Myth Bust Monday: ABA Is “Autism Conversion Therapy”

Happy Myth Bust Monday everyone! It has been awhile since our last Myth Bust post, and a great topic came up this weekend.  A visitor to our Facebook page posted a quote by Autistic Activist Amy Sequenzia underneath one of our pictures.  The quote reads: “I propose that every time we write or talk about ABA, that we also say Autistic Conversion Therapy.  Gay Conversion Therapy has a bad reputation now, even if it still happens.  Both “treatments” (tortures) have the same root. I want supporters of ABA to own their objective.  ABA: Autistic Conversion Therapy that uses torturous methods.– Amy Sequenzia

First, we want to thank Amy for her advocacy for the Autism community, and for her bravery in sharing her experiences.  Before responding to Amy’s quote, many hours of research, reading, and listening was done into her published works and blog posts.  It was an honor to read her work. The world of Autism Advocacy often lacks the voices of people with Autism, and many well-intended neurotypical activists and supporters may not fully understand the unique experience of living with Autism.  So to Amy, thank you for sharing your voice with us, and to the poster that shared her quote with us, thank you for amplifying Amy’s voice.

Second, we want to say how deeply saddened we are to hear that Amy had negative, sometimes traumatic experiences when she was a child.  Those things should not have happened to her from people she depended on for support.  Many years ago ABA was widely practiced in a very rigid way that did not take into account the individuality of the person receiving services – this is often called “Old ABA” or “Lovaas ABA”.  There are several self-advocates like Amy who report having negative experiences, and this is heartbreaking to hear.  No person should have been made to feel that way.  As self-advocates like Amy shared their stories, ABA practitioners listened.  There was a major shift in the field of ABA – and in special education overall – to provide services in a more sensitive, individualized manner.  This is often called a “person-centered approach.”  Having a person-centered approach means that, as practitioners, we respect the values,  preferences, and voices of the person receiving services. This includes talking to the person instead of about them, inviting the person to speak at their meetings and appointments, and obtaining consent from that person for treatments or therapies that impact them. This is something that, as practitioners, we value deeply.

Third, the idea of “Autism conversion” and “torturous methods” could not be further from what we believe.  We don’t believe in changing a person with Autism, or making someone “less Autistic.”  We practice based on the idea that all people deserve to have a voice, have individual traits, quirks, and characteristics, and be themselves.  We believe that all people can learn, and that it is our duty to teach each person in the way they learn, NOT the way we want to teach.  We believe that the person receiving services matters – their opinions, preferences, and goals matter to us.  Most importantly, we believe that the experiences of Amy and others like her do not represent the goals and objectives of ABA.  We know we can only speak for ourselves, but our objective is to help people learn and meet their potential, not to change who they are.

Fourth, we urge everyone to consider the quote widely used in the Autism support community – When you have met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism.  This quote is so important because Autism is a spectrum – there are countless ways Autism impacts people’s personalities, behaviors, and lives.  Similarly, when you’ve met one ABA practitioner, you’ve met one ABA practitioner.  Every group of people has good and bad. We have, unfortunately, heard stories from families and colleagues about Behavior Analysts who were inexperienced, incompetent, or worse.  Though Amy had a negative experience, there are countless others who report positive experiences working with ABA providers.  As the times have changed, ABA has changed, and we urge people who have had negative experiences to consider these changes before completely writing off a therapy that has benefited millions of people.  We take our ethical responsibilities extremely seriously.  While we can never take away the experiences Amy had, and certainly do not try to erase those experiences, we can make sure that, as individual practitioners, we do not perpetuate the practices or attitudes that led to her negative experiences.  Our practice of ABA is ethical, person-centered, and our only intention is on helping every person live their best life.

In short, ABA is NOT a form of “conversion therapy,” we do not employ “torturous methods” and the only objective we own is to educate, assist, and respect the people we serve. #mythbusted


What Does It Mean To Be Atypical?


