not being believed

Not being believed

Content note: This is a post about ABA, and not being believed about the harm ABA does.

Anonymous said to :

People don’t believe me when I say I was a victim to ABA abuse, not even my parents.

I was misgendered routinely, I could not drink water even though this was harmless and was often asked to write my name even though this was effectively pointless.

How should I convince people I was really abused?

Am I just whining and should I “get over it” because that’s not “real abuse” and I’m not autistic?

realsocialskills said:

It’s not your fault that therapists hurt you. It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. What people did to you matters, even if no one believes you.

ABA is degrading on a level that it can be very hard to recover from or even describe. The basic methodology of ABA is finding out what you care about most and using it to get compliance with arbitrary demands.

I’ve written some here and here and here about the kind of damage that does, and that’s only scratching the surface.

Increasingly, one of the things behavior therapists demand is that you pretend that they’re not controlling you. They often go so far as to demand that you act like you like what’s happening and believe that it’s both necessary and enjoyable. And they do that even as they make you do obviously pointless things (like writing your name over and over), and even as they do obviously awful things to you (like denying you water and misgendering you).

That kind of thing can mess with your mind really badly, especially when you’re surrounded by people who don’t believe you.

It’s not your fault that people don’t believe you. They can refuse to acknowledge what people did to you; you can’t make it go away. It matters even if no one around you cares.

You will probably always have to deal with people who don’t believe you. Most people are reluctant to believe that therapists ever hurt people in ways that matter, and ABA has a particularly effective publicity machine. Some people will say that you’re whining, that you’re lying, and that the things you’ve described don’t happen. They’re wrong. It matters that people hurt you in the name of helping you. It’s horrible that people who you should be able to trust don’t believe you.

Some of them may eventually come to understand. Sometimes people come around, in the long term. But you don’t have to wait for that in order to be ok, you don’t have to explain it to them if you don’t want to, and what happened to you matters whether or not people believe you.

Also… You are not alone. What happened to you shouldn’t happen to anyone. There is a community of people who know that it’s wrong to treat people that way. Making connections with people who believe you might help a lot.

It’s much easier to hold on to your perspective if you’re not doing it alone. This is hard. It’s also possible. You’re ok.

tl;dr Abuse matters even if no one believes you. That said, making connections with people who believe you can help a lot. You are not alone, even if really important people in your life don’t believe you.

Doing what you must and feeling like you're faking

content note: This post is about the broad (inaccurate) perception that people with disabilities are faking, and ways that forces some people with disabilities to partially misrepresent the exact nature of their disability. Proceed with caution. 


Some people without disabilities believe that there are massive numbers of people faking disability, and that they must be caught and stopped. People who believe this usually don’t know very much about what disability actually looks like. They tend to assume that anyone with a disability who has non-stereotypical abilities is faking their disability. 


Real disability often doesn’t look like stereotypical disability. For instance, many wheelchair users can walk, and many people who have service dogs can read, and many people have different abilities on different days depending on their energy and pain levels. This doesn’t mean that they are faking. It just means that their combination of abilities and disabilities don’t look like media tropes, because they are real people.


People with non-stereotypical disabilities can be in a very difficult place when dealing with people who think this way. It’s a pervasive problem, and people with a misplaced dedication to rooting out fakers often have a lot of destructive power over people who need disability-related support.


Being thought of as faking can mean that you lose accommodations. It can mean that you lose services that you need in order to survive. It can mean you get harassed. It can mean people are violent. 


Sometimes, people with disabilities have no realistic option other than to allow people to believe that they fit these stereotypes: 


Eg: 

  • On a college campus, every dorm except one is completely inaccessible.
  • The main entrance to the partially accessible dorm has stairs
  • There is an accessible entrance for employees and residents with disabilities, but it’s always locked
  • In order to get a key, you have to convince Fred the building manager that you need one
  • Fred is very suspicious of disability claims, and is constantly trying to catch people faking disability
  • Fred believes that anyone using a wheelchair who can walk, stand, or even move their legs, is a faker who needs to be called out and prevented from using accessibility resources (if you don’t know why he’s wrong, read this post)
  • Wheelchair users who need access to that building are careful to give Fred the impression that they are completely unable to walk or stand. They never stand in front of him, or in a place where he might turn up unexpected. They carefully avoid referencing their ability to stand to anyone who might repeat it to Fred. 
  • They may even have to outright lie about this in order to prevent Fred from taking away their access to the only door they can use. (eg: If Fred asks them directly, or rants about fakers, or makes them fill out an intrusive form).


More generally:

  • Many, many people have strong attachments to stereotypical ideas about how disability works
  • They tend to think that people who don’t fit those stereotypes are faking disability
  • Most people with disabilities don’t fit disability stereotypes particularly well
  • It’s often dangerous for people with disabilities to be perceived as faking it
  • That’s a hard situation, because:
  • There may be times when you know that if you describe your abilities and access needs completely accurately, people are likely to think that you are faking
  • But if you somewhat misrepresent your abilities in a way that fits the stereotype, then they’ll believe you about your real access needs
  • Which can put you into the awkward position of having to choose between representing the nature of your disability fully accurately and being thought of as faking, or allowing people to inaccurately believe that you fit a stereotype and being believed
  • That’s degrading on a level it’s hard to understand if you haven’t experienced it
  • It’s also a common experience among people with disabilities, and if that’s what you’re dealing with, it’s not your fault.

Some additional examples:

  • Some people who can write a little bit by hand are careful not to write in front of most people, so they they will not be assumed to be capable of the kind of writing that is completely impossible for them
  • Some people who are not autistic but have similar support needs due to less well-known conditions end up with an inaccurate autism diagnosis in order to gain access to services that they absolutely need in order to access education or to survive
  • Some people with both physical and cognitive disabilities allow others to assume that they are more physically disabled than they really are as a way of getting their cognitive access needs met without having to face certain kinds of cognitive ableism
  • Some people who can speak only a few words are careful to avoid speaking in front of most people, lest someone decide to take away the communication system they need to communicate things that can’t be expressed in their few spoken words

If you have a disability and you are not free to describe it fully accurately lest you lose accommodations, lose services, or face frightening harassment, know that you are not alone. A lot of people with disabilities experience this at some point or other. It’s humiliating and corrosive to go through, and it may make you feel like you are faking or that your needs are imaginary. It helps to remember that this is not actually your fault.


You are not faking, and your needs matter. You are a real person with a real disability doing the best you can in a hostile world. You are not alone, and it helps to remember that. There are other people with disabilities who are there, or who have been there, who understand that struggle.


tl;dr People with disabilities are often forced to pretend to meet stereotypes in order to get their very real needs met. This is humiliating and degrading. If you’re dealing with that, it’s not your fault and you’re not alone.

A conversation in which people doubt things

Person:So, when I was a kid, they (dehumanized me in a fairly common and awful way).
Other person:Really?! They really did that?! I can't believe anyone would do that!
Person:...
Subtext:Wow, that is messed up, and I would like to make it clear that I think that is bad! It is bad! Not good! I do not approve! Don't think I approve!
Subtext:I've never heard of this before. I am shocked, shocked that this would happen, and I have trouble believing it.
Subtext:Are you sure?
Subtext:This can't possibly be common, this must be really unusual, this doesn't really happen.
Person thinking:Am I imagining this? Did this really happen? Is it really common? Why doesn't this person know this is a thing? Why doesn't anyone know this is a thing? Is it a thing?