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Inquiry into the consequences of conversion therapies for autistic children
We ask you and the government to investigate the consequences of all forms of conversion therapy, including conversion therapies that target autistic children, which are often branded as Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) or Positive Behaviour Support (PBS).
Why is this important?
We all celebrated to hear of the legislation being enacted that bans conversion therapy after years of campaigning by the LGTBQI+ community.
However the win does not go far enough. The same underlying techniques of torture and dehumanising coercion continue to be applied to autistic children.
Any legislation which is so selective as to ban only “conversion therapies” that target a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is in itself discriminatory. If a government moves to ban the mistreatment of one minority in a particular manner but neglects similar mistreatment of other minorities it is more than negligent, it is actively legitimising prejudice. If a ban were to go through with specific reference to sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression alone, it would be much like an anti-racism bill that protected black people but left all other people of colour out in the cold.
Instead of acknowledging anxiety and depression as the result of the highly stressful environments and dehumanising treatments that autistic children are exposed to, many "autism professionals" prefer to treat autism as the 'problem', and then use medication as treatment.
The message to autistic people is very clear: 'you are not normal and we need to fix you'. This is wrong.
The University of Auckland and other institutions in New Zealand still teach ABA. In Aotearoa certified ABA practitioners continue to advertise their services for children with “compliance” problems.
Many autistic people who have been subjected to ABA and similar “treatments” end up with PTSD. Multiple studies confirm that the suicide rates for autists are are more than twice (1.9 to 9.9 times) the rates found in the general population.
It is so important that people, and especially parents of autistic children, start listening to the lived experience of autistic adults. Many of us are in our 50s, 60s and 70s. We all started out as autistic children, without formal diagnosis, and without intensive ABA "therapy".
We have found our path in life, we've experienced decades of discrimination comparable to the level of discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people 50 years ago, and we have remained autistic throughout. Neurodivergence is at the core of creativity. Autistic people don’t play social games, instead we actively resist them. Autistic people are best understood as the agents of a well functioning cultural immune system within human society.
What are conversion therapies?
Conversion therapies are “normalisation” therapies rooted in the techniques of torture and dehumanising coercion developed by Ivar Lovaas and Burrhus Frederic Skinner.
The same techniques that are used by ABA therapists have been named as abusive in domestic abuse prevention legislation. Dehumanising abuse of all children, including autistic children, must be made illegal.
The actual results that are achieved with conversion therapy include depression, PTSD, suicidal ideation, social expectations that are toxic for autistic people, as well as environments that create sensory overload.
Why do we propose to consider a ban of all forms of conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy never achieves its stated goal of “normalising” LGBTQIA+ or autistic children. Instead there is overwhelming evidence that conversion therapy results in extreme levels of irreversible trauma.
The autistic population is much smaller than the LGBTQIA+ community, but the intersection between the two is significant. Compared to the general population, autists are 7 to 8 times more likely to identify as LGBTQIA+. It makes perfect sense to tie legislation around the protection of LGBTQIA+ rights to the protection of the rights of autistic people.
What practices would need to be considered as part of a ban?
Of the many labels used “Applied Behaviour Analysis” (ABA) and "Positive Behaviour Support" (PBS) are the most common ones. It is important to focus on all “therapies” that are rooted in the techniques of torture and dehumanising coercion developed by Ivar Lovaas and Burrhus Frederic Skinner.
This initiative is part of the global Ban Conversion Therapies project (https://autcollab.org/projects/ban-of-conversion-therapies/), which keeps track of all the bans of conversion therapies that are already in place and all initiatives towards bans.
More background information has been compiled by the Autistic Collaboration Trust in collaboration with the autistic community in New Zealand on the following web page: https://autcollab.org/2021/03/10/banning-autistic-conversion-therapy-in-nz/.