As an ABA Instructor in Early Intervention, I love working with young children and helping them learn and grow.  However, I sometimes wondered how will the world perceive my kiddos when they get older – will they be able to live a “normal” life?  I can imagine that many parents have those same concerns.  I think that Netflix does a great job discussing these concerns with their show Atypical.  If you’re not familiar with the show, it follows the life of Sam, a teen age boy diagnosed with autism, as he tries to have the “typical teenage experience” in high school: first loves, high school dances, after school jobs and more.  This show is about one person with autism; each person is NOT the same, so please keep this in mind when reading this post/watching the show.

The show does an amazing job portraying Sam’s relationships with his family, friends, and coworkers honestly and sympathetically.  Sam’s parents each try to cope with his diagnosis very differently; his mom attends a support group, while his dad pretends to the outside world that Sam doesn’t have autism.  It can be easy to judge Sam’s dad here, but it’s important to remember that both parents are looking for some way to escape handling their stress, which is something we all look for from time to time.  Throughout the show, both of Sam’s parents are truly there for their son when he needs them.  The show also explores Sam’s relationship with his younger sister.  She often has to act like an “older sister” and make decisions that would be best for Sam.  What is cool to me is that, although she acts like a guardian angel, protecting him from bullies and making sure he has the best day he can, she also looks up to her older brother for advice like any little sister would.

Outside of Sam’s family we see his friends, coworkers, his girlfriend, and his therapist. They each help him try to understand love, a concept none of them have mastered.  It was interesting to see how eager Sam was to obtain an understanding of love.  He was willing to follow advice that he know would make him uncomfortable – the things we do for love!

The show really highlights how autism isn’t something that makes someone “atypical.”  Typically, no one is typical.  We all have quirks and traits that make us unique from one another, but we find our way to make those quirks work.  Sam is just another teenager trying to do the same thing.  When I think about my kiddos and their futures, I hope they have people in their lives who don’t see them as “atypical” but instead, unique.  Instead of hoping that my kiddos have a “normal” life, I hope they have a great life.  Do any of us really live a “normal” life anyway?

Submitted by Alexandria Guy

Photo credit:


Signs and Symptoms of Autism

How Do I Know If My Child Has Autism?

Many parents report feeling concerned about their child’s early development. Children develop at different rates and it can be difficult to know what is considered “typical” development or when to be more concerned about things like developmental delays or autism spectrum disorder. While some signs of a developmental delay may become apparent as early as 2-4 months of age, most parents start to notice signs of a developmental disability when their child is around 15-18 months old.

Typically, parents notice these signs first:

  • Lack of smiling (by six months)
  • Lack of imitation of social and emotional cues (by 9 months)
  • Lack of babbling or cooing (by 12 months)
  • Lack of responding to their name (by 6-12 months)
  • Lack of eye contact with people or objects
  • Lack of interest in seeking others’ attention
  • Lack of gesturing at people or objects (by 10 months)
  • Lack of meaningful, 2-word phrases (by 24 months)
  • Repetitive behaviors and/or stereotypy
  • Delayed motor development

Some of the less obvious signs include:

  • Your child may be easily startled by noise or agitated by background noise
  • Overreaction to environmental stimuli, or no reaction at all
  • Difficulty socializing, or no interest in socializing
  • Trouble starting or maintaining social interactions
  • Clumsiness or poor motor skills
  • Preoccupation with certain toys, objects or concepts to the point of obsessiveness
  • Lack of desire for physical affection
  • Not responding to a conversation, but mimicking the sentence

If you ever have concerns about your child’s development, see your child’s pediatrician for more information or evaluation.

