Is ABA Therapy bad? A look at how ABA has evolved into the Gold Standard of care

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA Therapy) is an evidence-based therapeutic technique that has a long history of success. It is expert-backed and has been touted as the “Gold Standard” in behavioral care for children with Autism.

Even so, there’s a lot of controversy that swirls around ABA. It’s important parents are fully informed before either jumping into ABA Therapy blind or running away from it out of fear.

Modern ABA Therapy has evolved from its origin.

ABA Therapy has its roots in the 1920’s when psychologists and psychiatrists started studying outward behaviors more carefully and asking questions about how we can control behaviors.

Consider this your warning: ABA’s history is highly problematic. Read the next paragraphs understanding Just Parent and modern ABA Therapists do NOT support the early practices.

To make a very long and important story short, ABA Therapy was quickly associated with Autism. The goal was to condition children out of “unfavorable” behaviors by associating negative consequences with the “bad” behaviors and offering rewards for “good” behaviors. If you’ve ever heard of Pavlov and his dogs or B.F. Skinner and his baby box, these were the men who were shaping ABA in its earliest years.

Eventually, psychologists started using electric shock therapy to try and erase certain behaviors. For instance, every time a child went through a routine like stomping their feet or flapping their hands, they’d be shocked in order to scare them out of doing it again. This was truly abhorrent and wrong.

ABA Therapy used to be about…

  • Conditioning behaviors out of primarily neurodivergent children. 
  • Teaching kids to “mask” their true selves in favor of a personality that was more tolerable to adults. 
  • Physical punishment and harsh consequences.

Rightfully so, people in the Autism community and their supporters started pushing back on ABA Therapy.

They argue that….

  • Erasing behaviors isn’t what’s best for the child. 
  • ABA Therapy forces kids to be someone they are not and this disproportionately affects neurodivergent kids. 
  • Every child deserves the opportunity to be their true, authentic self. 
  • Harsh punishments can at best be in-effective and at worst, abusive.

Today, ABA Therapy is about connection, bonding, and safety.

To say ABA Therapy has a branding problem is an understatement. Even though it’s still known by the same name, it operates in a completely different universe.

At Just Parent, our BCBAs train our parents to find the “why” behind their child’s behavior so that we can work together toward a solution.

Every single behavior has a function behind it. No one (including kids) does ANYTHING without a reason. When we can find what a child is really trying to accomplish with their temper tantrum, picky eating, or refusal to cooperate, we can work backwards to help the child accomplish what they want or need in a safe and healthy way.

For example, when a child is non-verbal and can only communicate by hitting, tantruming, or harming themselves, they are not safe. Old ABA Therapy would have done its best to force them into societal “norms'' for communication. In other words, they would have been punished until they learned to speak.

Modern ABA is not concerned about forcing that child into a societal norm, but we are concerned that they remain safe. Instead of requiring verbal communication, we have a number of strategies to help the child learn to communicate using touch, sounds, or pointing to words/pictures on a page.

Now, the child has autonomy over communicating in a way that works best for them, they’re not shamed or blamed for being unable to speak, and the parent can finally understand what it is their child wants or needs leading to a stronger parent/child relationship. It’s a win-win!

Just Parent is changing ABA Therapy, again

At Just Parent, we have evidence to support that ABA Therapy shouldn’t just be applied to kids with Autism. ABA is a viable and successful parenting strategy for anyone raising kids under the age of 10.

Take for example one of our client’s who’s child refused to sleep alone in their room. We helped the parents find out that there was a genuine fear of a monster lurking in the closet. Instead of shaming or minimizing the idea of monsters, we coached the parent on giving the child a flashlight to use at bedtime. Then, the child was incentivized to stay in their room a few minutes at a time, lengthening the time each night, until they were comfortable falling asleep on their own.

The child became better equipped to handle their own fear and the parent got a lot of stress relief from the nightmare routines around bedtime. Once again, a win win!

It doesn’t matter if your child is struggling with temper tantrums, communication, socialization, or even something as simple as potty training, we believe ABA Therapy can help.

If you have any questions at all about ABA Therapy or how we use it here at Just Parent, please let us know. Send us an email at with any questions or concerns you have and we’ll get right back to you. If you’re convinced that you need ABA Therapy in your family’s life, you can get started today. Your first meeting with a BCBA is free!

Just Parent