Applied Behaviour Analysis and Autism Ranking: Unable to rate

Risks and Safety


There are no specific hazards associated with most of the interventions based on the principles of applied behaviour analysis for individuals on the autism spectrum as typically used today. However, in the past some ABA programmes involved the use of punishment (even electric shock) to reduce problem behaviours.

There are also concerns that time-out procedures, if used incorrectly and unsystematically, can result in children being isolated or excluded for unnecessarily lengthy periods of time.

Some critics claim that applied behaviour analysis does not enable children to generalise the skills they have learnt i.e. they can only do exactly what they have been taught to do, nothing else.

Others claim that the methods can lead children to become very prompt- or cue-dependent whereby they can perform tasks when prompted but do not spontaneously use these skills in everyday interactions.

Some critics also claim that extensive use and over reliance on early intensive behavioural interventions may be problematic because these are very time consuming and costly, leaving little time or money for other interventions.

There is also the moral debate about subjecting a child to very intensive therapy - some people argue that as adults we are only supposed to work 35 hours per week and yet we could be asking autistic children to work 40+ hours with little free or unstructured time.

ABA has been heavily criticised by some people on the autism spectrum. For example, Milton objects to the “goal of the practice and its ideology; to its moribund [dying] theory; to the lack of good evidence in its support and a history of its advocates not answering criticisms; and to a disregard for reports of harm arising from its use”. (Source: personal correspondence with Research Autism, June 2013)

The website Autism.Wikia Com accessed on 29 February 2016, contains a detailed list of criticisms by other people on the autism spectrum.


There are no known contraindications (condition which makes a particular treatment or procedure potentially inadvisable for a particular group of people) for applied behaviour analysis as an intervention for individuals on the autism spectrum.

31 Oct 2017
Last Review
01 Sep 2016
Next Review
01 Sep 2019