♿️📚The Need: Anti-Ableist Space for Human-Centered Learning

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The place where we belong does not exist. We will build it.

James Baldwin via Gayatri Sethi in Unbelonging

The need for anti-ableist learning space for neurodivergent and disabled people is now.

My kids have been kicked out of many, many places for being different—just like I was.

The question is simple: Is there room for disabled kids at a piano school? On a swim team? In most classrooms?

The answer, right now, seems to be no.

Catapult | The World Doesn’t Bend for Disabled Kids (or Disabled Parents)

We create anti-ableist space for passion-based, human-centered learning compatible with neurodiversity and the social model of disability. We create space for those most ill-served by “empty pedagogy, behaviorism, and the rejection of equity“. We create paths to equity and access for our learners so they can collaborate on distributed, multi-age, cross-disciplinary teams with a neurodiverse array of creatives doing work that impacts community.

Creating paths to equity and access for all children remains the grand challenge of public education in America.

Equity provides resources so that educators can see all our children’s strengths. Access provides our children with the chance to show us who they are and what they can do. Empathy allows us to see children as children, even teens who may face all the challenges that poverty and other risk factors create. Inclusivity creates a welcoming culture of care so that no one feels outside the community.

Timeless Learning: How Imagination, Observation, and Zero-Based Thinking Change Schools

A humane education is one whose organizing principle is the innate capacity of students to be critical, empathetic agents in their communities and on the global stage.

100 Seconds to Midnight: The Need for a Human-Centered Education
multicolored umbrella

A human-centered classroom is needed now more than ever. In a time of growing uncertainty, global challenges, and increased threats to democracy, children need space to question, reflect, and actualize a meaning to their lives. These young people, along with their educators, will build a new future of love, care, and respect for all.

A Guide to Human Centric Education

The Need

Space without Behaviorism, Segregation, or Ableism

The Answer

Reframing and Respectful Connection

The Feeling

Electric Belonging and Soaring Inclusion

The Learning

Passion-Based, Human-Centered Learning Compatible With Neurodiversity and the Social Model of Disability

Young girl in headphones plugged into a paper book, evoking ear reading and multi-modality learning.

The Gift

We have created a system that has you submit yourself, or your child, to patient hood to access the right to learn differentlyThe right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.

We have created a system that has you submit yourself, or your child, to patient hood to access the right to learn differently. The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by a diagnosis.

The Gift: Learning Disabilities Reframed

♿️ The Need: Space without Behaviorism, Segregation, or Ableism

A caged pigeon stares at the camera through wire

Therefore, eugenics is an erasure of identity through force, whereas radical behaviorism is an erasure of identity through “correction.” This all assumes a dominant culture that one strives to unquestionably maintain.

Empty Pedagogy, Behaviorism, and the Rejection of Equity

Neurodivergent and disabled learners need anti-ableist space, and we need it now.

➗ In anti-ableist space, there is no segregation of “special”.

Although human diversity, the social model of disability and inclusion as human rights framework concepts are developing traction, for much of society the “special story” still goes like this:

A child with “special needs” catches the “special bus” to receive “special assistance” in a “special school” from “special education teachers” to prepare them for a “special” future living in a “special home” and working in a “special workshop”.

Does that sound “special” to you?

The word “special” is used to sugar-coat segregation and societal exclusion – and its continued use in our language, education systems, media etc serves to maintain those increasingly antiquated “special” concepts that line the path to a life of exclusion and low expectations.

“He ain’t special, he’s my brother” – Time to ditch the phrase “special needs” – Starting With Julius

The late Herb Lovett used to say that there are only two problems with “special education” in America: It’s not special and it sure as hell isn’t education. The field continues to be marinated in behaviorist assumptions and practices despite the fact that numerous resources for teachers, therapists, and parents offer alternatives to behavior control.

Autism and Behaviorism – Alfie Kohn

🥢🥕 In anti-ableist space, there is no behaviorism.

