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

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Purpose: This paper aims to investigate the long-term impacts autistic adults experienced from childhood participation in the applied behavioural analysis (ABA). Design/methodology/approach: Possible participants were recruited through advertisements on social media and autism and ABA organisations. Possible participants were given the choice between an online or face-to-face interview or an anonymised online questionnaire. Findings: Reflections from 10 participants were indicative of a predominantly detrimental impact of ABA. Reflections gave rise to a core theme “recalling hidden harms of childhood experiences of ABA”. Outcomes are discussed in relation to the impact on autistic identity, current research and progressing understanding of the impacts of early intervention from the autistic perspective. Research limitations/implications: The practical implications of ABA are discussed alongside recommendations for future practice and research with the involvement of autistic individuals within interventive processes. Originality/value: This is the first paper to take an in-depth, qualitative approach to autistic experiences of ABA. The findings themselves are driven to conceptualise and give voice to the core impacts which carried through participants’ exploration and understanding of self.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)269-282
Number of pages13
JournalAdvances in Autism
Issue number4
Early online date23 Oct 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Oct 2020


  • autism
  • autistic experiences
  • Applied Behaviour Analysis
  • ABA
  • hidden harms
  • trauma


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