathologization and attempts to erase all unwanted behaviors.
Let’s break this down further:
“And they learn to ignore irritating but harmless bids to win attention, like making weird noises, tapping or acting like a baby.”
I don’t know, I mostly made cat noises because I liked making cat noises. If they are harmless, why must they be extinguished? If they’re harmless, why are they pathologized? Irritating. I forgot that part. They’re “irritating,” and thus are seen as something to eradicate. Couple onto this the fact that most humans engage in “attention-seeking behaviors,” to be seen, to be heard. And adding a third objection to this, the “mental age” trope of “acting like a baby” is never an appropriate way to describe someone with a disability – in fact, I’d go further and object to anyone being told they’re acting like a baby. It is a complete invalidation.
“The analysis did not account for the psychological cost to parents — in terms of a child’s tantrums, slammed doors and hurled tableware — of carrying out behavioral techniques.”
And here we see the age-old “cost to parents” trope. What does it cost parents? What does it do to parents? My questions are: