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Myths and Facts about Aversives

An AUTCOM Memorandum

MYTH: Some people are so "low-functioning" that they need aversives.
FACT: Individuals who are the most severely disabled are the most likely to be placed in the very environments that are most likely to produce the types of behavior that are used to justify aversives. Instead of being interpreted as maladaptive, their behavior should be viewed as highly adaptive responses to, and protests of, these maladaptive environments.

MYTH: Aversives are used only for the most dangerous behaviors.
FACT: In systems where aversives are permitted they tend to become pervasive, precluding interest in and development of more humane approaches. Even innocuous self-stim behaviors are "treated" with aversives under the rationale that they might lead to dangerous behaviors.

MYTH: Aversives are fast, powerful and effective.
FACT: Individuals who experience force and coercion learn that force and coercion are acceptable behaviors. Aversives produce unwanted escape and avoidance responses, and often diminish desirable behaviors. If aversives were so fast and effective, we would not see the overwhelming tendency for aversives to be employed over long periods of time, or for the level of aversives being used on an individual to be increased over time. However, documentation exists that aversives can be powerful enough to permanently end unwanted behaviors, and in fact all behaviors, since clients undergoing "treatment" have died.

MYTH: Positive approaches won't work on everyone.
FACT: A growing body of well-documented research on positive approaches, which do not inflict pain or dehumanize people with disabilities, supports their effectiveness for even the most difficult behaviors.

MYTH: Use of aversives is a matter of parent choice. The anti-aversive movement disparages parents who choose aversives.
FACT: Use of aversives is a matter of professional choice and control. The most outspoken, organized lobbies for aversives are composed of professionals. Opposition to aversives does not imply criticism of parents who have given permission to professionals to use aversives on their children, since these parents often have been victimized by a lack of appropriate options, information, and support.

MYTH: To reject aversives is to limit parents' right to discipline their children, to say "no" to their children, or to react strenuously in emergencies.
FACT: To reject aversives is to limit professionals' right to design and implement an ongoing program based on pain and humiliation as a treatment of choice. An aversive treatment cannot be equated with everyday family discipline, such as saying "no" to a child's unreasonable request. It also cannot be equated to one-time reactions to behavior in the face of emergencies (e.g. shoving someone to get them out of the path of a vehicle), since that is not a behavior program. It is a sad irony that any parents who actually employed in their home the aversives used with impunity by professionals (electric shock, manacles, blindfolds, white noise helmets, etc.) would be subject to arrest for abuse.

MYTH: The use of aversives is a scientific issue and a treatment issue.
FACT: The use of aversives is a human rights issue and a civil rights issue. When we allow punishments to be used on persons with disabilities which would be illegal if used on persons without disabilities, we are denying them equal protection under the law. Even our other devalued populations - people who are elderly, homeless, or in prison - cannot legally be "treated" with aversives, nor do we permit animals to be trained or treated by these means.

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