behaviorism can kill you nbd

so dani shared this post on facebook and i read it and instantly messaged her to FEELS about it. we ended up talking for a bit, and i was like “THIS NEEDS TO BE A POST, CAN THIS CONVERSATION JUST BE A POST” and she agreed. so this is my (our) post of like…what “indistinguishable from peers” and “encouraging positive behaviors” can mean for autistic people…even those who don’t grow up with a diagnosis. 
EMMA: oh that piece you shared. its weird to me because i actually did the “split self” thing completely literally until i was like 21? i called emma before medicine “bad emma” and i just told myself that that was why people did bad things to smaller emma, it was because she was “bad emma” and she deserved it.
and so whenever i wasn’t sure i would have medication i would have huge panic attacks because i was convinced that if anyone saw bad emma they wouldn’t like me anymore. also why i wouldn’t let anyone in my room at college.
i also had a thing when i was a kid where i was terrified of singing or dancing around even when i was alone because i thought someone would see me. so i would run around the house and shut all the window shades and lock al the doors and then dance around for like five minutes until i thought i heard a car, and ran around to reopen everything and turn off the music so nobody would be able to tell what i was doing
DANI: I did that too. The dancing thing.
EMMA: okay NOW i’m crying
DANI: My “split self” thing was a little different. I actually have a whole separate character I play when I need to be in Automated Human Simulator mode. I’ve “known” for decades that people like her, not me.
now it turns out some people actually like ME (including Jason), and I still can’t even with that some days. HOW. HOW POSSIBLE.
EMMA: i think mine is just different because social talking wasn’t as big of a problem for me as like, daily living skills/cleanliness/impulsivity.
so like, i literally did ABA on “bad emma” starting when i was like ten,
DANI: whoa. ❤ ❤ ❤
EMMA: like “you forgot to make a lunch? no food for you then. you want to buy pens? no you spend too much money, you are not allowed any pens. you lost your bus pass? tell nobody, you need to learn bad consequences, use your lunch money to pay for the bus for the next month, no lunch for you. you forgot to get pain meds and now you are in bed with cramps? sucks for u, sit in bed and FEEL THE PAIN. you did a thing that people wanted you to do? good emma, you get candy today.”
i also wasn’t “allowed” (by my brain) to go to bed or eat food until i finished my late homework. that did NOT GO WELL in college.
DANI: “you need to learn consequences” omfg my brain still says this shit
EMMA: i told someone about that for the first time, and the person i told is like my gay mom, and she basically cried and was like “that’s horrible” and i was like sitting there completely chill like “but i mean how else will i ever learn? why are you upset?”
DANI: omg that’s the conversation I had with Jason. it literally blew his mind that I do that stuff to myself….
he was like “no, you don’t get it, THAT’S ABUSE”
EMMA: YEAH
she was like “that’s like fucking medieval torture what even”
DANI: and I was all “but…it’s teaching?”
EMMA: yeah
I WAS LIKE “NO I AM CONDITIONING MYSELF TO BE A GOOD PERSON.”
and she was like “YOU ARE ALREADY A GOOD PERSON” and i was like “wtf go home ur drunk”
DANI: “if I were good enough I wouldn’t do this stupid shit” is what I said to Jason. “That’s why I need consequences because I keep screwing up”
EMMA: YEP
DANI: I just. THE HELL.
EMMA: obviously if i were a good person, i would care about these things enoug to do them. so since i don’t do them, i must not care, and only terrible people don’t care.
DANI: omg that exactly
also in reference to what we’re talking about now, in case anyone is wondering whether or not this stuff fucks you up physically as well as psychologically YEP IT DOES. IT DOES. 
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14 thoughts on “behaviorism can kill you nbd

  1. Pingback: A bad me (that didn’t know how to behave) | the uninspirational

  2. Pingback: More on Behaviorism | Autistic Academic

  3. The dancing thing. And just in general, assuming that anything I like must be shameful and ridiculous. Slam the book shut, hide the cover of the book, turn the music off, lie about what CDs you own and what games you play and what website you’re reading etc. etc. etc.

