Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ABA, spanking, gender identity, and suicide

Came across this rather fascinating story today.

Ole Ivar Lovaas was a Norwegian born psychologist and researcher who was arguably the father and chief early proponent of Applied Behavior Analysis (hereafter ABA). ABA is at the time of this writing considered to be the only evidence based treatment for children with autism, and is by far the most extensively used and best funded treatment protocol for helping children with autism.

In 1974, Lovaas, along with his colleague George Rekers, published a paper in the journal of Applied Behavior Analysis in which they describe their experimental and apparently highly successful treatment of a 5 year old boy in California named "Kraig". Kraig's parents, specifically his mother, were concerned about Kraig's excessively feminine gender-identity and behavior--things like playing with dolls, preferring to play with girls rather than boys, and exhibiting "mother-like nurture" rather than "male aggression". In cooperation with his parents, Lovaas and Rekers designed and carried out an ABA intervention which involved reinforcing Kraig's "masculine" play and attributes, while punishing his "feminine" play and attributes. Kraig was beaten by his father for "feminine" behavior as part of this intervention. The result of the intervention was that Kraig became a typical boy's boy, indistinguishable from other little boys in terms of gender-identity and gender-related behaviors at 26 months post treatment.

In 2003, the person who had been given the pseudonym "Kraig", Kirk Murphy, then 38 years of age, committed suicide.


  1. How does such a mean and unaccepting therapeutic method become the mainstream? Uggh!

  2. Wow that study made me so sad for that little kid. Let kids be who they are.