Community Bulletin: Researchers and Activists Debate Applied Behavior Analysis | Spectrum

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Illustration by Laurène Boglio

Hello and welcome to the community newsletter! I am your host, Chelsey B. Coombs, Spectrumengagement editor.

As a reminder, Spectrum will hold a discussion on Twitter at the Society for Neuroscience conference this week. Join us from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday, November 10 to discuss conference posters, speeches and presentations with your fellow researchers and our reporters, using #SpectrumChat. We will be leading the discussion from the @Spectrum Twitter account.

Several autism researchers commented online this week on a statement from the Autism Science Foundation (ASF) expressing “strong support” for applied behavior analysis (ABA).

“We concluded that ABA therapy, when properly delivered in an ethical manner, is beneficial for those affected by autism,” wrote ASF.

The underlying principle of ABA is to teach people with autism skills that they may find difficult. But it has long been criticized by adults with autism who took therapy as children and say they think it was harmful.

Although some ABA therapists have used punishment in the past, today ABA “favors the use of positive reinforcement rather than negative,” the ASF statement states. And ABA techniques vary widely and have changed dramatically since their first development in the 1960s, ASF wrote in a follow-up tweet.

Laura Crane, associate professor of psychology and human development at University College London and deputy director of the Center for Research in Autism and Education in the UK, tweeted a nuanced thread about ASF’s statement.

It is difficult to know what is ethical or unethical in this context, Crane wrote, using the example of social skills training in ABA, which can potentially lead to the disguise of autism traits. . Research shows that cover-up has negative effects on people with autism, she writes, and that “professionals need to think deeply” about the ethics of ABA and other interventions.

Kristen Bottema-Beutel, associate professor of education, curriculum and society at Boston College in Massachusetts, responded to Crane that some of the research cited by ASF in their statement as evidence of the therapy’s effectiveness “did not support over there”.

Kristie Patten, associate dean of academic affairs and associate professor of occupational therapy at New York University in New York, tweeted that “who determines what is ethical” may not include people with autism in ABA therapy.

Richard Woods, a graduate student in the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences at the University of London South Bank, asked whether ASF’s science advisory board had been consulted on the statement.

David Mandell, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Autism Editor-in-chief and member of ASF’s scientific advisory board, responded that the foundation’s position on ABA “is not an issue that we discussed as a group” and that members would likely have a wide range of interests. opinions on therapy.

In response to the tweets, Alison Singer, President of the Autism Science Foundation, made the following statement to Spectrum.

“We support this statement. The science is clear that ABA is safe and effective. We wrote this statement because we were becoming increasingly alarmed that families might be discouraged from using this evidence-based treatment due to unfounded criticism from some in the neurodiversity community and of a handful of autism scientists who focus on the functional end of autism. population. ABA is not suitable for everyone, but for some it can be life changing.

“ABA” has been used as a monolithic term to denote a type of behavioral support when in fact ABA is a hugely diverse set of principles that govern a wide range of interventions. New literature, written in collaboration with adults with autism, has shown that ABA practice has evolved over the years, improved, and met the needs of the autism community.

Register for November 29 Spectrum webinar, featuring Ari Ne’eman, a doctoral student in health policy at Harvard University and president and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Ne’eman will talk about ways to assess clinical progress in people with autism that do not also promote that they “pass” as non-autistic.

You can now watch our October 28 webinar with Zachary J. Williams, medical student and doctoral student at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who spoke about measuring alexithymia in people with autism.

That’s it for this week’s community newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you’ve seen in autism research, please feel free to email me at [email protected] See you next week!



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