  4. the eating disorder i developed and the hair i lost from it makes a lot of sense now. i didn’t go through aba therapy and yet my experiences are not unlike your own. “you don’t deserve to eat bc you made xyz mistakes, time for you to learn your lesson” i literally changed my name when I was 18 bc I thought if I could be someone other than me, who must have been so super bad to deserve the other abusive elements of my upbringing, I could start all over and be lovable. i’m so exhausted from these current revelations upon further inspection of those childhood memories that I keep packing up and putting away to collect dust in the attic of my mind. i’d rather those memories just sit in the boxes in which I’ve metaphorically placed them, unfortunately, healing from the destructive tendencies learned via behaviorism is only possible if I keep unpacking and dissecting those memories. *rocking side to side* i literally allowed my body to eat away at it’s own muscle, lost over 100lbs, bc my executive dysfunction meant i didn’t deserve food. my constant need to stim meant i didn’t deserve food. i too closed every blind in my house, locked the door, and danced without abandon when no one was looking, and at 26 years of age, I still fear the possibility of a parent (i do not live within any proximity of either of my parents) who might jump out and scream at me for any little mistake. I had numerous meltdowns when it occurred to me that i am still the little person me whom i’ve tried to distance myself from, that changing my name didn’t change who i am, didn’t suddenly make me not autistic. even though i didn’t even know i was autistic, i thought i was just broken. no, i’m only autistic and what was done to me was inhumane and disgusting.

    • oh friend. i feel this so much. neither myself nor dani had actual ABA, but she and i have talked before about how like…i think part of why it can be so hard to get people looking critically at the basic parts of ABA and behaviorism is because behaviorism is basically the foundation for how people are expected and told to parent/teach all children? it gets taken to obvious unconscionable extremes for neurodivergent kids (and children of color too, in a lot of cases, whether or not they’re neurodivergent or not), but the whole “you must subject your child to operant conditioning techniques and reward/punishment schemes so they can learn how to be people!” thing is like…ubiquitous in families, and schools, and so forth. so like, i know that for me, it wasn’t hard to take the basic rules and principles that the adults around me (who, in my case, almost always had the best intentions and tried to be kind about it) were using, and then apply them to myself in efforts to “really TRY” and “be responsible” and so forth.
      and i know that i also like, tried to make a “big break” when i finished high school and tried going away to college: i threw out whole boxes of old school papers and tests and assignments i’d kept, because to me they were just something i’d been obsessed with before i knew what was “wrong” with me (at the time, that was just the ADHD diagnosis). i’ve regretted that so many times in the last few years…and yeah. when i first had to like, confront the reality that i wasn’t just “fixed” now, i basically had like a three-week-long slow-motion meltdown.
      it does help to go through those memories though. especially if you have people who are good and empathetic and can tell you “i’m so sorry you went through that. you didn’t, and couldn’t, have done anything to deserve that.” because that helps to internalize those new ways of thinking about the memories. i also enjoy finding old photos of me as a kid, and cute/weird things i made or liked–it helps me to feel love for that younger me, and appreciate that she’s part of me too, and we’re the same person, and that’s okay.
      love and rocking in solidarity.

  5. I get the music and the dancing thing, and I had been self-conscious of it since my teenage years. When my dad would catch me, he would say I was “self-stimulating,” in a way that was shameful. The dancing I do, though, I don’t know if it is proper dancing; I think the way I do it is too incoherent to be considered as such. Nevertheless, it is something I only do when I am alone.

    I also recognize the experiences of being ashamed of stuff that I like, even though the times I do show it (such as to family) no one seems to have any problem with it.

  6. I can’t even begin to explain how powerful this is for someone on the other side of this. I worked as a music therapist for 8 years in various elementary, middle, high, and private schools. For me, some of the most amazing moments I had with my students was when they were being spontaneous, letting all the self-consciousness go and just enjoying the music we made together. My most frustrating times were when I was trying to “get them to do something” because I literally had to for my job. One of the reasons I left music therapy was because I could no longer write “non-measurable goals.” I tried to argue not everything we do can be measured, that’s what case notes are for but people like numbers. It’s very sad and I’m very sorry this was done to you.

  7. Pingback: Autism News, 2015/08/24 | Ada Hoffmann

  8. This is the post that sucked me into your blog. I’ve been commenting backwards from stuff you wrote longer ago (and I read most recently), working my way back (forward?) to the newest stuff. Because this one is the one that explains me the best. Out of pretty much everything anywhere ever.

    It confuses me as it rings true to me, because that *IS* teaching/learning. The one laying out the conditions and punishments/consequences is the teacher and the one who is suffering from them is the learner. That’s how it works. How else could it work? When the cat scratches the couch she gets yelled at and then carried over to the scratching post instead. So she stops. When the child doesn’t do his homework he gets yelled at and isn’t allowed to watch TV. So he does it. When the dog poops on the floor he gets yelled at and maybe gets a newspaper rolled up and swatted onto his butt. So he stops pooping in the house. When I question my husband too much I get yelled at and intimidated. So I stop. That’s how life works. You get yelled at and you stop. That is learning. At least in my world. You threaten, intimidate, and scare the living being into compliance. You taught it! Yay!