But even more compelling is the testimony of young people who understand the reality of this approach better than anyone because they’ve been on the receiving end of it. It is nothing short of stunning to learn just how widely and intensely ABA is loathed by autistic adults who are able to describe their experience with it. Frankly, I’m embarrassed that, until about a year ago, I was completely unaware of all the websitesarticlesscholarly essaysblog postsFacebook pages, and Twitter groups featuring the voices of autistic men and women, all overwhelmingly critical of ABA and eloquent in describing the trauma that is its primary legacy.

How is it possible that their voices have not transformed the entire discussion? Suppose you participated in implementing a widely used strategy for dealing with homelessness, only to learn that the most outspoken critics of that intervention were homeless people. Would that not stop you in your tracks? What would it say about you if it didn’t? And yet the consistent, emphatic objections of autistic people don’t seem to trouble ABA practitioners at all. Indeed, one critical analysis of ethics in this field notes that “autistics have been excluded from all committees, panels, boards, etc., charged with developing, directing, and assessing ABA research and treatment programs.

Autism and Behaviorism

Plenty of policies and programs limit our ability to do right by children. But perhaps the most restrictive virtual straitjacket that educators face is behaviorism — a psychological theory that would have us focus exclusively on what can be seen and measured, that ignores or dismisses inner experience and reduces wholes to parts. It also suggests that everything people do can be explained as a quest for reinforcement — and, by implication, that we can control others by rewarding them selectively.

Allow me, then, to propose this rule of thumb: The value of any book, article, or presentation intended for teachers (or parents) is inversely related to the number of times the word “behavior” appears in it. The more our attention is fixed on the surface, the more we slight students’ underlying motives, values, and needs.

It’s been decades since academic psychology took seriously the orthodox behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, which by now has shrunk to a cult-like clan of “behavior analysts.” But, alas, its reductionist influence lives on — in classroom (and schoolwide) management programs like PBIS and Class Dojo, in scripted curricula and the reduction of children’s learning to “data,” in grades and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in reading incentives and merit pay for teachers.

It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn

Trainers are rejecting behaviorism because it harms animals emotionally and psychologically. What does that say about classrooms that embrace it?

Empty Pedagogy, Behaviorism, and the Rejection of Equity

We cannot replace agency with response to stimuli.

MMCP: Critical Digital Pedagogy; or, the Magic of Gears | Hybrid Pedagogy
I make the right mistakes
And I say what I mean

Spare Me From The Mold

--Spare Me From The Mold by Gossip

Our non-compliance is not intended to be rebellious. We simply do not comply with things that harm us. But since a great number of things that harm us are not harmful to most neurotypicals, we are viewed as untamed and in need of straightening up.

One of my favorite anecdotes from Asperger’s thesis is when he asks an autistic boy in his clinic if he believes in God. “I don’t like to say I’m not religious,” the boy replies, “I just don’t have any proof of God.” That anecdote shows an appreciation of autistic non-compliance, which Asperger and his colleagues felt was as much a part of their patients’ autism as the challenges they faced. Asperger even anticipated in the 1970s that autistic adults who “valued their freedom” would object to behaviorist training, and that has turned out to be true.

THINKING PERSON’S GUIDE TO AUTISM: On Hans Asperger, the Nazis, and Autism: A Conversation Across Neurologies

🪙 In anti-ableist space, there is no “earning your token”.

When I was a little girl, I was autistic. And when you’re autistic, it’s not abuse. It’s therapy.

Quiet Hands | Just Stimming…

I am watching the US education system not very subtly invite punishment back into the mainstream classroom. This appears to be driven by the field of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).

