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To: Parliament

Inquiry into the consequences of conversion therapies for autistic children

Inquiry into the consequences of conversion therapies for autistic children

Dear Minister,

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/.


Reasons for signing

  • Though I never went through ABA, I heard stories from other people with autism that it prevents them from being themselves in the first place. Doctors who study autism and other neurodivergent folks don't always have the best interest in learning about us and don't bother to listen because it's "according to research studies".
  • I’m Neurodivergent too and we should be allowed to be comfortable and we can not do that if we are forced to mask. Masking is detrimental to our mental health as it’s very stressful. Also Stimming is a instinct of all Autistic people, it helps us be more comfortable in our surroundings and can help with overstimulation as well as regulating our emotions. Like conversion therapy, ABA only causes trauma and internalized bigotry, it helps no one.
  • Conversion therapy is a dehumanising practise which leaves the subject with no sense of agency or dignity, leading to long-term negative effects. This needs to be stopped. I urge government to start listening to the lived experience of Autists, and prioritise their knowledge of long-term effects, over the wishes of professionals and parents with a vested interest in 'normalising'. Signed as the parent of a young Autist.

Updates

2021-07-12 16:08:36 +1200

Parents of newly diagnosed Autistic children are presented with an overwhelming array of therapies, many of which are very, very expensive. How do you know what’s best for you & your child? In this heartwarming talk, educator Robin Roscigno offers a kind, respectful approach to Autism that starts with a reality check: what if your fear of Autism is being exploited for profit by a multi-billion dollar industry?

https://youtu.be/5ioac0Vxb3w

Robin Roscigno is a PhD Candidate in Education at the Rutgers School of Education who specializes in the history of Autism intervention in the U.S. Her experience as a late-diagnosed Autistic woman, parent of an Autistic child, and educator with 10+ years of experience inspired AuTeach, her community outreach project about respectful, neurodiversity-informed parenting & teaching. AuTeach has reached 1M+ viewers on TikTok and has helped shape a new narrative around Autism.

2021-07-12 14:42:12 +1200

Kia ora koutou,

Te Hapori Whai Takiwātanga o Aotearoa (https://autismaotearoa.org), an initiative of the Autistic Collaboration Trust, is a new website that is designed as an access point to the New Zealand Autistic Community: https://autismaotearoa.org/te-hapori-whaitakiwatanga-o-aotearoa/. The content is curated by autistic parents who are campaigning for a ban of all forms of “conversion therapies”.

Please share with your networks.

Ngā mihi,

Jorn

2021-06-12 13:33:09 +1200

The recording from the fourth panel discussion to progress towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapies including ABA is now available https://youtu.be/ApwmLUX5XXs

(see also related information at https://autcollab.org/projects/ban-of-conversion-therapies/4th-panel-discussion-towards-a-ban-of-all-forms-of-autistic-conversion-therapies/)

Topics and questions explored:

1. Challenges faced by autistic people in Thailand.

2. The motivation for founding NeurodiverThai.

3. Creating alliances to stop the use of ABA in Thailand both now and in the future.

4. How do we campaign against ABA in countries that so far have not had no one who felt safe to openly expose the dark side of ABA?

5. As a musician and an artist, I would like to know how to become more involved.

2021-06-12 13:29:49 +1200

The recording from the third panel discussion to progress towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapies including ABA is now available https://youtu.be/5FU7Tp_IeUg (see also related information at https://autcollab.org/projects/ban-of-conversion-therapies/3rd-panel-discussion-towards-a-ban-of-all-forms-of-autistic-conversion-therapies/)

Topics and questions explored:

1. Globally, where are we at in terms of banning conversion therapies? What are the best examples to point to?

2. How do we shut down derailing arguments about “new” ABA that primarily serve ABA specialists who don’t want to stop, not the people who are on the receiving end of conversion therapy?

