Trolls and conditioning

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Every once in a while the anti-ABA trolls come out. I don’t like trolls. They use social media as a license to spread poorly informed or irrational notions, using techniques like hype and rhetoric in an attempt to sway the opinions of those who may not care in that moment to dig a little deeper. 

Trolls spread anything from silly ideas like the earth is flat, to dangerous ones like climate change is a hoax or don't vaccinate your kids.

I believe the simplest way to stop trolls is to shut them down, to not give them safe harbour. Open debate is perfectly acceptable and in fact welcome. (This is what good science is all about.) But if you're going to make outrageous, imflammatory claims without any evidence to back them up, that don't contribute to actually helping those with autism, you'll have to find somewhere else to say it.

So, moving on - here’s a recent thread about ABA that I had to remove:

I have 2 Autistic children and there is not a snowball's chance in Hell I'd subject them to the type of conditioning they do in ABA, and it is conditioning!”

"... ABA is barbaric and causes undue stress and anxiety and if a parent acted the way some of the teachers of ABA do they would get done for child abuse ..."

The last part is actually a valid point - some ABA practitioners are terrible at it. Some. If you have one on your team, replace them immediately. Ultimately, however the poster resorted to abusive name calling. The nice thing about trolls is that it can also bring out the anti-trolls. Here was one of the more well articulated responses:

“Forgive me, but isn't conditioning what parenting is all about? Isn't it your job to condition your child to exhibit desirable behaviours and discourage them from the opposite? And isn't the reason for doing this so that your child can grow to become a happy and successful member of society in the future? ABA provides the framework for applying these ideas and studies (and observations) show that the approach works. Unless you are letting your children do whatever they want, whenever they want, you're conditioning.”

This is completely true. I'll take it one step further: ABA absolutely is conditioning. Technically it’s a form of “condition-response training” which is a formalized method of instruction based on well established principles of neuroscience.

Here are some other crazy examples of conditioning:

  • Learning to play a musical instrument
  • Those drills your coach makes you do a hundred times that make you want to stick your thumb in your eye
  • How you see kids in period-piece movies learning Latin. Amo, amas, amat …
  • Literally any form of martial arts
  • Learning to drive on the opposite side of the road
  • Meditation
  • Any religious practice
  • Advertising of any kind
  • Physiotherapy
  • Yoga

So, yes. ABA is a form of conditioning.

Someone please alert the media while I give my son a hug.

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