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27-year-old autism therapist charged with physical abuse of child

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Stephen Jacobs

WAUWATOSA (WITI) — 27-year-old Stephen Jacobs of Wauwatosa faces one count of physical abuse of a child, sexual assault of a child, physical abuse of a child by a child care provider.

Officials spoke with the child’s mother, who said her child suffers from severe autism and had been receiving treatment through a company called Autism Intervention Milwaukee for several months.

The child’s mother told officials that she was advised by her child’s doctor that he may be more mentally handicapped that previously diagnosed, and that his treatment needed to change. This, according to the criminal complaint.

The criminal complaint says the child received in-home treatment from four different therapists and neither she, nor her husband were allowed to be present for the therapy.

The complaint says the child is non-verbal, and unable to communicate what happens at therapy sessions. The child’s mother and father became concerned that the child’s treatment was not having the desired effect, so they placed a web camera in the treatment area to record his treatments on December 12th, 13th and 14th.

The complaint says that on December 14th, the child’s mother observed therapist Stephen Jacobs physically assault her son.

The complaint says the child’s mother ordered Jacobs out of her home — and a copy of the video was given to investigators.

The complaint says Jacobs is seen in the video shaking the child so that his head snaps back and then quickly forward, headbutting the child, kicking the child in the head, hitting him in the head with a pillow, grabbing the child by the arm, pulling him across the room and then aggressively throwing the child onto the couch.

The complaint says the child was thrown with such force that the couch rocked backwards on impact.

The complaint says the video also shows Jacobs elbowing the child in the face, shoving him across a couch cushion, taking his blanket away, and smacking the child on the head.

Officials spoke with Jacobs, who told them he was studying criminology while working for two separate childhood autism treatment organizations. Jacobs told officials he received 60 hours of supervised training from senior therapists and over 100 hours of training specific to helping children with autism, according to the complaint.

When asked about and shown the video, Jacobs told officials he did not remember doing anything that would cause harm to the child, according to the complaint.

The complaint says Jacobs told officials he had a college final exam to study for, and was reading from his Kindle on that day.

The complaint says when asked about the compensation he received to care for the child, Jacobs said: “Not enough. I get $9.50.”

34 comments

  • wayne willams

    In a dealing with Centre County, Pa. children and youth, They petitioned the court to demand all video security and baby monitors be removed from the home before any session with the agents was to begin. The judge agreed to the demand and issued the order. The children were also being abused by the agents. The agents even changed a court order the judge made from the bench, recorded in the court transcript, and adjourned court. The officer said sign this release or you will never get your children back. We refused to sign. now the officers say children are abused anytime they are more than arms reach from parent, if they play on two separate slides in the playground its abuse. That my 65k job wont support a family of 5 even though we are debtless. It goes on and on. The courts and cops have become more corrupt than the criminals. And yes, I will supply documentation upon request.

  • Susie J

    AIM is the company we used for our son. We have always been allowed to be present at therapy sessions. I am grateful that we never had this particular therapist in our home. Our therapists from AIM were professional and cared deeply about our son. We had previously used another company and were not satisfied with their team and treatment plan. Our son made tremendous progress and I credit that progress to AIM. This is obvoiusly a case of one bad apple…

    • Stephanie Lowe

      Thank you for your responses. I must make one correction.

      While Stephen WAS the only therapist caught physically abusing my son, unfortunately, Stephen was NOT the only therapist on the team caught doing NO therapy!!!! That’s 2 out of 4 line therapists not providing “intensive therapy”. Hope you didn’t have “her” on your team either. So…….still think it’s just one bad apple? A fluke?

      To each his own, I guess :)

      I’m glad to hear that your children are doing well! Truly! That is all we ever wanted for our son as well and like I’ve always said…THANK GOD for the 2 therapists that WERE actually doing their jobs and providing quality care.

