Forum: Special needs service industry in Singapore requires regulation

A video of an autistic child being abused by a therapist went viral on social media last week.

This incident indicates an urgent need for the Government to regulate the special needs service industry to protect vulnerable members of our society.

Many desperate parents fall prey to false claims from slick and charming salesmen. An unregulated industry allows anyone to start a business with misleading claims, dubious qualifications and fly-by-night virtual offices.

There is none of the accountability, supervision and proper training that only a physical centre with well-qualified professional therapists can provide.

The applied behaviour analysis (ABA) practised in Singapore is far from perfect. To be an ABA service provider, the chief clinician should have at least a master's degree in psychology, be certified by the Behaviour Analyst Certification Board and have five years of supervised experience working with children under an ABA service provider. This ensures that the company maintains ethical and quality standards.

Some businesses offer 11/2 to two-hour ABA therapy sessions to make it look like the service is cheap, despite scientific evidence showing that 20 to 40 hours of ABA are needed.

Dubious therapists can pluck a figure like 20,000 hours of work experience out of thin air for parents who have no idea how the hours are counted.

Left on their own, inexperienced therapists frustrated by difficult situations may engage in inappropriate and even abusive practices to the detriment of the children they are working with.

Without proactive action by the Government, more cases of abuse will inevitably surface. Must we wait until a child is seriously hurt before doing the right thing?

Dino Trakakis