Defining Reinforcement and Punishment for Educators – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
Please complete this simple task
Push the buttons just like we ask
This step first and that step last
Over and over and do it fast
I’m watching everyone, feeling like a simpleton
Why can’t I get it done? I just want to scream and run

I don’t think like you
But I’m the one that’s called abnormal
This construct
Was built by petty tyrants
Am I on the level yet? (Level yet)
How did I do on your little test?
Get my brain to reset (Reset)
'Cause everything you say is static
Do I make a good pet? (Good pet)
Obey the commands or get the back of the hand
'Cause the world wasn’t built for a brain like mine
Change my mind, change my mind, change my mind
This construct
Was built and can be dismantled

We stand together
We think apart
We stand together
We think apart

-- Neurodivergent by Rabbit Junk

Most of the supposed evidence for these theories lacks what’s called ‘face validity’, in the eyes of many of the people being studied – that is, it doesn’t look like it’s measuring what it’s supposed to be measuring at all. Too much autism research has been done without autistic input, which could have prevented data being misinterpreted, flagged up when studies’ goals bore no relation to autistic wellbeing, and prevented major errors of omission.

The failures of autism science are not random: they reflect systematic power imbalances.

Autism and Scientism

The problems associated with ABA run very deep. It is a human rights violation to continue to ignore and discount the voices of Autistic people about deeply traumatising and harmful “therapies” such as ABA.

Jorn Bettin
The Effects of Behavior-Based Models on Neurodevelopment and Learning

Behaviorism is a repudiation, an almost willful dismissal, of subjective experience.
— Alfie Kohn

This is a child’s heart in fight or flight mode, constantly, that is being bombarded with all these instructions and prompting.
— Professor Elizabeth Torres

Behaviorism is a repudiation, an almost willful dismissal, of subjective experience.

Alfie Kohn

This is a child’s heart in fight or flight mode, constantly, that is being bombarded with all these instructions and prompting.

Professor Elizabeth Torres

While some may perceive ABA as misinterpreted (Morris, 2009), argument stems from experiences of intervention and the impact of forced behavioural intervention has upon the processes and development of self-perception. Adapting autistic behaviour and identity to meet those of typically developing (TD) peers is at the core of ABA opposition. Indeed, current research has suggested ABA as causing a severe level of trauma from childhood participation (Kupferstein, 2018). Autistic individuals continue to highlight the suffering felt through ABA’s inability to acknowledge the negativity inflicted through forceful coercion (see, for example, Kedar, 2011; “My experiences with ABA”, 2017). Such a conclusion raises further doubt as to both the efficacy of early intervention as well as the long-term implications and impact on participants. While arguments put to those who oppose ABA claim methods and approaches have changed (“The Controversy Around ABA”, 2019), opposition to ‘current’ ABA mirrors autistic attitudes to intervention (Klein, 2002) and ‘cures’ (Harmon, 2004) from nearly two decades ago. So many coming forward and indicating the harms for autistic children, which they themselves have experienced, to improve for the next generation is indicative of a disparity. Yet, with many being ignored or dismissed as ‘radicals’, ‘too autistic’ or ‘not autistic enough’ to speak for their own community, the bridge between academia and community is further fractured. To begin re-building these bridges, we seek to work alongside autistic reflections of ABA in order to bring voice into empirical constructs. Translating voice into academic comprehension of ABA in terms reflected by the autistic community addresses a vitally unaddressed gap in current research knowledge.

“Recalling hidden harms”: autistic experiences of childhood applied behavioural analysis (ABA)

Despite decades of usage as the primary method for this population worldwide, ABA has never been shown to be even slightly efficacious for the nonverbal Autism population.

The research utilized in the response does not pertain to the population discussed, does not present any neuroscientific research, and does not address intrinsic motivation, elevated levels of anxiety, or various other pertinent issues associated with the nonverbal autism population.

Research in ABA continues to neglect the structure of the autistic brain, the overstimulation of the autistic brain, the trajectory of child development, or the complex nature of human psychology, as all of these factors were ignored in the response and are ignored in ABA practice itself. Providing a treatment that causes pain in exchange for no benefit, even if unknowingly, is tantamount to torture and violates the most basic requirement of any therapy: to do no harm. Lastly, there is also no discussion in the response on internal motivation and how the conditions created by ABA foster psychological ill-being. If paraprofessionals and professionals refuse to engage in critical thinking, refuse to become experts at the thing they treat, continue to practice outside of scope, and continue to ignore pertinent research, the future of Autism and other conditions ABA professes to treat is very bleak.