    It’s weird, when bad things happen to me I feel like I deserved them and it’s karma but if good things happen to me then I feel like “well I got lucky this time” or “someone made a mistake because somehow a good thing happened to me”.

    And what is this dancing thing we all did? I could not sit still during Peanuts television specials if Linus was playing piano. I was up and twirling and dancing and spinning. I would ask my brother to play piano when I was REALLY little so I could do the same thing. Then when I was about six I developed a sense of embarrassment and suddenly I always wanted to be alone for almost everything all the time because I didn’t want people to make fun of me. Which is weird because I often had no concept of people making fun of me because I was always living inside myself anyway, where it was safe. I wasn’t tuning people out, I was just… not tuning them in to begin with.

    Being ME was one thing, tuning in the rest of the world was something else entirely and required letting ME be on autopilot for the most part because I can either be Me OR take in the rest of everything, I can’t do both. I’m either thinking and feeling and being, or I’m interacting with the world. So I have to spend a lot of time decompressing and rebooting. Because people.

    And I’m rambling. What else is new, I’m being ME so I’m typing and thinking, which means rambling if I’m doing it honestly.

    “Luckily” for me, I was already reading chapter books when I was four and I have a particular skill for reading, taking in information, synthesizing them, and spitting them back out in written form, which meant that I could make it through school with almost no issues academically, which meant that I was “just” the really weird girl. But I liked school (except for the part where other kids went as well, haha) for the most part, to the extent that I didn’t question it when my mom and a friend’s mom both had us take an IQ test in school when none of the other kids did. I enjoyed it a lot. The pattern matching parts were awesome. Then later Me and another friend got to be in the huge college auditorium classroom one time when her mother, a child psychologist, was teaching a class of some kind. She would ask us each to draw certain things in response to a prompt, then show them on the overhead projector and discuss how we did them differently. No clue what that was about either. But looking back it all suggests to me that “something was going on with ME” and they knew it and never told me. hrumph.

    And while I’m ranting, can I just ask, if I only have enough me inside me to deal with ME, and can’t even both BE me and deal with the outside world at the same time most of the time, how can people seriously expect me to be ME and also look them in the eye while they’re talking AND maintain ME-ness, AND have a conversation while looking them in the eye, when as soon as I look someone in the eye I take on so much THEM which smothers the ME??? bleh. nevermind. I know Im’ rambling. Sorry. I just don’t get me and I want to but my parents and grandparents and a sibling have all died at this point in my life and the people who are left are so used to saying that I’m fine and normal and whatever after 42 years of it that I don’t even know what I have to do or who I have to see to get real answers at this point but I better find a place where I fit in soon here because I can’t keep on like this. My whole life is an exercise in “you fucked up, now deal with it” and I’m tired of dealing with it because I don’t even know what the fuck-up is anymore that I’m being punished for, I just know that every day is a punishment and I must deserve it because that’s how karma WORKS right?

    blargh. sorry again. ❤

  9. (sorry I totally didn’t even touch on the parts of hte blog and of me that actually relate to one another did I …. Jennifer vs. Jen…. I’ve always had the two MEs. Jennifer does things correctly and in a responsible way most of the time and Jen gets to be herself except nobody likes her because she makes poor choices and enjoys music entirely too much and wants to be left alone except when she wants to be social and has a really odd sense of humor and finds herself hilarious even though it’s mostly inappropriate/non-PC hilarity if the looks she gets from other people are any indication, but Jennifer makes her kids meals on time and pays the bills on time and is a soulless robot. I had a friend once who really understood this quite well but not enough to avoid telling me that I had to integrate them both into one person, and because I respected them so much and wanted to please them I figured I can’t do that so I’ll just kill Jen and be the robot from now on.

    After WAY. TOO. LONG. of this I had a massive meltdown after my mom died and life piled up around me into unmanageable piles of responsibilities and condolences and I couldn’t DO it anymore, so I “regressed” into Jen again and never did bother to put the robot suit back on and now my husband often says I’m not the same person I used to be and what happened ten years ago and how come I can’t be NORMAL and I just think, you never did know me did you?

    so yeah.

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