In the process of choosing a resource, regardless of type, there are a number of criteria you should consider to determine if this resource will meet your needs and is the right match for your child or family. Currently, few resources provide specific feedback on the quality of services providers for individuals on the autism spectrum.
These are just a few suggestions about what information parents should gather to evaluate their providers before making a decision. If possible, be sure to visit and evaluate several places before you make a final decision on which provider will work with your child.
1. Ask if the provider is licensed or accredited.
Most providers belong to professional organizations that are responsible for ensuring that their members meet minimum standards. The following is a list of some accredited organizations for the various types of providers that serve people with developmental disabilities:
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)
Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
The Council on Quality and Leadership
2. Ask about the license, certification or credential status of their staff members and their experience working with people with developmental disabilities.
Knowing your potential provider's level of expertise is important. It's amazing what you can find on the internet. A simple search on LinkedIn might give you a better understanding of the experience level of the staff working with your child. Along with looking up their LinkedIn or social media profiles, check with these accrediting organizations to make sure they are in their system:
Behavior Analysis Certification Board
Board of Behavioral Services (BBS) for Marriage & Family Therapists or Licensed Clinical Psychologists
3. Ask what type of professional development activities are provided for their staff.
It is important to make sure that providers stay up to date on the most recent research related to your child's treatment. Most providers will send their staff to get continuing education or professional and leadership development; however, some don't. Even though a provider might have decades of experience, make sure that they are also staying up to date with training. Similarly, if your provider only has a few years of experience, ask whether they have a senior clinician who supervises them or gives them feedback.
4. Ask about the training and experience level of the program director.
The program director often does exactly what their title suggests: guide's your child's program and the company's direction. An experienced program director will ensure that their clinicians have the qualifications needed to provide adequate services. He or she will also ensure that there are proper grievance policies in place in the event that you have a concern about your child's services.
5. Ask about staff turnover.
How long have staff been with this particular provider? If their staff has been with them for over 2 years, your child will be more likely to receive consistent services with regular staffing. It's tough to start anew with new clinicians every few months so asking this up front will reduce lag in your child's therapy down the road.
6. Ask about the staff-to-participant ratio, and whether it meets established guidelines for the type of program or service.
For example, in neurotypical children's programs, there should be at least one adult for every four infants, five younger toddlers (12 to 24 months), six older toddlers (2 to 3 years), and nine or ten preschoolers. Do your research to ensure that the ratio is suitable for your child's developmental and behavioral needs.
7. Ask how clients and their family members/caregivers give feedback on the services offered by the program.
Often times if providers are not aware that their clients are unsatisfied, they are not able to improve their services. A provider that uses surveys, a suggestion box or focus groups indicates the desire to improve and satisfy their consumers. Although there is no guarantee that these providers make the suggested changes, I've noticed that those with a system in place tend to have more satisfied consumers.
8. Ask if you can visit the program in person.
By visiting the program in person, you'll be able to get a sense of the company's culture, people and workspace. Pay attention to whether you're personally greeted or welcomed, whether the staff appear to enjoy their work, and whether the facility looks maintained and clean.
Finding a good provider for your child can be confusing, time-consuming, and at times, frustrating. However, asking these questions and following these guidelines should lead you to a provider who is well-suite to your child's needs.