Let Me Hear Your Voice – Catherine Maurice
This is an often referenced books – especially in a number of the parent biographies I have read so far. From the way it was referenced, and in the type of books it was celebrated in, I did know that it wasn’t going to be a book I agreed with. What I also knew was that it came up time and time again when some parents explained why the opted to go for ABA. So to me, that made it an important book to read.
The book starts out with the standard story of having a child and then noticing something is different, there are behaviours that are concerning, speech disappears; things that are quite standard in this particular genre of parent biographies. There is also the reoccurring theme of “everyone professional or otherwise who didn’t help me in the (insert ABA/Biomedical Treatment/etc.) of my child is an uneducated idiot; but again that’s fairly common as well. To give you a taste – given the context (and copious use of ” “‘s the following quote is not a positive one:
But the response was mystifying and disappointing. In essence, they seemed to be promising a few hours a week of love, understanding, and “acceptance”, accompanied by mounds and mounds of paper-work, and periodic important-sounding “conferences”, where any progress would be “reevaluated”.
I thanked them for their time and left. First decision made: Anne-Marie would not be going to the Payne Whitney Therapeutic Nursery.
Love, understanding, and acceptance are apparently attitudes and approaches to be scornful of? Anyway, Maurice finds out about Lovaas and his work with ABA shortly after the possibility of Anne-Marie being autistic arises. After that she becomes certain that ABA is what she will be doing and ABA will recover her daughter from autism. Along with a considerable chunk of Holding Therapy to begin with, and that is a pretty terrible therapy as well. For those unaware, it basically boils down to forcefully holding your child close to you, despite any protests they might have, and then telling them how terrible they have made your life.
I know I have brought up the whole person-first/identity-first debate before (and I still think the back and forth arguing about it is a colossal waste of time that deviates from actually doing anything useful in the field of autism) but this book does a good job of demonstrating a point I have made before. Maurice uses identity-first language; Anne-Marie is autistic, and Maurice loads up the use of that phrase with the utmost disdain frequently throughout the book. Identity-first language is certainly not a positive representation in this book – which supports the point that both types of language mean the same thing, it’s your intention that matters.
Anyway, Anne-Maria is put through ABA and Holding Therapy, and the descriptions are fairly awful. Then, like in many other books, it starts to work and then all of a sudden it’s snowballing and ABA is a wonderful thing that recovered Anne-Marie. The parts on Holding Therapy are quite interesting to read because you watch as Maurice slowly comes to the realisation that what Holding Therapy advises is actually a horrible thing to do to your child – and it is fascinating to watch her justify ABA whilst slowly rejecting Holding Therapy.
Bridget seemed completely unfazed by Anne-Marie’s sobbing. How could she be so calm? She must not have a heart. She just kept prompting Anne-Marie through the trials, as though all this terror and distress were not happening. After each trial of “Look at me”, she offered Anne-Maria a goldfish and praised her, “Good looking Anne-Marie!”. Anne-Marie refused to accept the reinforcer.
Of course, and this will not be a shock, Anne-Marie “recovers” from her autism and is rediagnosed as not showing the criteria needed to be diagnosed as autistic. No surprise there. The twist in this tale however is that just as Anne-Marie is “recovering”, youngest son Michel is regressing.
So we go through the whole thing again (but without Holding Therapy), although Michel’s story gets less page time than Anne-Marie’s did. Michel is even more resistant to ABA than Anne-Marie was and the various “struggles to get him to comply” are documented. Then of course he recovers as well. Was there every any doubt that it was going to end differently? The whole book is just a documentation of self-pity, very negative attitudes towards autism, and forcing compliance out of two autistic children with the aim of “recovering” them.
Is it worth reading?
For professionals, I’m going to say tentatively yes, just because it is a well-read book by people seeking out ABA. It’s best to know the literature. For everyone else, no. Almost all the bad stuff about ABA (there isn’t much on aversives thankfully) is contained within this book.