The famous words of Uncle Ben lead Spiderman to becoming the hero the city deserved and, strangely, rings true in my ears. It’s probably astronomically unlikely that Hollywood would stumble across a one liner that sounds good and is actually meaningful, but there it is.
I heard these words spoken as Jared and I watched the movie for what must have been the 50th time since I had started working with him. In all honesty, he didn’t like that scene very much and wanted to go back to his favourite part; where Spiderman puts his shabby, homemade mask on for the first time. I think we must have watched that scene a thousand times.
No, I decided, no rewinding and repeating the same scene this time. I told him as much, and that’s when the tantrum started. Sure, I knew what to do, since I had seen tantrums many times before. However, the words of Uncle Ben echoed in my head, and would do so for years of professional development.
Was I the villain?
Yes! Or so demand the voices of some passionate advocates and victims of villains, who claim to be ethical providers of behavioural therapy.
Perhaps I was a villain of sloth. Perhaps doing the right thing was just too much effort and it was easier to not worry about what the detailed plan required of me. Did I really need to go through the tedious effort of teaching the child to communicate their needs? After all, I understood what the tantrum meant just as well as “can we watch it again?”
Or maybe I was a villain that enjoys manipulating others into bending to my will. Could it be that my slow and systematic intervention was not for the benefit of the child at all, but instead I was turning poor Jared into my minion, teaching him the skills he needed to make me more comfortable. After all, I like Spiderman and wanted to watch the whole movie.
Worst of all, could I have been ignorant. A well-meaning buffoon stumbling through procedures and processes, wielding them like blunt weapons, smashing everything apart which I tried to fix and telling myself I was doing a good job. I’m a busy guy and making time to study the newest research and learn the minutiae of my therapy is just so hard. Well, I know all kinds of stuff and I’m sure I’m doing the right thing.
The truth is, I could have been any of these. Everyone who provides ABA therapy to vulnerable populations, like children with Autism, are in danger of become villains simply because a mighty power is put into their hands. Behavioural therapy is in no way an absolute power, but neither is it something to be taken lightly. No one has the ability to control someone else’s mind, but sometimes you should act as humble as if you do.
With great power, comes great responsibility. So Uncle Ben said. So I question myself. When someone says to me that what I am doing is wrong, I take it seriously. Maybe they mean that I chose the wrong intervention, or maybe they mean that behavioural therapy is evil, either way I take it equally seriously. I have to, because the moment I don’t, I become the villain.
People that know that they are right scare me. I always wonder whether they have considered whether they are wrong, because how can you possibly be right if you have not? It seems to me, that the moment you are 100% sure of anything, you have a 0% chance of finding out if you are wrong. That’s not an acceptable percentage for anyone who holds the future of a child in their hands.
The more I learn, the older I become, and the more important the well-being of my clients becomes to me, the more I realise that it is my ethical responsibility to question everything I do. Luckily my career is in ABA. A science with a clear and strong ethical code which emphasises scientific thinking and taking responsibility for your own actions.