3. What strategies do we have for dealing with existing ABA providers? Can we help to “convert” some of them to anti-ableist thinking, lest they simply go underground, or move to other abusive therapies? This would be part of the transition management.

2021-05-29 14:22:36 +1200

Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards and Unconditional Parenting, argues that manipulating people's behavior -- training them as though they were pets -- is both morally objectionable and, according to decades of research, unlikely to be effective in the long run.
Kohn offers a critique of interventions such as ABA, as being particularly destructive for autistic children. That's true for multiple reasons: the preoccupation with measurable behaviors that ignores the experience of the human being who engages in those behaviors; the proven drawbacks of carrot-and-stick control across a wide range of settings; and the poisonous message of conditional acceptance: "You are valuable only when you act the way you are told."

https://youtu.be/Iw0Qxz2dKNo

2021-05-28 11:42:12 +1200

The recording from the second panel discussion to progress towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapies including ABA is now available https://youtu.be/wLjplxe8cMQ.

(related info at https://autcollab.org/projects/ban-of-conversion-therapies/2nd-panel-discussion-towards-a-ban-of-all-forms-of-autistic-conversion-therapies/)

Topics and questions explored

1. The first panel discussion highlighted the need for adapting education systems to the reality of neurodiversity and to the intrinsic motivations that drive autistic ways of learning, so that parents are less compelled to find ways to “normalise” their children. What would learning environments that are optimised for the needs of autistic and otherwise neurodivergent children look like? How would neuronormative children learn and develop in such inclusive environments?

2. In our campaigns to ban conversion therapies in New Zealand and globally, which organisations and interest groups are suitable allies?

2021-05-20 15:00:09 +1200

The recording from the first panel discussion to progress towards a ban of all forms of conversion therapies including ABA is now available https://youtu.be/O-1eQhaKr-4.

(see also related information at https://autcollab.org/projects/ban-of-conversion-therapies/1st-panel-discussion-towards-a-ban-of-all-forms-of-autistic-conversion-therapies/)

2021-05-12 13:27:08 +1200

You are invited to join an online panel discussion on 20 May 2021 at 10 am to 11 am NZST to progress towards a ban of all forms of autistic conversion therapies (including ABA) – in New Zealand and beyond.

https://autcollab.org/projects/ban-of-conversion-therapies/1st-panel-discussion-towards-a-ban-of-all-forms-of-autistic-conversion-therapies/

Confirmed panellists:

1. Alice Richardson, artist and activist, New Zealand
2. Kim Crawley, cybersecurity researcher, Hack The Box, Canada
3. Laura Dilley, Associate Professor, Speech and Hearing Biosciences, Michigan State University, United States
4. Pip Carroll, writer and creative producer, Australia
5. Rory, independent researcher and advocate, New Zealand

Facilitator:

Jorn Bettin, activist, Autistic Collaboration Trust, and knowledge archaeologist, S23M, New Zealand

2021-04-30 09:06:03 +1200

Related article "A matter of basic human rights" from Kane Bassett, Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, (he/him) : https://www.salient.org.nz/news-2020/a-matter-of-basic-human-rights-petition-for-an-inquiry-into-the-consequences-of-conversion-therapies-for-autistic-children-drafted.

2021-04-24 01:02:37 +1200

100 signatures reached

2021-04-23 13:01:28 +1200

50 signatures reached

2021-04-23 06:39:20 +1200

It [ABA] clearly removes bodily autonomy and natural coping and learning mechanisms based on Neurology of an Autistic individual, replacing them with mechanisms that harm Neurology as it works against the natural state of the brain, causing PTSD and more in the long run .. It also takes time for continuous use of incorrect natural coping and possible harsher conditions to set off a sudden burn out, crash, suicide, or depressive episode... Once an adult and these mechanisms continue to be used, the mental and physical injuries are absolutely inevitable. This makes the therapy more dangerous as to parents they see it working, doing exactly what it is supposed to: train their Autistic child to pretend to be Neurotypical. – Jenan Skinner (Statement of support received leading up to the formal petition)