      Best Wishes……

      • Dana Kelly

        Stephanie, no doubt about it!! I, too, have had experience with AIM and personally know of more than one bad apple!! In my opinion, there are a few “at the top of the tree”, as well. We worked with them for 1 1/2 years. It was nothing to listen outside the door and the senior therapist and line therapist would be chatting — completely ignoring my daughter. Almost invariably when I walked in the room, any of her 4 therapists would have to put her phone down. Not all were bad, in fact, a couple were truly outstanding. That being said, AIM needs to be investigated thoroughly!! I think there is a lot more to this story …

      • Jaba Dahut

        Why on earth would you leave your 3 year old alone with a therapist? Did you want you child to be killed? The man is not a baby sitter. That man who committed the abuse should go to jail and is a disgusting person. However, you are an irresponsible parent who put their child in danger. You should kiss your child and feel lucky that you still have one.

    • Dana Kelly

      Nevertheless, AIM needs to be investigated. They hired, trained and employed this incompetent guy for 4 years!! I am sure that AIM has some competent, possibly even talented staff members, however, that is not the issue. Remember — you are only as strong as your weakest link!! AIM is clearly pathetically, horrifyingly weak.

      • Stephanie Lowe

        THANK YOU DANA!!

        Please, Please, Please share your story with the public. WE HAVE STRENGTH IN NUMBERS!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have heard from several other families regarding their own concerns. Call Christina Palladino at Channel 12 or contact me directly!!!! THIS HAS TO STOP!

  • Susan Janowski

    We deal with AIM o. A daily basis with our grandson. They are loving and care for our grandson like we do. Our other grandson made such strides with AIM he could read at age three. They always encourage the children to do their best. This is a fluke.

    • Dana Kelly

      His extreme physical abuse may be a fluke, but poor therapists … not a fluke. AIM has a very difficult time keeping line therapists — as do most clinics in the area. It is their responsibility to keep standards high, regardless of their staffing issues. My family worked with AIM, too. We had a couple of outstanding therapists. We also had several that I wouldn’t consider even okay — lazy, unconcerned, basically on their phones the entire time. AIM, as well as all therapy staff need to be investigated. For the most part, theses programs are paid for by the government. We are ALL paying for this therapy, and we need to get our money’s worth.

    • Cindy White

      The abuse of a child is never ever a fluke and especially to a helpless child that can not even tell their parents what is or has happened to them!! Your child can make great changes and progress EVEN when and while they are being abused!!! NEVER allow your children in a room or anywhere if you can not monitor somehow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Does anyone understand even if your child is making progress that does not mean that abuse did not take place to even get them there!!! If you can not monitor them then you can not say what went on with your child and so that means you can not comment on how great they are at what they do??!!

    • Cindy White

      Please stop calling the abuse a fluke!! and as I said before, the child learned but how?? Do you know? Did you watch what they were doing to your child or grandchild? If you did not then you have no idea what they did to that child and is it worth it???

    • This is not a fluke

      Susan, I suggest you go and look up the dictionary definition of “fluke” and then apologize for your insulting mischoice of words.
      It would be an understatement and injustice to the Lowe family to refer to this company’s disgusting negligence as a “fluke” or by definition of the word, “chance, accident.”

      Surely there needs to be a better screening process that can be used to prevent “flukes” like this ever happening.

      My deepest condolences go out to the Lowe family and I do hope that you are able to seek the justice you deserve.

  • Publish my email

    After seeing the video where it clearly shows the abuse this child received at the hands of this coward, I would be glad to break the law in that county where this POS is at just so they would put me in jail, so I would beat the living hell out of this scumbag, but since he is out on bail, I think I’ll just go and find this poor excuse for a human being and use him as target practice with my tek-9

  • SK

    Why are you surprised that something like this would happen when you are trusting non-licensed people? These are not professionals and should not be called “therapists.” It is an insult to actual professional therapists (PT, OT, Speech) and hurts the credibility of those who have dedicated their lives to children with disabilities. This company shouldn’t be in business at all. Maybe this happens in other states, but where I live you can’t call yourself a “therapist” unless you are licensed to practice. This guy should be in jail, no doubt, but he is not the only one at fault.

