The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy (ABCT) Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disabilities (ASDD) SIG is a professional community committed to research, support, and advocacy for autistic people and those with other developmental disabilities. We focus on the intersection of behavioral and cognitive therapy and the growing neurodiversity movement–honoring the tradition of CBT through a neuro-affirming lens.
Our mission is to advance efforts for diagnostic access, interventions, and supports that are respectful, relevant, and accessible to all members of the autistic community and their families and communities. In this endeavor, we prioritize collaborating with and learning from autistic advocates and other community members (e.g., caregivers, service providers) to align our work with the priorities of the autistic community and promote meaningful and relevant clinical care. Areas of focus include communication and self-regulation processing differences, co-occurring mental health symptoms, societal knowledge and acceptance, and implementation science centered on promoting access to quality and affirming community supports.
The ASDD SIG encourages research and clinical projects led or co-produced by autistic or neurodivergent individuals, and we advocate for autism acceptance across settings. The SIG also actively promotes a strengths-based approach to research and clinical care that is inclusive of all disenfranchised identities, emphasizing quality of life and well-being. We aim to create a safe space for the unmasked expression of neurotype and welcome autistic and neuro divergent trainees, researchers, and clinicians to join our group.
As a community, we believe it is important to use respectful and affirming language when referencing autistic people and developmental differences. We prioritize terminology and ideas that recognize and value the strengths and unique experiences of neurodivergent people, rather than focusing on deficits or limitations. We ask members of our community to consider the preferences endorsed by many autistic authors (both within peer-reviewed journals and in the lay media). Please see our language guidelines for more information and examples of affirming language related to autism, as well as a list of recommended readings.
The ASDD SIG is committed to offering a safe and inclusive environment that values autism acceptance, inclusion, and empowerment through our research and practice. We acknowledge that the fields of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT) and behavior therapy have historically framed differences as deficits and impairments related to autism and developmental disabilities. This includes using interventions that focused primarily on reducing the appearance of autistic characteristics. We recognize that these beliefs and practices have sometimes caused harm, including by minimizing the autonomy and well-being of autistic individuals. The study and practice of CBT and behavior therapy related to autism has also perpetuated ableism by prioritizing the perspectives of non-autistic individuals while presuming that autistic people cannot share their experiences or provide meaningful contributions to scholarly work.
We also acknowledge that many autistic and disabled individuals hold multiple marginalized identities and experience compounding marginalization within our society. The unique experiences of autistic individuals with intersectional identities related to race, gender, and other identities is understudied in research and under acknowledged in practice. Crucially, failing to consider the intersection of autism with other historically excluded and marginalized identities limits the reach of our scholarly work and is a disservice to the lived experiences of the autistic members of our community.
We recognize these harms and are committed to actively work to center the voices and experiences of autistic individuals and dismantle ableist beliefs and attitudes. We welcome feedback from the autistic community and are committed to ongoing learning and improvement. At the same time, we are committed to creating safe spaces for dialogue, and growth, recognizing that many in the field are just beginning to learn about the impacts of ableism, sexism, racism, and other oppressive structures on CBT. We recognize that we are all called to a lifetime of learning, and we aspire to enable our members and the broader community to continually develop their research and clinical practice through open and respectful exchange of ideas.
The ASDD SIG aspires to the following guidelines and policies to promote inclusivity. Through these guidelines and policies, we aim to create a culture of inclusivity and respect that fosters meaningful engagement and participation by all members, including autistic individuals.
- Internal DEI Monitoring: The ASDD SIG will maintain a group of DEI representatives, with one member embedded within each of our committees. DEI representatives will help to review our current practices and inform our future SIG initiatives.
- Clear & Accessible Communication: The ASDD SIG will provide clear and accessible communication to ensure that all members can fully participate in SIG activities and access materials. These efforts include ensuring there are transcripts or captions for all virtual and recorded events, working towards using lay language in written communications, and providing clear guidelines for the review of abstract submissions, awards, and leadership positions.
- Accommodations: The ASDD SIG will prioritize providing accommodations that increase the accessibility of activities for all members, including:providing closed captioning for events, providing materials in accessible formats, hosting virtual or hybrid-format events, and offering flexible formats for presenters and participants (e.g., typed responses, pre-recorded talks).The ASDD SIG welcomes individual accommodation requests, and will work to the best of our ability and resources to honor them.
- Use Respectful Language: Written and spoken language used in connection with SIG materials and events will be respectful of autism as a neurotype and identity. The autistic community largely prefers the use of identity-first language when referring to autism (e.g., autistic individuals), or the more neutral term “on the autism spectrum.” This language should be used when referring to autistic people, unless referring to a specific person or group of people who express different language preferences. SIG members will generally follow APA and other relevant guidelines for discussing other aspects of identity, with a recognition that each individual/community has the right to self-identify and to have their own language choices respected.
- Address Concerns & Complaints Promptly: The ASDD SIG will address concerns and complaints promptly and fairly. Members who experience discrimination or harassment are encouraged to share their concerns to the SIG co-chairs, who will take appropriate action to address each situation individually.
- Elevate Marginalized Voices: The ASDD SIG will seek opportunities within its internal activities and its interactions with ABCT and the broader community to amplify the perspectives and experiences of historically marginalized communities. This includes actively considering histories of marginalization and oppression when making decisions about choices related to SIG sponsored events, activities, and awards.
- Regularly Review & Update Policies: The ASDD SIG will regularly review and update its policies to ensure they reflect best practices for promoting inclusivity and diversity. This will include consulting with autistic advocates and other community members to ensure that policies are responsive to the needs of the autistic community and other marginalized communities in the US and around the globe.