Important developmental milestones and when children usually hit them:

2 Months

What most children do at this age… Act early if your child…
  • Begin to smile at people
  • Self-soothe
  • Tries to look at parent(s)
  • Coos or makes gurgling sounds
  • Turns their head towards sounds
  • Pays attention to faces
  • Follows objects with their eyes
  • Acts fussy if they are bored
  • Can hold their head up when on tummy
  • Does not respond to loud sounds
  • Does not watch things as they move
  • Does not smile at people
  • Does not bring their hands to their mouth
  • Does not hold their head up when on tummy

4 Months

What most children do at this age… Act early if your child…
  • Smile spontaneously
  • Enjoy playing with people, and upset when it stops
  • Attempts to copy movements, sounds and facial expressions
  • Cries in distinct ways (i.e., hungry, tired)
  • Begins to babble
  • Responds to affection
  • Lets you know if they are happy or sad
  • Reaches for toys
  • Uses hands and eyes together to reach for something
  • Watches faces closely
  • Recognizes familiar people or objects
  • Follows moving objects with eyes
  • Rolls over from tummy to back
  • Holds head on their own
  • Can hold and shake a toy
  • Does not watch things as they move
  • Does not smile at people
  • Does not hold their head steady on their own
  • Does not coo or make sounds
  • Does not bring things to their mouth
  • Does not move one or both eyes in all directions
  • Does not push down with legs when feet are on a hard surface

6 Months

What most children do at this age… Act early if your child…
  • Recognizes familiar faces vs. strangers
  • Likes to play with others, especially parents
  • Responds to others emotions
  • Likes looking at themselves in a mirror
  • Often seems happy
  • Responds to sound by making sounds
  • Responds to their names
  • Makes sounds voicing joy or displeasure
  • Begins saying consonant sounds
  • Looks at things nearby
  • Shows curiosity and tries to get things that are out of reach
  • Passes things from one hand to the other
  • Rolls over in both directions
  • Begins to sit unsupported
  • Bounces when standing
  • Rocks back and forth
  • Does not try to get things that are in reach
  • Does not show affection for caregivers
  • Does not respond to sounds around them
  • Does not easily get things to their mouth
  • Does not make vowel sounds
  • Does not roll over in either direction
  • Does not laugh or make squealing sounds
  • Does not exhibit normal muscle movement: they either seem very stiff, with tight muscles, or very floppy, like a rag doll

9 Months

What most children do at this age… Act early if your child…
  • May fear strangers
  • May act clingy with familiar adults
  • Have favorite toys
  • Understands “no”
  • Makes many different sounds (“bababa”)
  • Copies other’s sounds and gestures
  • Uses finger to point at things
  • Watches the path of a falling object
  • Plays peek-a-boo
  • Looks for things they see you hide
  • Picks small objects up with thumb and index fingers
  • Stands holding on
  • Gets into a seated position
  • Sits unsupported
  • Crawls
  • Pulls to stand
  • Does not bear weight on their legs with support
  • Does not sit with help
  • Does not babble
  • Does not play any games involving back-and-forth play
  • Does not respond to their own name
  • Does not recognize familiar people
  • Does not look where you point
  • Does not transfer toys from one hand to the other

12 Months

What most children do at this age… Act early if your child…
  • May act shy or nervous around strangers
  • Cry when a parent leaves
  • Have favorite things or people
  • Shows fear in some situations
  • Repeats sounds/actions for attention
  • Puts out arm/leg to help with dressing
  • Plays games like peek-a-boo, patty-cake
  • Responds to simple spoken requests
  • Uses simple gestures, like shaking head “no” or waving “bye”
  • Makes sounds with changes in tone
  • Tries to imitate words you say
  • Says “mama” and “dada”
  • Explores objects by shaking, banging, or throwing them
  • Finds hidden things easily
  • Copies gestures
  • Bangs things together
  • Starts to use items correctly
  • Follows simple directions
  • Lets things go unassisted
  • Gets into a seated position unassisted
  • Pulls up to stand and walks holding on
  • May stand alone
  • May take a few steps alone
  • Does not crawl
  • Does not stand when supported
  • Does not search for things they see you hide
  • Does not say “mama” or dada”
  • Does not learn gestures like shaking their head or waving
  • Does not point to things
  • Loses skills that they once had

