They have a Voice; are we Listening?

Behav Anal Pract. 2022 Apr 6;16(1):127-144. doi: 10.1007/s40617-022-00690-z. eCollection 2023 Mar.


The field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) has produced powerful changes and improvements to the lives of many. However, the field is not immune from criticism. One criticism from those outside the field is that the goal of ABA therapy is to make Autistic people appear "indistinguishable" from their peers. This paper examines "indistinguishability" and its implications by defining "indistinguishable" in behavior analytic terms, exploring how the term was used in two notable studies in the field (Lovaas, 1987, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55[1], 3-9; Rekers & Lovaas, 1974, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 7[2], 173-190), and providing a review of the social validity and ethical implications of having "indistinguishability" as an explicit or implied goal. This is partially accomplished by incorporating concerns from the Autistic self-advocate community. We argue that the Autistic self-advocate community's concerns surrounding "indistinguishability" as a goal have a degree of legitimacy and need to be given due consideration. Suggestions for addressing these concerns in ABA degree programs and research are discussed, emphasizing the importance of considering stakeholder values, taking criticisms seriously, and making changes when necessary.

Keywords: Autism; Criticism; Ethics; Indistinguishability; Self-advocates; Social validity.

Publication types

  • Review