Thursday, August 6, 2009

Michelle Dawson

Photo by Leo Reynolds (flickr)

Michelle Dawson has a major problem with using ABA to treat autism. She likes to claim that ABA is unethical, unproven, and bad for "autistics". I am not sure who these "autistics" are or how they differ from the group of adults and children who have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, maybe they are the same.

But, according to Ms Dawson, ABA is bad for them. Oh, and unethical too, although I can never seem to find the her exact ethical complaints with ABA spelled out precisely, just the assertion that it is, in fact, unethical.

But this isn't anything new and anyone who was familiar with her writings would already know this.

Ms Dawson also has a bad habit of discouraging parents from using ABA to help their children - I wrote about an example of this earlier. She seems especially keen to reach the parents of newly diagnosed children and convince them that ABA is bad for their children. Now, if you ask her about this she will tell you that this is not what she is doing, that is trying to provide accurate information from primary sources, which is good for autistics.

Did I mention that she thinks that ABA is unethical, unproven, and bad for autistics? Good, I didn't want to forget mentioning that.

Now, here is the thing. There is almost universal agreement that ABA is one of the most effective treatments for children with autism that is available today. No one is saying that it is a cure or that it will work for every person on the spectrum - as the saying goes, if you have seen one person with autism then you have seen one person with autism (this holds true even for identical twins).

A huge body of literature and evidence exists that supports the notion that ABA, in general and specifically for autism, is an effective teaching technique. Every major organization dealing with autism agrees on this point, from Autism Speaks to the Autism Science Foundation to the CDC to the American Academy of Pediatrics to the groups that think autism is caused by vaccinations. Heck, even some of the Neurodiversity and ASAN folks accept that it as a valid treatment and they are normally against any treatment for autism.

Then you have Michelle Dawson arguing that ABA is unethical, unproven, and bad for autistics as she did, yet again, just a few weeks ago.

I am all for listening to peoples ideas and considering all possible points of view, even ones that are completely at odds with conventional wisdom, but I don't understand Ms Dawson's obsession with trash talking ABA.

At first I thought that Ms Dawson underwent ABA as a child or young adult and had a bad experience. But I have not been able to find any references to that occurring and everything that I did find seems to indicate that she never had any ABA style therapies, so that can't be it.

Then I thought that Ms Dawson might have some sort of agenda that she is pushing. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and I can't see what agenda she would be pursuing or any possible benefit to pursuing it. This view is certainly not helping other people with autism and is especially harmful to young children with autism.

So what I am left with is that Ms Dawson really believes that ABA is unethical, unproven, and bad in spite of the overwhelming evidence against her position. But she seems to be an intelligent person, so I can't see how she can sustain her belief - it isn't rational. And it isn't like she is in an isolated environment where it is easier for irrational ideas to take root.

But then I remembered. Ms Dawson has autism and part of autism is getting fixated or obsessed with items or possibly ideas. Could that be the reason?

I have no idea.


  1. The funny thing about Michelle Dawson is that she thinks EVERY treatment for autism has no standards for science and ethics. But, for some strange reason, she does have this weird obsession with bashing ABA.

    She thinks other treatments are better than ABA when, according to her own words, no autism treatment has any standards of science and ethics and none have been proven to work in double blind studies.

    I don't understand it, either.

  2. I have noticed that she seems to disagree with almost every possible treatment and I just don't get it.

    Just because she has done / can do well enough without any major interventions doesn't mean that every other person with autism can do the same.

    One of these days I hope I can understand what her motivation is, I am sure that she has a reason for what she does but it completely escapes me.