18 Months

What most children do at this age… Act early if your child does not…
  • Hand things to others when playing
  • Throws temper tantrums
  • Fears strangers
  • Shows affection to familiar people
  • Plays pretend
  • Clings to caregivers in new situations
  • Points to show things to others
  • Explores alone, but with a parent nearby
  • Says several single words
  • Shakes head and says “no”
  • Points to show someone what they want
  • Knows what ordinary objects are for
  • Points to get attention
  • Points to a body part
  • Scribbles on their own
  • Can follow one-step verbal commands
  • Walks alone
  • Walks up steps
  • Pulls toys while walking
  • Can help undress themselves
  • Drinks from a cup
  • Eats with a spoon
  • Does not point or show things to others
  • Cannot walk
  • Does not know what familiar things are for
  • Does not copy others
  • Does not gain new words
  • Does not have at least six words
  • Does not notice or mind when a caregiver leaves or returns
  • Loses skills they once had

2 Years

What most children do at this age… Act early if your child…
  • Copies other adults and children
  • Is excited to see other children
  • Shows increasing independence
  • Shows defiant behavior
  • Plays beside other children, and begins to include other children in their play
  • Points to objects when they are named
  • Knows names of familiar people and body parts
  • Says 2-4 word sentences
  • Follows simple instructions
  • Repeats words that they overhear
  • Points to things in a book
  • Finds items hidden under 2-3 covers
  • Begins to sort shapes and colors
  • Completes sentences in familiar books
  • Plays make-believe
  • Builds towers of 4+ blocks
  • May use one hand more than the other
  • Follows two-step instructions
  • Names pictures in a book
  • Sands on tiptoes
  • Can kick a ball
  • Begins to run
  • Walks up and down stairs holding on
  • Throws things overhead
  • Makes or copies straight lines or circles
  • Does not use 2-word phrases
  • Does not know what to do with common things or household items (e.g., brush, spoon)
  • Does not copy actions or words
  • Does not follow simple instructions
  • Does not walk steadily
  • Loses skills they once had

3 Years

What most children do at this age… Act early if your child…
  • Copies adults and friends
  • Shows affection for friends unprompted
  • Takes turns in games
  • Shows concern for crying friends
  • Aware of what is “mine” vs. “theirs”
  • Shows a wide range of emotions
  • Separates easily from parents
  • May be upset by major changes in routine
  • Dresses and undresses themselves
  • Follows 2-3 step instructions
  • Can name familiar things
  • Can name friends
  • Says their first name, age, sex
  • Talks well enough for strangers to understand
  • Carries on a conversation with 2-3 sentences
  • Plays make believes
  • Does simple puzzles
  • Can play with toys with moving parts
  • Turns pages one at a time
  • Can copy a circle with a pencil/crayon
  • Builds 6+ block towers
  • Turns door handles, opens jars
  • Climbs well
  • Runs easily
  • Walks up and down stairs unassisted
  • Pedals easily (i.e., tricycle)
  • Falls down a lot or has trouble using stairs
  • Drools or has very unintelligible speech
  • Cannot work simple toys
  • Does not speak in sentences
  • Does not understand simple instructions
  • Does not play pretend or make-believe
  • Does not want to play with other children or with toys
  • Does not make eye contact
  • Loses skills they once had


Happy family thanks to our therapeutic services

Therapeutic Services

At Helping Hands Therapeutic Services, we firmly believe that every person has the right to live a happy, successful life. Everyone grows and learns at different paces, and we believe in fully supporting each person to meet and overcome any challenge.

Our primary goal is to assist both the people we serve and the caregivers who love and support them. We want to see everyone learn new skills, gain independence, and live full and wonderful lives. Every family should feel empowered, supported, respected, and appreciated throughout their unique journey.

We believe that progress depends on our full commitment. Therefore, we do our best to make a positive difference in the lives of the people we serve. We hope our Therapeutic Services can help change your lives today!

Learn more about our ABA Services