There is a question that is often asked about Applied Behavioral Analyses (ABA) and it is ‘will my child become a robot?’ When a parent see’s a child taught the same thing over and over it’s a natural conclusion.
“My child only responds this way because he is told to.”
Truly, we are all taught how to react to certain situations by our experiences – in fact, it is a perfectly human thing to do. We say please and thank you because our parents kindly taught us manners and reminded us again and again to use them. We are scared of clowns because we learned they were menacing through experience.
ABA isn’t an alien form of learning where the techniques are only used with Autistic children; it is a therapy that fundamentally teaches a child how to learn. But others use these techniques too, an addict can use ABA techniques, the same is done to encourage workers, or reduce disordered behavior. In fact, behavioral therapies, in general, are one of the largest, most used therapies out there. Not just for Autism, but disorders and everyday problems all across the board. Psychologists learn behaviorism (the study of human behavior) almost as soon as they learn about the human mind. And ABA is just a form of behavioral therapy, teaching a child what behaviors affect the world around them and what one’s will create positives or negatives in their lives.
Much has changed since the 1960s version of ABA which most base their opinions on. Much has changed in psychology since the 1960’s in general, one only has to look at the state of mental institutions back then, to see huge changes. Not only this but Autism is diagnosed differently, and we know more about the disorder. ABA evolved too; it now promotes flexibility and models several ways to respond to environments.
But if you still fear your child will turn into a robot, you can talk to your therapist about ‘programming for generalization’ something that all ABA therapists will know about. This means, once a child can remember how to react in situations safely and effectively, they can begin to add on their own quirks and abilities – something that ABA ultimately aims for, anyway. You can see this in ‘neurologically normal’ children too (robotic responses that morph into their own personalities). When first learning to speak, we are taught to say milk to a bottle, or hungry when we want something to eat. But at some point, those words take on a flow of their own and our child speaks, adding their own mannerisms and thoughts.
ABA, when done right, is not a therapy that creates a robot, it is a therapy that teaches a child how to learn, how to function in this world, and how to stay safe and happy, whilst still satisfying their needs.