Why Autism is Inspiring

Beth of Behaviour Babble reached out to me a few months back asking me to contribute to an article that she was pulling together. I was honored by her request to share my thoughts on autism. Specifically, the questions she asked were,

“What have you learned from working with children with autism? How did having them in your life make you grow as a person?”

Here is the article. I definitely recommend you reading it because the other contributors offer such amazing insights and observations. If you have a moment, please give Behaviour Babble a follow on Facebook as well.

I will offer this as an addition to the article.

The greatest challenges we face as a society is the disconnection that we experience between each other. Humanity thrives when we are connected with each other. We thrive individually and collectively when we are connected. Conversely, our greatest struggles, suffering, and failures occur when we are disconnected. Disconnection is an entropic state. It happens just like entropy. Connection, on the other hand, is a behavior or series of behaviors. It takes action to accomplish.

Connecting is a choice we must make. When we are feeling hurt, alone, afraid, and frustrated, we need to choose to connect rather than disconnect. It applies to all of humanity, and if we succeed in connecting then we can overcome any challenge we face as a species.

The reality is that the challenges that come with Autism and more specifically Autism Spectrum Disorder are almost all solved by choosing to connect with each other. It doesn’t mean the solution is easy. Connecting comes with sacrifice. It is difficult when you don’t understand what the other person is experience, but the yearning to connect is there for all of us. Perhaps the other person does not know or understand how to communicate this, but my experience both as an autistic, as well as a professional support individuals affected by ASD as well as other challenges. Choose to connect with each other.

2 thoughts on “Why Autism is Inspiring”

  1. Hello Brian,
    I enjoyed reading your contribution to behavior babble and your blog posts. I am autistic as well and I find behavior analysis fascinating. I want to go into this field but I am struggling with the misinformation/dislike of ABA amongst the autistic community. While I don’t agree with every single technique/practice in ABA, I still think a lot of these methods can be used to help improve people’s independence. My professor has her BCBA-D and has similar values to what you believe, however she is not autistic. I just wanted to see if someone from both communities had any advice on how to navigate this field and if the majority of people want to use it for good.

    I have an undergraduate degree in psychology where I took a behavior analysis course (the professor was wonderful and awesome!). I also completed the 40-hour RBT training, however I have been hesitant to go further in the field since the training had outdated information about autistic people, to say the least (not wonderful and awesome :/).

    1. McKenna,

      First, thank you for your patience. I really need to check my website comments more often.
      Second, you and I are in the same proverbial boat. We see the value in the science of radical behaviorism and want to make a difference in the lives of others. Here is my thought process, and I hope it helps in your decision making.

      The biggest problem that behavior analysis has is that it is consistently non-evidence-based practices that throw trauma-informed out the window. While the science is there, the culture has drifted from that enough that procedures such as forced compliance and suppression of stimming have become acceptable when there is no social significance to them. Reducing stimming so that an individual can participate in learning or if the stimming is causing immediate physical harm to themselves isn’t the same as suppressing stims just because that’s what we do, to be clear. When people in the sciences who are much more knowledgable and experienced than me are making this observation, this indicates that it is a cultural problem that needs adjusting.
      So what do we do?
      Well, the members of the autism community that are the most vocal about the problem think that ABA should be dismantled. They are loud, angry, and want change now! And they aren’t wrong to want those things, but that’s just not going to happen. Especially with how they approach things. Approaches to a cultural change that have a foundation and primary communication method of anger fail. They fail because the anger shuts the listeners down. The listeners double down on justifying their behaviors. They dismiss the anger individual as being unreasonable. Certainly, a few will be convinced, but too few.
      Now, contrast that with people who demand change in a calm, reasoned, and reasonable manner. Consider Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He most certainly was angry. Had every right to be. But he focused on the change that was needed. He approached it from a calm and inclusive way. He pointed out the injustices and presented alternatives that were better and very much needed. Was he 100% successful? Unfortunately no. Was he reviled by others who thought he should be taking a harder stance? Unfortunately yes. But he changed things, and I really wish more people would take his tack in approaching this with the current issues we face today. The point being that he initiated cultural change where others failed.
      So here is the approach that I take. I teach behavior analysis principles with trauma-informed care mixed in in hopes that I can influence other behavior analysts during the learning stage. I advocate for trauma-informed care loudly and with compassion for all involved, the clients, parents, and therapists alike. I speak loudly, but calmly about the need for this major reform. And here is the kicker, I have appeared on ABA Inside Track (episode 134) to talk about trauma-informed care. I have had multiple organizations reach out to me to speak on the topic and teach others. I have received significant positive feedback about the message I share. A message that was not mine until I made it mine. Add to that that I refuse to work for any organization that does not use trauma-informed care as their foundation of care and I am moving ever towards my values when it comes to ABA and doing what is right for our clients, and the science.
      What this field needs is more behavior analysts that take up this banner. More people to shout out that trauma-informed care is the BASIC level of service that should be codified into our ethical code. Cultural change takes time. It takes effort, but this is the time to initiate it. If the others who hate ABA were to have their way the baby would be thrown out with the bathwater. The science would be dismissed completely because of stupid and avoidable mistakes made because of faulty assumptions. I would rather we change our science for the better than end it. And the reality is that it isn’t going to end because as a science it is well established, researched, and respected. So the only meaningful way to make a difference is to change the cultural problem we have.

      I hope this reply helps. I will be emailing it to you as well. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Just so you know, reaching out to me via social media results in faster response times, but feel free to reply to my email or comment here again.
      Brian Middleton, the Bearded Behaviorist.

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