In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.
Occupational licensing is a tricky issue. On the one hand, it can protect consumers from unqualified providers of service. On the other hand, it can hurt consumers by limiting competition and driving up prices.
While there is, and has been since 1998, a group of board certified, master’s- and doctorate-level practitioners in the state, they have been stretched thin, and the side doors to the profession were always left open.
That allowed people with far less professional training to slip in and find work in family homes and even in schools, particularly during the first decade of the 2000s, as parents with children who were newly diagnosed with autism became desperate for qualified analysts.
A person with a good rap and an affinity for working with children could earn a lot of money, at rates approaching $400 an hour — and they could keep working for months or even years, unless or until a parent or school district recognized that the impostor was skirting the requirements for studied observation: precise assessments of behaviors, careful data collection, an individualized treatment plan and follow-up.
“I called them cowboys — maybe they got a list of programs, maybe they attended a workshop, or they spent time working with someone who was qualified,” said Suzane Letso, the mother of a son with autism and a pioneer in the field in Connecticut.
Several years ago, Letso helped win title protection for the real practitioners. It became a felony for someone without board certification to call him or herself a behavior analyst. However, that didn’t stop people with no credentials from offering their services. They just avoided the title, Letso said.
“Of course it can do harm,” Julie Swanson, mother of a son with autism and a special education consultant, said of the work of unqualified behaviorists. “If the intervention doesn’t work, behavior problems can linger into adulthood, and they can become magnified in adulthood. If the assessment is wrong, then the treatment plan is going to be wrong.”