    • Heidi Hemmer Spiegel (@BehaveYrself)

      Agreed, SK! ABA services should be highly supervised, regularly observed by supervisors, and follow the ethical guidelines of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. Parents and caregivers are often misled by “therapists” who claim to provide ABA, yet have no clinical experience or education to support their programming. The BACB website lists certified behavior analysts in your area; those professionals should be a caregiver’s first call, not an agency that underpays and under-educates their employees.

  • lilley

    So the mother watched this in real time and let it go on long enough to get this much footage? I’m not only concerned about the therapist but possibly about the parents that watched this happen.

      • lilley

        It doesn’t in this article but I’ve seen on 3 different news sites where it is reported she saw it in real time on her iPad, including a local news site. It worries me no one is addressing that.

      • C

        “Unable to communicate” bullsh*t, behavior is communication. If he was acting up after therapy he was telling his parents something is wrong. It pisses me off when autistic behavior is written off as meaningless. Functioning labels are gross too. Autistic people aren’t machines that barely function or almost function, we’re human beings.

  • Trish

    First of all, I’m sorry that this mother and so many others are duped into getting these types of “therapies”. As an autistic woman with autistic kids and after speaking with dozens of autistic adults, it is very clear that any type of intensive therapy, including and especially ABA, is very traumatic and damaging to autistic children. Progress and improvements are natural to any child as they grow. Not every child does the same thing at the same time and that’s just natural. There is no need to panic and there is no window of opportunity that you or your child will miss if you don’t put them in therapy. If your child is not thriving in their school setting, then have the school adapt to your child’s needs. No child needs to be tortured into submission in order to be indistinguishable from his/her peers. Why anyone would want their child to be a mindless drone is beyond me. Also, there is no severe or mild with being autistic…that’s like only being mildly pregnant. To treat a child or any person as if they are non-thinking or barely-thinking is a travesty. I know a few adult autistic people who are non-verbal and they communicate on facebook and have blogs and they are just simply brilliant. Don’t ever let your child think he or she is less intelligent than any other person. What a huge disservice that is to them and truly something that will cause them lifelong pain. So, just love your child, let them have a childhood filled with laughs and the things that they love. Be a parent and your child will do just fine. If you want to talk to some autistic adults, let me know and I’ll introduce you :) If you would like to learn more about standing up for the rights of autistic children and adults, please to to http://www.autisticadvocacy.org I hope your son is able to work through the damage that this man has done to him. I know the affects of it all may take years to even show up and you may see signs of him reeling from all of this….it may seem like a fit coming out of nowhere, but try to understand that there is sometimes a delayed response to abuse. Best of luck to you all and please do yourself a favor and avoid any autism therapy.

    • JS

      Trish –

      As an autistic man, with an autistic son, I’m not sure your ‘natural’ approach would work well for everyone. Every parent must do what is best for their child.

      Where you see torture, I see engagement. Where you see a mindless drone, I see someone who is equipped to function in the real world. I wouldn’t demonize parents who are trying to keep their children engaged and from turning into ‘mindless drones’.

      I realize I’m over generalizing and I see a specific area of the spectrum every day. For non-verbals I don’t feel that ABA is the right thing. However, for high functioning kids who are very bright but are living in a world they’ve built in their head, I believe keeping them engaged in a one-on-one supervised environment is the best thing in the world.

