Parents of children who don’t speak fear their child’s vulnerability. When your child is non-verbal, he can’t tell you if something bad happens at school, in the community or with a worker. Last week I received an e-mail from the mother of a four-year-old boy with autism. She wrote to tell me that while receiving ABA therapy at a private centre, inappropriate photos of her son were taken. She shares her story in the hope that by alerting others parents to the potential for abuse, she can save another family from going through a similar experience.
My son had been going there for a year and every session I would stay and wait for him. I could hear him scream through the walls and they would tell me he needs to ‘pair’ with his therapist and it’s his ‘behaviours.’ In October there were changes and we had a new therapist. Her first day with my son she came running out of the therapy session into the waiting room and asked if I had a camera. I said no and why? She asked the administrator, who said yes, take my iPhone. The therapist said: “Your son is painting, he is covered in blue paint so I want to show you” and ran out of the room. Over the next little while she returned the iPhone to its owner and I asked to see these pictures. I was in shock to see my son standing in his diaper covered in blue paint, crying. There were many pictures taken. But none of him actually painting, just of him crying with blue paint all over him. There were pictures of him being cleaned up and pictures of him naked: three full frontal photos. I felt sick to my stomach.
Does my child not have a right to privacy? When you send your child to school do you expect them to be painting in their underwear or diaper? Why would someone take pictures of a child naked? My son could have been cold for two hours, standing in his diaper. When your child is non-verbal, he can’t tell you what’s happening. The guilt I feel that I trusted this private centre with my child is unexplainable. Our local children’s aid is investigating this case and the police said that while the photos are not pornographic, they are inappropriate. No apology or explanation has been given to us by the director of the centre. I would like to educate as many parents as possible to prevent this kind of horrible occurrence from happening to another child.
Following are precautions I've learned to take in choosing a private therapy centre or daycare:
Call your local children’s aid to ask if any incidents at the facility have been reported, or if the facility has been the focus of an investigation.
Ask to see qualifications of the person working with your child.
Check references yourself. Don’t be afraid to make enquiries with the police regarding records.
Expect timely responses to your concerns and questions.
Before committing yourself to a facility, ask to speak with other parents and view the facility while in operation.
Make an unannounced visit to get a realistic view of how the place runs and the involvement of the senior staff or directors.
Be involved. Don’t take a kind smile as proof that your child is well taken care of.
If you can view your child under someone else’s care, do it.
Look for sudden changes in behaviour in your child. You know your child best.
Read contracts carefully and don’t be afraid to question.
Share information and network with other parents.