Alright so, I have a love/hate relationship with many Minnesota ABA centers. I love the method of ABA and how it can teach almost any skill to a child. I have the opposite relationship with many of the ABA owners. Where is the disconnect and why is there a disconnect.
Most of these ABA centers are run and were started by mostly autism parents, which are good right, not so fast. Initially, they start because of their children then somewhere either greed or racism happens. Then there is the Minnesota Department of Human Services which has almost no policy or oversight for ABA centers. Let’s explain a little deeper;
First – ABA method really works if it is done intensively for younger children usually younger than 7 or 8 years old as research has stated. ABA can also work and help older children, but definitely not 40 hours. In other words, a two, 10, 15 and 20 year olds should not all be prescribed 40 hours of intensive early intervention therapy. This is where DHS fails because it never questions or asks for evidence and objective opinions.
2nd, many MN ABA providers hardly take minority children when they are young and can most benefit from the intensive therapy, yet DHS has hands off approach whereby no provider is asked to follow no anti discrimination law. I have seen ABA providers use the excuse of we are a private company, but that does not mean they can or should discriminate against minority children. But they do constantly and consistently with no policy from DHS to assure it does not happen.
3rd, someone can just get an in-home DHS ABA certification then open gazillion ABA centers and DHS does not inspect or care what the building looks like, if it has safety measures, if it has natural disaster protection areas, if it is appropriate for kids to learn and be safe. In other words, a person can put 10 kids in a room of 10 by 10 feet and DHS could care less because they have no policy to inspect nor do they have guidelines of what an ABA center should look like. To make a similar analogy – let’s say you open an in home child care then decide to use that license to open a childcare center. DHS would have you for lunch by breakfast because the requirements for in home is very different than the requirements for a center. Keep in mind children in childcare are mostly healthy and can tell their parents what happened. Autistic children even if verbal can’t always articulate what happened, yet there are no guidelines or policy to assure their safety or protection by the human services department that certifies them and is paying for their services. What is wrong with that picture?
I have seen and heard autism parents complain their children came home with unexplained bruises from ABA centers, yet were denied the opportunity to visit their children un-announced. Think about that for a minute. You leave your autistic child in a center, he/she has obviously gotten hurt and you the parent are not allowed to come and check on them. Yet, MN DHS still approves this – WTF?
I have seen many Somali childcare centers have un-announced and un-invited visits from DHS inspectors and rightfully so. They cite them everything from not having the bathroom close enough to the kids learning area, to the emergency book was not in plain site, to too many kids in one area, to the staff hired were not properly checked, to you name it. By the same token, our kids who are so much more needy and vulnerable have no such oversight or inspections from DHS. WTF?
Here is my friendly and gentle recommendations to DHS:
1. An in home vs. center vs. school ABA/mental health certification should be all-different and there should be appropriate rules for each kind.
2. Come up with guidelines to inspect ABA centers and buildings to make sure our kids are safe, secure and learning in an appropriate environment.
3. Make sure no ABA provider denies any parent the right to visit their child whenever they want without calling or making appointments.
4. Make sure all children are not given a one size fits all hours or programs. Instead treatment plan should be child focused, culturally appropriate and family driven which is what the CTSS guidelines actually state, yet most ABA centers have no idea of this nor care about it.
5. Make sure children are actually learning and parents can ask about their kids programming without being afraid of being discharged or being labeled the difficult parent because god forbid they asked questions about their kid’s program.
6. Make sure DHS can visit & inspect any ABA center or provider anytime with no appointment so that treatment and physical space is always safe and appropriate healthy learning environment.
7. Make sure ABA providers collaborate with the child’s team of speech, OT and education since autism affects all of those areas. In other words, ABA providers should not dictate and bully parents into their way or the highway.
8. Make sure you are keeping some kind of racial record and if a provider has one or zero minority children – it ain’t because they did not apply. It is because that provider is racist either sub-consciously or on purpose and maybe train them on CLAS guidelines which are mandatory for any medical entity getting federal funding including MA coverage.
9. Make sure ABA providers give parents names and list of advocates if they need it and enough time to bring one if the need arises.
10. Finally, protect our autistic children the same way you do children in child care centers because it is you – DHS that should assure our kids in any clinic or center are safe and learning appropriately. You provide the funding and the license/certificate, and you must have better oversight and guidelines as well.
As usual, above words do not represent any agency, committee or candidate.
Idil – Somali Autism Mom & Minority Advocate