  3. Michelle just enjoys watching children suffer.

  4. Hi to the three poeple in front of me. Are you human or just some living machine that just dose what you told? I have Asperger syndrome AKA Aspies like many great people Nikola Tesla 1856-1943 and his many many works. He the one man that made the world we living in a modern world like are PC's. I know just about ever thing they is to know about thanks to the internet some thing he foresaw we do. I am building a Tesla coil. Are you? No then you have one! But you poeple are none the less scientific research of autistic people right! No then what are you? You are autistic or at less have Aspies No! What do you know? Not even my mother know what is Aspies and she is the one person that know me best. So MJ you don't your kids you think you do you work hard at but you don't have it so you OUT!!!
    I like to make it clear I don't have Autism but Michelle Dawson said she have it. Dose she know what it like have Autism. May not for ever one but Amanda Baggs haves Autism and likes Michelle Dawson works. Have you seen Amanda Baggs video she says she thinks there for she is. I don't have what take to say that those two woman don't know what autism is and I have Aspies I look into ever angle I could to find any error of those two woman. Yes I know autism like I know Tesla A to Z.
    Blogger Stephanie Lynn Keil What proof do you Michelle Dawson is wrong. Becaues other poeple who don't have autism say she wrong that not proof. Even I know that. Aspies are know for their very dry humor. Stephanie do you home work before open your b _ _ _ _ _ _ h less see if you can fill in the blanks. Blogger MJ is already out for thinking he knows his kids when he wrong. Blogger Foresam Were you come off saying stuff like that about a handicap people. If your here to insult a handicap people please don't let find you I put in the bayou were lives my baby little girl of 12 to 14 feet long gator she like fresh meat. Becaues boy you don't have the right to insult a lady even if she dead wrong not on the bayou.
    As for all other non-autistic and non-Aspies don't tell us what good for us becaues we don't tell you what good for you. I know what good for me and your not it!!!!!!
    THANK YOU Michelle Dawson and Amanda Baggs for your good work.

  5. John - What a nice little rant you have going there. I am not sure I understand exactly what you are saying but let me respond to some of what I understood.

    First, it is highly unlikely that Nikola Tesla had autism. You cannot reliably diagnosis a person who is not alive and it is unlikely that he would not have fit the criteria even if you could. It is common to claim that every historical figure who was very technologically gifted had autism but there is no demonstrated relation between technical skills and autism.

    Second, if only people with autism were allowed to have an opinion about it and discuss it there would be very little discussion as a significant portion of the population cannot communicate effectively. Autism is a medical condition and there is no other medical condition that I know of in which discussion of the condition is limited to those who have it. So I will not "OUT!!!" my opinion simply because you feel that I am unqualified because I lack a disorder. I would suggest that if you don't want to listen to what I have to say you simply don't read it.

    Third, I have no doubt that Ms Dawson has some version of autism.

    Fourth, I do have serious doubts about the story that Amanda Baggs presents and whether she is really has low functioning autism. Her story simple does not fit the facts of her life.

    Fifth, there will be no name calling on my blog. If you choose to respond to another commentor you will remain civil to that person.

  6. John,

    I have autism and I am more severely affected than Michelle Dawson so I know what I am talking about when it comes to living with autism.

    Perhaps you should bother doing a little reading and research of your own before you make such silly rants.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. John,

    You are free to comment on what I write as long as you have a relevant point you wish to discuss and you remain civil while doing so.

    Calling people out for a "duel" or trying to imply I am forging comments is not acceptable.

    If you wish to rewrite your comments and repost them without the silliness you are free to do so.

  9. I'm an early intervention therapist working with children with autism and advocating for them and their parents to receive the services they need. On one hand it infuriates me when the anti-ABA witch hunts start, particularly when it's spear headed by adults on the spectrum who have been fortunate not to need intensive therapy. On the other hand, I find myself thinking- well of course. Fundamental to an autism spectrum diagnosis is a difficulty understanding another person's experience. When you think of it that way it makes complete sense- their experience with autism IS autism as far as they know and the idea that they should be cured is highly offensive. But- the last time I checked there weren't roving bands of ABA therapists wandering the streets forcing therapy on anyone with a spectrum diagnosis. Fighting against the rights of parents to access services for their children is both logically and morally wrong.

  10. "Oh, and unethical too, although I can never seem to find the her exact ethical complaints with ABA spelled out precisely, just the assertion that it is, in fact, unethical."

    Read this:

    Unless you'd rather just ignore her actual argument in favour of bashing a strawman, of course.

    1. The document was part of my inspiration in writing this post 6 years ago.