2021-04-23 06:33:55 +1200

I fully support a complete ban of ABA. Living your life 24/7 with the external pressure to behave as someone you are not is causing immense and unnecessary harm. Autistic people need validation, not conversion. – Mia Jullig (Statement of support received leading up to the formal petition)

2021-04-23 06:33:25 +1200

I am involved in healing cPTSD and other suffering caused ABA. Whether new or old ABA, it remains a coercive form of 20-40 hour a week drubbing seeking compliance, programming an individual using dog-training means that should never have been used on dogs either. Leave the programming/conditioning for robots I beg. – John Greally, Co-founder The Autistic Cooperative, Autistics Worldwide, Autistic Union (Statement of support received leading up to the formal petition)

2021-04-23 06:32:49 +1200

I am in full support of a ban on ABA and “conversion therapy”. In case it is helpful to anyone, here is a recent article (https://www.academia.edu/44520359/_Building_a_Person_Legal_and_Clinical_Personhood_for_Autistic_and_Trans_Children_in_Ontario) I published regarding these two therapies. – Jake Pyne, PhD (Statement of support received leading up to the formal petition)

2021-04-23 06:31:50 +1200

This abuse story (http://www.raggeduniversity.co.uk/2015/04/28/eighties-teenage-psychiatry-for-school-pressure-one-writer-squashed-another-by-maurice-frank/) about teenage psychiatry in 1980s Wales, where its own mania to control caused it to fail to save me from another place of harm, includes “the utter trauma, for any libertarian character, of the hard man nurse shouting in my face about ‘to get you in here and change you'”. That is what ABA’s concept is, a violation of having personal liberty. It is the entire difference between the free world and terrorist societies. Look how support defeats itself and turns into abuse as soon as it turns into force. – Maurice Frank (Statement of support received leading up to the formal petition)

2021-04-23 06:30:52 +1200

I remember a time and a culture when conversion therapy in all its forms was considered with prejudice and suspicion. The Maori word for autistic means “someone needing their time and space”. When I saw the guidelines for 2018 I thought, “Um, no”. Applied behaviour analysis is not a science. It is a technology. And like all technology can be harmful and misused. When a technology converts “raw material” [like Lovaas said] … The person is building themselves, all the time. If you are going to talk about science, you talk about a way of looking at the world which brings on less fear, not more. Or doesn’t add to the fears that people already have about themselves and the world. Conversion therapy is big business. Torture with scientific rigor is still torture. There are many examples of this through recent and current history. – Anonymous (Statement of support received leading up to the formal petition)

2021-04-23 06:29:38 +1200

I am a very late diagnosis at the age of 67; I am 70 this year. I am lesbian. I have a workplace history of working in women’s and youth services. I recommend reading Jess Hill’s book, “See What You Made Me Do” (2019) and see the high and startling similarities between domestic abuse and ABA. I am horrified we abuse children (and adults) this way and consider it legally acceptable. what kind of world is this? ABA is a form of barbarism as is/was Gay Conversion “Therapy”. Both are not therapeutic, they are abusive. The same behaviours have been banned in schools for neurotypical children. The same behaviours have been named as abusive in domestic abuse prevention legislation. Why is it considered ok to abuse children just because they are autistic? Using an outdated theory that has been successfully refuted by the LGBTIQA community, a theory written by an old white man? – Morgan King (Statement of support received leading up to the formal petition)

2021-04-23 06:29:01 +1200

As a Kiwi, I continue to voice my opposition to ABA and other forms of “conversion” therapy. In some ways I am grateful that I did not get an autism diagnosis until I was 60. I think the trauma from bullying and violence I received for being “different” would pale into insignificance compared the outcome from years of ABA. – Barry (Statement of support received leading up to the formal petition)

2021-04-23 01:51:43 +1200

25 signatures reached

2021-04-22 22:16:22 +1200

10 signatures reached