AutismSTEP says therapist who manhandled boy with special needs in viral video has been sacked

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A video of a boy with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) being manhandled by his therapist in a home therapy session has caused an uproar among netizens demanding justice for the child.

Facebook user Safirah Oshin posted videos of her son, Ali, being manhandled by his home applied behaviour analysis (ABA) therapist in an incident that happened in March, 2019.

She said the therapist was given a "verbal warning with no further action" and that the case was reopened in January this year.

She appealed for netizens to be her son's voice and to help '"fight for his rights".

In the clips taken from a 40-minute-long video, the therapist is seen handling Ali roughly as the boy screams and cries.

Clips from Safirah's post have been circulating on Instagram, with one post garnering over 10,000 views.

Stomp understands the therapist was employed by special education school AutismSTEP at the time of the incident.

In a statement issued on July 1 at 12.03pm, a spokesman from AutismSTEP told Stomp the therapist was suspended immediately after they were alerted to the incident before being dismissed.

In an updated statement issued at 7pm, AutismSTEP said they "have been open to discuss claims or recompense matters" and "remain committed towards a mutually agreed resolution".

However, Ali's family informed Stomp they have yet to receive any monetary compensation from AutismSTEP after they asked for a refund of the course fee from the school.

The family said the course fee was about $3,000 for the duration of the course that ran from December 2018 to March 2019.

The school's clinical director Zhang Liyuan said:

"Videos of an Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) therapy session in March 2019 have been circulating online.  

"We are sorry for what has happened to the child and understand the pain his family feels.  

"The therapist involved has since been dismissed and is no longer employed by AutismSTEP. 

"On the night of the incident in March 2019, our Clinical Director and the therapist involved visited the family of the child to express our deepest apologies and offer our immediate support.

"The therapist involved was immediately suspended.  

"We commenced an internal investigation the next day and following the findings, we dismissed the therapist a day later. 

"We understand the family’s desire to seek justice in this incident and have cooperated fully with police investigations.  

"We are also ready to cooperate with other relevant bodies for further investigations and believe that the authorities will deal with the matter appropriately.

"No child and their family should suffer from such distress.  

"Since the incident in March 2019, we have been in contact with the lawyer representing the family and have been open to discuss claims or recompense matters.  

"We remain committed towards a mutually agreed resolution.

"Most of the therapists at AutismSTEP have a degree in psychology while the rest have relevant certifications such as degree in early childhood and diploma in psychology.  

"All new therapists at AutismSTEP must undergo a registered behavioural technician course to ensure they meet the expectations of parents and continue to improve their skills. 

"Following the incident, we have proactively enhanced our therapist training programme and conducted face-to-face parent feedback sessions more frequently to ensure their children are receiving the right support.  

"We have also started organising parents training course to equip them with some skills to help their children and to understand what they can expect out of the therapy sessions, and to seek regular feedback from parents on our therapy sessions.

"We have also reviewed the contracts with our therapists to emphasise the seriousness of using physical restraint.  

"Any form of physical contact by our therapists on their clients for behavioural management now requires the approval of the company.

"AutismSTEP expects that all our staff to conduct themselves in a professional manner when interacting with clients, particularly children, and we will not tolerate any misconduct.

"We believe almost all our therapists, or indeed almost all behavioural therapists, are professional, sincere and patient in their conduct towards their clients.  It would be unfair to avenge anger to all good therapists due to the misdeed of one

"We remain committed to supporting children with autism and will continue to improve our services."

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee addressed the incident in a Facebook post, saying he has asked that this matter be looked into thoroughly.