Anyway, I had to take Bravo into the school today to meet with the school psychologist for some cognitive testing, as his IEP review is due before his birthday next month. I haven't worked with this psychologist before, and he seems like a nice enough guy, but I'm pretty sure he hates me now, because... you know... I can never seem to hold my firetrucking tongue when it comes to the treatment and education of the kiddos in my care.
So, I'm filling out the ABAS-3 (Adaptive Behavior Assessment System, Third Edition) while Mr. Psychologist gets out some puzzle pieces to begin testing. He's working in tandem with the SLP (Speech & Language Pathologist), and they're tag-teaming... Mr. Psychologist performs one part of his test, and then Ms. SLP performs one part of hers, and so on.
Everything is going fine -- I'm working on one side of the table on the ABAS, Mr. Psychologist, Bravo, and Ms. SLP are working on the other side. Mr. Psychologist has killed the fan in the room because the noise is distracting to me, and it's all good, until I hear it: Bravo, "quiet hands," please.
They were in the middle of testing, and Mr. Psychologist had asked me not to intervene with the testing process, so I lifted my head, gave the psych a look (he was too engrossed in the testing to notice), and went back to the ABAS.
When he finished the test portion, I butted in before Ms. SLP could begin her portion.
"Is this a stopping point?" I asked.
"Sort of," he said.
"May I speak, frankly?" I asked.
"Errrr... of course..." he ventured.
"Okay. So, we're a house full of neurodiversity and neurodivergence. We don't subscribe to ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy, its tactics, its goals, or its dictionary. We don't use phrases like, 'quiet hands.' We believe physical stimming is healthy and productive, and we don't force children to refrain from it, hide it, or minimize it."
There was a brief moment of uncomfortable silence, and Mr. Psychologist cleared his throat. "I understand that. That's great. I actually didn't even know that 'quiet hands' was an ABA thing."
Like, this guy wanted me to believe that he pursued an education in psychology -- presumably, with an emphasis on child development, at some point? -- to the point of receiving a degree, but had NEVER HEARD THE PHRASE "QUIET HANDS," IN THE CONTEXT OF ABA? I gave him the benefit of the doubt, in any event.
"Gentle redirection to return focus to the task at hand is fine," I said, "but I don't endorse attempts to restrict physical stims."
I let it go at that, but I wanted to scream, "BUT IT SERVES THE SAME PURPOSE, DOESN'T IT?! Does it even MATTER where you heard it, when what you want the child to do is stop his physical stimming?!""
Let me explain.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is compliance-based "therapy" popular with parents of autistic children, which includes goals such as "reducing inappropriate behavior," "increasing socially acceptable behaviors," and "increasing appropriate and effective communication." Its primary goal? To "fix" autistic children, "correcting" their behaviors, so they appear more neurotypical ("less autistic"), drawing less attention to themselves and their caregivers, so those caregivers and society at large can feel more comfortable around them.
If you're not grasping why ABA is harmful to autistics, try reading "Quiet Hands," by Julia Bascom.
Is that too artsy for you? Try this one from Amy Sequenzia, of the Autistic Women's Network.
Want to see what this compliance-based indoctrination looks like as it carries into adulthood? Read this post from Neurodivergent K.
Anyway, so I was trying to explain to Mr. Wright that the new school psychologist hates me, now, and I started telling him the story, and when I got to the part about hearing "quiet hands," he fell out of his chair, laughing.
Not because he thinks ABA is funny, but because he's been in IEP meetings with me, before.
He said, "Ohhhhhhhhhh, hell... QUIET HANDS? Did you lose your ever loving shit? Were you standing on your toes? Were you doing that? I can just see you, standing on your toes! You do that, you know!"
Well, no. I was sitting down, actually. Mostly, anyway. I may have been slightly out of my seat. Reaching across the table. With my hands ready to snap the guy's neck.
But mostly, I was sitting. Technically. Pretty much, anyway.
Mr. Wright asked what I hoped to gain from the exchange, and suggested that I simply wanted the guy to acknowledge that I am right about this issue. I thought about it, and replied, "No. I want people to earnestly consider the weight and implications of the ideals they hold dear, and I want them to come to the conclusion on their own that what they've learned or been taught may be wrong. I want them to realize they've got it all wrong, when it comes to the autistic community."
"In other words," he said, chuckling, "you want to be right?"
Well, yes. And, also, no.
See, I didn't come to enlightenment by nature. Nooooooo... I actually thought the "professionals" who were overseeing medical care for my children had all the knowledge, and I didn't really question their advice, until I hit a roadblock. ABA was one of many therapies suggested for Curlytop when she was diagnosed, and it wasn't available in our area for her. At first, I was devastated. Like, I didn't have the benefit of any type of interventions when I was growing up, so I wanted to make sure she had EVERYTHING that could possibly help her to succeed, so I went on a wild crusade to find an ABA provider, and did a ton of research to help find one.
It was that research that led to my enlightenment. I talked to actual autistics who had been subjected to ABA therapies as children, and learned that some of them had PTSD as a result of their experiences.
I thought about my own experiences, and my own struggles, and how difficult extended eye contact was -- and is -- for me, and how I always got poor grades in speech class because I couldn't look at my audience, and how I deal with that now (by simply saying to people, "Eye contact is really difficult for me. Please don't think I'm not listening to you if I'm not looking at you. I can actually listen better by NOT looking at you."), and how I'm actually existing pretty successfully in the world. I realized that if Curlytop doesn't get forced to initiate eye contact she doesn't feel comfortable with, it's going to be okay. She will be okay. She'll be better than okay... she'll feel safe, and comfortable, and accepted.
I thought about how I was always getting in trouble for having "fidgets" in class (my old-school favorite fidget was a retractable ballpoint pen with a button on top which I would click until my Spanish teacher took it away and gave me detention), and how we've come a long way in recognizing that fidget objects can be healthy devices which can help people concentrate.
I thought about how my fourth grade teacher called me out in front of the whole class for scrunching my nose like a rabbit, repeatedly, while I was silently reading, and how humiliated I was, and I was proud that my daughter felt safe enough to engage in her verbal "squawking" during times of stress and excitement, because we've never shamed her or tried to restrict it. It's just a really sweet, cute part of who she is.
And, just like that, ABA therapy was off the table for us, and for our children. We'd rather spend our time helping others to understand, accept, and embrace neurodiversity than spend it trying to mask the neurology and personalities of our children, who are amazing and perfect, as they are.
So, it's not so much that I want to be right about ABA as it is that I want others to consider that they may have it all wrong, when it comes to educating and serving autistic children. What if there's a better way? What if -- rather than trying to force them to be "less autistic" -- the best way to help them is to educate everyone else around them about neurodiversity? What if promoting autism ACCEPTANCE is superior to downplaying autism "SYMPTOMS/BEHAVIORS?"
Anywayyyyyyyyyy... I have to go back at 11am with Bravo tomorrow.
What do you want to bet that Mr. Psychologist will be all too keenly and freshly aware of my own personal hand-stimming (specifically, "clicking" my fingernails by placing my thumbnail under one fingernail, then pushing up and down, creating a satisfying series of "clicks" as the nails pass over one another)?
Say "quiet hands" to me ONE firetrucking TIME... I dare you.
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