Category Archives: dogs

No Dog Training for Humans

This intriguing article from The Aspergian got me thinking. The author, Carol Millman, (whose biography at the end of the article says she has a diagnosis of autism and is a dog trainer), took a hard look at ABA and compared it unfavorably to dog training. It is well worth a read.

She writes that good dog training takes into account the needs of the dog. After all, an active dog needs exercise, not to learn to sit quietly with no stimulation all the time, because that’s not good for the dog, nor is it in the dog’s nature. It can learn to be a good dog, just not a different sort of dog than it is. For example, no one would think to try to convert a lapdog, like a bichon frise, into a retriever dog that swims for ducks, or into a sheepherder tending to an entire flock. The nature of these breeds is hard-wired. So the high-energy dog can’t be trained to become a low energy dog. It can learn to sit, stay and behave itself, but it can’t learn to be a couch potato dog. Exercise it. It will be a better dog.

Millman argues that ABA is not taking into account the nature and needs of autistic people. She likens it to conversion therapy, and tellingly, ABA founder, Ivar Lovaas was an early practitioner of that disputed treatment, claiming, as he did with early ABA research, that many of the recipients of his treatment appeared to be indistinguishable from their typical peers. But this doesn’t factor in emotional wellbeing or inner needs. Saying “hands down!” over and over doesn’t stop an autistic person’s neurological need to move his hands. ”Scientific” ABA thinks commands are treatment enough and the root causes of behavior are irrelevant.

Hands down! Quiet hands! Mouth quiet! All done!
Blah and blah and High Five! Good job! And that, plus data collection, is “science.” Perhaps if they can explain why ABA fails to help so many people with so-called “severe” symptoms it would be worth a read in a scientific journal. As it is, they just have to say that the person’s autism is “too severe” to be helped.

Millman argues that ABA is indifferent to the nature of autistic people, that it is so programmed to shape autistic people into normal appearing facsimiles, it misses the humanity of the person. The wiggling, high energy, motorically restless kid can’t just be trained to stop wiggling, to stop jumping or flapping. The need to move is in his neurology. But he can move more purposefully, exercise more, learn to have more self-control and learn to communicate his ideas.

Millman’s essay largely focuses on the robotic ABA training of someone who can communicate verbally. I argue that for the autistic nonspeaker, ABA is so much worse in so many ways.

Imagine that the entire purpose of your “gold standard” training is to make you appear normal, but your body won’t let you show what you know. Your artificially cheerful, baby talking instructors treat you like a thick-witted infant and drive you nuts with repetitive, remedial drills and flashcards, well below your actual cognitive level, all the while misinterpreting the real essence of your disability, and mistaking a motor issue for an intellectual one. I have seen this result in some pitiful situations, and I say “J’accuse” to people who won’t consider that they may be wrong, even sometimes, occasionally, or possibly in certain cases.

Not scientific.

My novel, In Two Worlds, has a lot to say about this.

My dogs learned a lot of rules, but they still act like dogs. I never imagined training them to act like cats. I never imagined converting my terrier to a Doberman guard dog or my shepherd to a little Chihuahua.

Autistic people can learn to communicate, to exercise, to be educated and to reduce their stims, but they can’t learn to become a non-autistic person. I am in favor of learning skills and information.
I reject the dog training of people.

Autumn Morning Dog Tease

My dogs are staring at the tree outside our back door. This has been going on for over an hour. A big, bushy squirrel is teasing them. It climbs down to eat some fallen seeds right in front of them. Real casual, ha ha. They stare and stare until one runs because it has no more ability to sit. The squirrel takes a leap and is gone in the tree, mocking my poor dogs.

If Dogs Could Talk

 Well, I have seen that lots of people have already watched this  film, but I liked the vocals and the dog’s urgent, pleading expression. So, in case you missed it, it’s here for a laugh. My own dogs communicate so much in their eyes. By the way, so do non-verbal people if you take the time to notice.Imagine how you would communicate in your eyes if that’s all you had. Dogs can’t talk in our way, and they have no hands, so I guess they need a lot of soul in their eyes.

Take the time to look at non-verbal communication. It’s telling you a lot, I can assure you.

The Benefit of Dogs for Autistic People

 I think people should have pets if they can. I know that old people who live alone do better if they have a pet. I have a lot of pets, plus we took in two abandoned puppies to foster til they were adopted in the summer. That was so fun I would love to do it again. They were stuck in a plastic bag and dumped in an alley.  They were so unlucky to be born to a cruel home, lucky to be found and rescued, and even super lucky to find wonderful homes.
In my case, animals are such good friends. They tolerate, accept, love, and never judge. It isn’t a dog’s character to reject someone because he can’t talk well or because he stims. In this way dogs are our superiors. They are not judgmental. They don’t harbor prejudice. My old dog used to sleep in my room if he noticed I was sad. My sweet shepherd really watches me to see I’m with the group. If I lag she stops walking til I catch up.
I also think dogs force me to deal with noise and unpredictable actions. I am sure this has helped me in life. I think they have taught me a lot. It is interesting how many autistic people have dog phobia. If you are autistic I think dogs should be introduced when you are young. Then the symptoms of terror never develop. I think if we didn’t have dogs when I was so young I would be phobic too. Now I can see how they helped me. It’s interesting in so many ways how they did.
The truth is cats are cool too, but not as loving. I didn’t learn so much about me from cats, but I did learn worlds of stuff from dogs. I learned toleration of noise and change. I learned that I am loved in spite of my disability by them. I learned that loyalty is important, to love long walks, and that I can control a large dog on a walk. This gives me confidence.
See you soon.

Me and My Dogs

My dogs are a lot of fun. I am really glad we have them. When I was a baby we got a dog, so I am used to dogs. My home is always wagging and scampering.
They bother me when they bark, but it’s bearable mostly. I still cover my ears because I hear too sensitively. It’s worth it because I love them. They are patient with my annoying stims.
I know too many autistic people who scream in fear at the sight of dogs. It sort of makes sense because autistic people have sensitive hearing. Dogs are full of surprises and they run and play in unpredictable ways. It’s for me an exercise in tolerance because I learned to love them in spite of their noise and their weird systems that make a sleeping dog jump out of its bed barking madly and running after some random sound it hears. This stresses some people, I’m sure, but I got used to it, times three. Maybe my dogs helped me in some ways to deal with a changeable world.