Nothing Left to Lose - A documentary exposing the truth about ABA
Nothing Left to Lose - A documentary exposing the truth about ABA
As the opponents of ABA get louder and are able to mobilize and amplify their point of view, the supporters of ABA have also been getting louder, through high-profile protests demanding more government funding for ABA, and they seem to refuse to want to hear any other perspectives.
Mission StatementI'm an autistic activist and have always been opposed to ABA, and there has never been a documentary that clearly addresses the many problems with ABA. After doing extensive research into ABA and reading the stories of survivors, I believe I'm the best person to make this film.
About The Project
Story Summary / Synopsis
Nothing Left to Lose tells the stories of autistic people, their families, and health care professionals who have embraced a different approach in supporting the unique needs and challenges faced by autistic people everyday.
You will meet Liv Andrea and her autistic son Landon as they navigate his first year of school. Not comfortable with how traditional learning programs would deal with Landon, she will share the highs and lows of navigating how to best create a rich homeschooling environment for her son that respects his learning needs.
When Landon was first diagnosed as autistic, he was automatically put on the waitlist for Nova Scotia’s Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) program, which is Nova Scotia’s publicly-funded ABA program. As Liv learned more about EIBI, she was very uncomfortable with the approach, so she has refused to put him in that program and has had Landon removed from the list.
The film will also follow a few other local families who refuse to put their autistic children in any form of ABA, and are proof that autistic children do not need any kind of behavioral intervention to be “set up for life”. We will learn what has been successful for these families and the challenges they still face.
Importantly, we will hear from several autistic survivors of ABA. They will talk about their experiences with ABA as children, and how they continue to suffer the effects of PTSD from this abusive therapy to this day.
The film will introduce you to some former therapists who will share their experiences as practitioners of ABA, and why they eventually came to regret their role in an industry that is estimated to be worth 2 billion dollars a year in the United States.
In addition, the film will include interviews with professionals in the fields of psychology and education who oppose ABA, and offer alternatives that they say are both more effective and more respectful of autistic people's autonomy.
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) has long been considered the “gold standard” for intervention for autism. As defined by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB), ABA is:
“A systematic approach for influencing socially important behavior through the identification of reliably related environmental variables and the production of behavior change techniques that make use of those findings. Practitioners of behavior analysis provide services consistent with the dimensions of ABA.”
As its supporters tell us, ABA is meant to increase “positive” skills and behaviors and reduce or eliminate “problem” behaviors in autistic children. Most of the time, autistic children are signed up for ABA or derivatives of it as soon as they are diagnosed. Often their parents are told the kids need this “therapy” right away so they can have a good start in life.
But a growing number of autistic adults, non-autistic parents of autistic children, and even some former therapists are calling this idea into question. Many ABA survivors report post-traumatic stress disorder from enduring years of what they describe as mental, emotional, and physical abuse. They have been repeatedly told that who they are is wrong and that they need to appear “normal”. With obedience being the desired and preferred behaviour of the autistic person, many people suggest that this makes the autistic person less able to say no to someone who might be wanting to do them harm.
And new research is now validating their experiences. In 2020 alone, three studies came out that call ABA’s effectiveness into question. A study from the US Department of Defence demonstrated that ABA does not work; a study published in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal clearly outlines the problems with ABA; and a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry calls out the many conflicts of interest in autism early intervention research.
It is also important to note that ABA is often compared to gay conversion therapy. In fact, Ivar Lovaas, the psychologist who originally created ABA, was heavily involved in the Feminine Boy Project, a 1970s study that aimed to prevent homosexuality. Psychologist George Rekers, a key figure in the world of conversion therapy, used Lovaas’s techniques to treat “deviant sex-role behaviours” in male children.
Used with permission of the Ed Wiley Autism Acceptance Library
As an autistic adult with deep connections in the international autistic community, I have a personal understanding of the issues and challenges autistic people face every day. Autistic people struggle with being accepted for who they are. Those who were exposed to ABA say it is harmful, traumatizing and abusive, that it treats autism as a problem to be fixed, and that its ultimate goal is to make autistic children pass as non-autistic. Moreover, they say that when autistic people’s natural ways of communicating, moving, and interacting with the world are suppressed, it can cause serious, long-lasting harm.
This project is important right now because the voices against ABA are getting louder and louder in the online space. The voices of parents, clinicians and autism organizations advocating for more ABA are also getting louder, but in the broader public conversation…..and they are the ones controlling the dominant public narrative.
How best to support autistic people has also become political; in 2019, the Ontario government announced it was restructuring the Ontario Autism Program, which led to widespread protests. The federal government has been working on the development of a National Autism Strategy and offering more ABA services is expected to become a significant issue.
Many mainstream autism organizations promote understanding and acceptance of autistic people, yet at the same time, they typically advocate for more ABA and don’t amplify the voices of those who oppose ABA. This makes it difficult for the autistic community, who opposes ABA, to feel accepted by the very organizations that say they’re here to help them.
Nothing Left to Lose intentionally does NOT look at both sides of the story, because this side of the story is never told by the mainstream media, and is not part of the dominant public narrative on autistic issues. This documentary provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the meaning of the terms “acceptance” and “early intervention”, and to start a conversation about whether compliance-based “therapies” are even necessary for autistic children.
How You Can Help
The funds raised from this campaign will be used to shoot some interviews with local families of autistic children who oppose any form of ABA. We will then edit these into a sample that we can use to apply to other film funders.
We want to hire some of the best local crew members to help with the production of this film, and rent professional equipment. We've made many perks available here on Seed & Spark, so be sure to check them all out to see which one is right for you!
We will follow the guidelines as set out by the Documentary Organization of Canada's guide Documentary Production in the Era of COVID-19: Best Practices by and for Documentary Filmmakers. The documentary industry has found several ways to continue working in spite of the pandemic, and this guide shows how it's possible.
Don't forget to follow our Seed & Spark campaign by clicking the "Follow" button next to the video at the top of the page. We would also greatly appreciate if you could share this campaign on social media, and with your friends and family.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your interest in this important film!
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About This Team
I am a documentary filmmaker and autistic activist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. I have two experimental short films to my credit, Fabulous Fringes and Stimmy Toys, and I recently launched my own production company, KronAuteur Films. I've been working in the film and television industry for nine years, and this will be my first feature-length film.
More team members will be added as they become available. Stay tuned!