In January of 2014, an in-home ABA therapy session in the Milwaukee area was video recorded by a parent who had become concerned about her nonverbal son. She was noticing unusual behaviors, but was unable to personally observe the sessions due to a policy in place by the service provider. The video recorded session reportedly shows aggressive handling of the child on the part of the therapist. Law enforcement officials are investigating the matter farther.

As with any community, when something happens families think about how they could prevent such an occurrence in their home or something similar happening to their child.

    Our volunteers have talked with families and therapy service providers, and have offered the following hints, tips and points to think about:

  •   Listen to (and validate) your gut feelings. If you’re sensing something isn’t ok – it probably isn’t.

  •   Get to know your child’s therapists. While you may work with several, it’s usually the same small group of people.

  •   Ask your lead therapist about their screening process and training program.

  •   Play an active role in your child’s therapy. If everyone knows you’re paying attention, positive outcomes are more likely to occur.

  •   Observe a session, or observe all sessions, to the greatest extent possible without being disruptive. Not only does this keep kids safe, but parents can learn therapeutic techniques which can be reinforced outside of therapy time.

  •   If you’re not able to be in the room, ask about video recording / monitoring or sound monitoring. Does the provider permit it? If not, why not? If you’re not comfortable with their reasoning, listen to your instincts and remember that another provider may see the issue of monitoring and safety differently.

  •   Get out your old baby monitor. Listen in. Try not to overly scrutinize, but be aware of raised voices, banging, etc.

  •   Remember that you can always request a different therapist if you’re not sure that they’re the right fit. You don’t need to explain why.

  •   If therapy is taking place in a clinic setting, ask the director or clinic supervisor about your ability to observe the session (without notice), and inquire as to how they ensure your child’s safety.

  •   Generally speaking, a lead therapist or a service provider should validate safety concerns you express to them. If they don’t permit observation or monitoring and can’t explain why – you may want to look elsewhere for services.

  •   For in-home therapy areas, use a space that has no door.

  •   There are very few areas of the state where only one therapy provider is available. If you’re finding that any service provider is not a good fit, seek another provider.

  •   Individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their own homes. When someone enters another home, that person does not have an expectation of privacy. A small sign on the door that audio monitoring may be in progress lets guests know that they may be listened to. However, it is possible that a therapist may take issue and not enter to provide services, especially if it’s against the providers’ policy. Sometimes, under certain circumstances, generally eavesdropping to hear what’s happening may be worth the risk of breaking a provider’s monitoring / recording policy (if they have one – most do not). Families should weigh the benefits and review a provider’s policies – and come to their own decisions.

If you still have specific questions about your circumstances regarding this topic, contact your local Regional Center for Children & Youth with Special Health Care Needs. The Centers are staffed by specialists who can help get answers, find services and connect you to community resources. Their services are free, unbiased and private.