  • KO

    I really don’t even know where to begin with this whole situation- first of all my sympathies with the family and the little boy that are going through all of this. There is no way to make right what has happened and I do hope that the staff is making it right with you, which I know they are because I know the staff. They are just as upset, mortified and shocked as you are. I too am a parent of a child that receives services through AIM, we are nearing the end of our intensive therapy and throughout the entire time I have NOT ONCE not been able to sit in on the therapy, ask questions and go to any of the seniors or Dr.’s with ANY concerns. There is NO POLICY THAT STATES YOU CANT BE PRESENT FOR THE THERAPY. I find it extremely hard to believe that you were told that, and in fact, find it to be a misrepresentation of what AIM stands for. If at any time I had questions with what was going on with my child (progression, programs or behaviors) there is no amount of ‘so called policies’ or ‘rules’ that could prevent me from sitting in and watching the therapy. Even more so if they said I couldn’t!! Wouldn’t that be a little bit of a red flag as a parent? IF they said you couldn’t watch?? That’s crazy; you can bet that if there was such a policy I would be down there regardless, because it’s MY CHILD. It’s because this policy doesn’t exist and it contradicts all of the programs that they do, they want the family to be involved and work with them, so that the work that they do carries over into everyday life. Because what good is therapy that isn’t generalized with family and consistent with the parents??? JUST SAYING… the thought that no one was able to watch or join in is false… Name one company, church, or organization that hasn’t at one point had someone come in and completely destroy what the entire company stood for. ONE person doesn’t not account for what this whole company stands for; don’t let them be the judge and jury for this wonderful company that has gone above and beyond for so many families. As for the other non-professional behavior, I don’t know about any of that, I have not once seen in the near 3 years I’ve been with them, any of this, I have seen a vast amount of people on my team(s) and not a single time did I see anything but complete dedication and genuine care for my child. And it’s not because I had the one team with perfect people, it’s because employees are held to a high standard at AIM. I’m not saying this to undermine what you are saying but this company is small for a reason- so that it can concentrate on the families; it’s the quality with them and not the quantity of families- like some other providers. THIS A**HOLE that did this to your child should be the only one held responsible for this and not taken out on the entire company. I’m confident that they dealt with this individual, and I’m relieved that the police are now dealing with him so that he will no longer be able to work with children or in any related field.

  • Concerned in Chicago

    This also needs to be reported to professional agencies. BCBAs and BCaBAs are certified through the Behavior Analytic Certification Board (BACB).
    This is horrendous. I’ve been involved in intensive intervention for over 15 years. I have always maintained an open door policy, encouraged video monitoring, and want parents as involved as possible. Phone use, etc. can not be tolerated and needs to be reported immediately. Phones with cameras, etc. are a potential HIPPA violation, as well. With so much training and overlap of senior therapists, I would think there would be better quality control. What a shame and what a horrific experience this must be for all involved.

  • Heather Gaworski (@HeatherG1977)

    The video made me sick to my stomach. These are people we trust with our kids. My son has had countless hours of therapy, and he would NEVER in a million years be left alone with them. That’s obviously no excuse, but it should have been a huge red flag when he said they couldn’t be involved in sessions. I hope this family gets the justice they deserve!

  • Amanda Rodriguez

    I am really disturbed that the parents would be okay with not being allowed in these therapy sessions. My son has autism and during his therapy my husband or I are present or we are standing behind a one way mirror with a mic so we can watch the therapist and hear them. Even if they seem like a person you can trust with your child, don’t. Don’t ever let someone tell you you cannot be present for treatment or therapy of your child. That is against the law to ban you since they are a minor. Stand up for yourself and your child!

  • karen

    I had stephen with my son and he was amazing… I’ve always been happy with a.I.m. My son was with a.I.m until 2008 and his time came to an end… But it was wonderful for him and I… And I was allowed in all of his sessions,I was never turned away from them…

  • Alexey

    Don’t waste time calling coppers when you find someone physically abusing Autistic family member. If you have evidence, just beat cr^% out these scum, do to them, what they did to family member, and get a confess on tape. There is no justice in USA criminal system for disabled people, so only option left s to give these bad people justice they deserve, a real nice beating. In other countries, people that hurt disabled are usually beaten in the villages and small towns, the abuse of elders and handicapped are not tolerated.

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