Long-term ABA Therapy Is Abusive: A Response to Gorycki, Ruppel, and Zane | SpringerLink

Meanwhile, the autistic adults I saw who were ABA recipients–as well as several families I encountered in community advocacy whose autistic adult children had been in ABA programs–fared only marginally better in functioning, and presented with one or more of anxiety, depression, OCD, insomnia, and Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

However, with so many independent personal accounts from autistic individuals and families, as well as a new scientific movement, any reasonable observer cannot confidently deny that ABA is negatively affecting the autistic population.

In 2019, a neuropsychologist released a co-authored article with a parent and service provider citing research that shows the unsuitability of ABA for autistic individuals, the current lack of scientific testing regarding ABA’s effect on “lower-functioning” and nonverbal autistic people, and highlighting the drivers of expanded use, including the potential current market size of $17 billion annually.

So, many families don’t realize they’re putting their loved ones through a costly and traumatic program because they feel this is the best care they can get and the outcomes they hope for are the closest to an idealized normal.

The autistic community is having a reckoning with ABA therapy. We should listen | Fortune

ABA’s monopoly is maintained by the scientific community’s lack of research into and investment in alternative techniques that address autism as both a cognitive and existential experience rather than just a behavioral one–an approach adult autistics who have undergone ABA have described as violating the fundamental tenets of bioethics, as well as the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The autistic community is having a reckoning with ABA therapy. We should listen | Fortune

Until ABA updates its scientific methods, its functions of behavior, and incorporates modern day psychology – including neurology, child development, educational psychology, and other vital research – it cannot be considered to be a safe, effective, or ethical field.

Behaviorism is Dead. How Do We Tell The (Autism) Parents? » NeuroClastic
But I don't need a cure for me
I don't need it
No, I don't need a cure for me
I don't need it
No, I don't need a cure for me
I don't need it
I don't need it

Please, no cure for me
Please, no cure for me

--Cure for Me by AURORA

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.

🫀🧠 In anti-ableist space, we are active agents in our own embodied experience.

The locus of pathology exists not in the autistic person, but in the interaction between a hostile environment and the subjugated autistic. It is essential for parents, practitioners, educators, and autistic people themselves to ask the crucial question— Is the autistic a machine, or an organism? Are we active agents in our own embodied experience, or are we a locus of behavior? It is not with defiance, but autonomy, that I declare as an autistic person— I am not a manifestation of stimuli and response. I am agential. I am Autonomously Autistic.

Despite the field of Disability Studies’ rhetorical progress toward new models of disability, Autistic subjectivity is still locked within medical pathologies and assumptions of deficit. Self-Determination Theory provides an intriguing contrast to other psychological frameworks, making it possible to reconceptualize and re-localize deficit. We can then disrupt our assumptions and form new principles that empower autistic people to develop in autonomous, competent, connected, and self-directed ways.
Self-Determination Theory positions itself as directly and unapologetically antithetical to behaviorism, a fact that manifests in the literature repeatedly in behaviorist commentary…

Autonomously Autistic | Canadian Journal of Disability Studies
Outcast stomp
Outcasts, do the outcast stomp

The freaks are coming
The freaks are coming

--Outcast Stomp by G.L.O.S.S

❤️ The Answer: Reframing, Respectful Connection, and the Presumption of Competence

When your kid is DXed as autistic, almost all of the professional advice you get from education and healthcare is steeped in deficit ideology.

The message to parents of the neurodiverse kid is that their child is deficient, and that their job is to fix their child. We are in a sort of remediation industrial complex, where there’s all sorts of services and treatments and interventions to make the square peg fit the round hole. Parents are relentlessly told that that’s their job.

Normal Sucks: Author Jonathan Mooney on How Schools Fail Kids with Learning Differences

Instead of behaviorism, segregation, and therapies ingrained with ableism, we practice respectful connection.