Spanish colonization in the Philippines. It’s a thing universally recognized as horrible, unless you are in high school and you have been taught barely anything about it, because Filipino history wasn’t deemed “important” enough to be taught in American schools. Being from New Jersey, I personally wasn’t taught about it much.
I also wasn’t aware of an equally harmful thing very present in our world today, which is ABA “therapy." I am autistic, self-diagnosed because I was relatively good at masking throughout my elementary, middle, and high school years, and because diagnoses are very expensive and right now my priority is paying for school. Additionally, though I always suspected something was different about me, I didn’t find out I was autistic until my sophomore year of college. In a way, I’m glad that I didn’t find out until later, because I was spared the abusive “therapy” that is ABA, present in many schools or as an outside source to “cure” autistic children. For those of you who don’t know, Applied Behavioral Analysis was first concepted by psychologist Ole Ivar Lovaas, who admitted to being inspired by Nazi experimentation to conduct his own studies on human behavior. He also did work in the field of gay conversion therapy, which most people who aren’t Mike Pence or people like him know is wrong. Applied Behavioral Analysis bears many similarities to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines.
First of all, many Filipinos were brutally forced to convert to Christianity. ABA “therapy” gives autistic children no choice but to mold their behaviors into those deemed desirable by neurotypicals. Oftentimes, the plan of action is discussed between the parent and the “therapist” and the child is not involved in the conversation. Doesn’t that seem wrong? Shouldn’t the child have a say in how they turn out? In addition to that, once in the “therapy,” the child’s consent is not respected at all, and children can even be punished for standing up for their rights. There have been horror stories of autistic children forced to wear shirts with tags on them (brutal for kids with texture sensitivities), being exposed to loud noises against their will (horrible for kids with noise sensitivities), or being punished for being unable to tell a story in chronological order. ABA is a form of eugenics in a way. A spiritual one, if you will, because it is designed to eradicate everything that makes a child autistic. Here’s the thing, though -- it can’t. While being autistic does affect a person’s behavior, it is also very prevalent in their mind. No one can change someone’s brain structure. It’s just not possible. It’s not possible to change a brain from an autistic one to a neurotypical one.
Also, the Spanish saw that the Filipinos slept in the mornings and afternoons rather than farming, so they assumed they were lazy. As a result, they imposed their toxic capitalist schedule on them. If the Spanish bothered to ask the Filipinos why they were sleeping, they might have learned that Filipinos awoke at dawn, when the sun wasn’t as prevalent, to do farming, finished up by early morning, and caught up on their rest in the morning and late afternoon. Just because the way they did things wasn’t the Spanish way, it was considered to be inferior and needed to be eradicated. Autistic children (and adults) self-regulate in ways vastly misunderstood by the general population. Some flap their hands, some repeat comforting words to themselves that sound good in their mouths, some need to move around, and some need an object to play around with in their hands. These are all called stimming and autistic people do it to regulate their anxiety, soothe themselves when they’re in a sensory overloaded environment, or they need it to live their lives comfortably. To ABA “therapists” and ignorant parents, these are behaviors that need to be conditioned out of their children because they are “embarrassing,” “abnormal,” and “will draw unnecessary attention to them.” Ignoring the purpose of why autistic children need to do those things in the first place is so detrimental and toxic.
The Spanish used nasty, underhanded, insidious tricks to keep Filipinos obedient. After forcing Christianity on them, the Spanish weaponized the phrase “Bahala na," or “Leave it up to God.” A similar mentality preached was, “If something happens, then it is God’s will.” What a convenient excuse. The Spanish colonized the Philippines and forced Christianity upon them? It’s God’s will. Filipinos are now in poverty because of Spanish colonization? It’s God’s will. Filipinos are oppressed by a corrupt system? It’s God’s will. This familiar phrase has its origins in the Spanish preventing Filipinos from rebelling. ABA utilizes similar tricks to keep their students obedient. If an autistic child succeeds at acting neurotypical, they are given a reward, such as the ability to participate in a preferred activity, a desired item needed for self-regulation that they needed all along, a high five, or (get this) less time doing the “therapy.” If less time doing the “therapy” is a reward, that says it all.
In conclusion, ABA should be treated with the same outrage as gay conversion therapy and Spanish colonization. For all the parents worried about their autistic child’s ability to succeed in the real world, I assure you there are therapies that are actually helpful and don’t make your child 86 percent more likely to have PTSD due to being told that being their true self is something bad. They include CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy), Occupational Therapy, and Music Therapy. ABA is the eradication of a very valuable, valid culture. If you are autistic, your life, the way you do things, and the way you choose to live your life matters. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re only valid as a human being if you do things their way, or that they’re just trying to help you, or that you don’t know any better, because those arguments? They were used by the Spanish to justify colonizing the Philippines.