I want to be sneaky and paranoid!
August 31, 2009 2:01 PM   Subscribe

So I'm looking for an audio recorder, about the size of a dime or so, that I can stitch inside my son's collar. Where would I find such a thing?

The reason I need the recorder is because my son doesn't speak consistently, and I want to know wtf is going on when he's at school.
posted by mitzyjalapeno to Technology (51 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you open to other ways to know what's going on at school?

When you say he doesnt speak consistently do you mean he has speech difficulties or doesnt communicate consistently with his parents?

Would you want to stitch the thing into every collar of his clothes? and you would need to take it out when washing..
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:04 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

my son doesn't speak consistently

Please explain what this means.
posted by ob at 2:09 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

You want a lavalier microphone.

The problem is what to do with the signal once you've got it... I can't think of anything small enough to sew in to someone's clothing, unless it's a coat or something, without them noticing. Storage could be small enough, but batteries are unavoidably bulky.

Also, how would you process that much raw data even if you got it? This whole plan would be trying for a three letter agency, let alone a mom.
posted by phrontist at 2:11 PM on August 31, 2009

Please reconsider this, as it might be illegal in some areas. It's also really not respecting his privacy at all.

I'm a Mom of two teen boys. I know it can be hard to get them to talk about their day, or what's going on in school. The best ways have found are to be willing to listen to what they DO want to talk about and to invite their friends over and get to know them. It can be very illuminating to see your children through their eyes, too.

The last thing you want to do with a child who already does not speak about what is going on is give him more reason not to want to speak with you.
posted by misha at 2:12 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your son is in Special Ed classes, right? It would be tricky to sew something into his collars (because you'd have to remove them before washing and re-sew them back in after they dry). But, couldn't you explain this need to his teachers, and have a recorder placed on his desk or put on a string around his neck every day?
posted by Houstonian at 2:13 PM on August 31, 2009

This could be her son who has autism.

But OP -- can you clarify what's going on? Can your son know about the microphone? Can teachers? Or does it have to be hidden? Do you want streaming sound or to download the information afterwards? Does it have to pick up what other people are saying (i.e. the teacher on the other side of the room) or just what your son is saying?
posted by barnone at 2:16 PM on August 31, 2009

Oh, and if by "inconsistently" you mean that sometimes he is positive about school and his teachers and sometimes he makes things sound so bad you are worried about his safety or welfare, I'd really get more involved with his teachers, set up a conference and go over his IEP if he has one and communicate with everyone involved. Recording people behind their backs is a last resort scenario.
posted by misha at 2:17 PM on August 31, 2009

A lot more about her son in this question. He's elementary age, autistic, and "slightly verbal".
posted by anastasiav at 2:19 PM on August 31, 2009

Looks like son has autism.

mitzy, the solution here (that would be more effective than your proposal) to go through the process provided by your school and the law in your state, to get the advice you need. Consult with an autism organisation if you need advice from experts and other parents as well.

I bet that something happened at school and you're an angry, frightened mama bear right now. You're also a strong, calm, and analytical person. Your son needs the second bit, not the mama bear right now. I suspect this question is coming from anger a bit.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:20 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

One of these could be useful, but you'd need an unlimited calling plan, and audio quality might not be sufficient, but it has the advantages of...

* small size
* low-enough power consumption
* real time monitoring

If you just want to record a small solid state recorder like this, paired with the right kind of mic (being mindful of impedance matching) would do the job.

You'd need to know a bit more about electronics with the former plan, but both would probably require consultation with an engineer unless you happen to know a bit about this sort of thing (which I'm guessing you don't, or you wouldn't have asked).
posted by phrontist at 2:26 PM on August 31, 2009

Seconding Houstonian, that your goal here is to get cooperation from his teachers to see what's going on, not to be sneaky. If you're really concerned that something sketchy is going on, start doing random school drop-ins at different hours on different days.

And yes, it would be helpful if you could further explain "speaking inconsistently."

Now, having said all that: you don't really have an option to record what's going on around him all day; nothing that small has that kind of recording time without spending government-level money.
posted by davejay at 2:27 PM on August 31, 2009

Response by poster: My son is seven, and he has autism. He speaks when he wants to, which is about 10 % of the time, and when he does speak, it's very hard to figure out what he's actually saying. His pronunciation is not that great. He is getting better.

He just switched to a new school, he is in special-ed/autism based program, and he has had a huge personality change since he started school. He's never been violent, always physical, but never violent. Today, his teacher called because he was kicking and hitting her, and when he got off the bus, he punched my husband in the face. The privacy issue is something that's on the back burner right now.

Houstonian, I don't want his teacher to know. My neighbor's daughter had issues at the same school, some with a teacher, more with other kids. Either way, if my son is being teased, hurt, etc., etc., I want to know who is doing it without them being aware of it.

I don't think that handling data will be a problem; my husband runs a recording studio.

Re: the actual stitching, I was planning on making a little pocket on the underside of the collar that I could put a few stitches in after slipping the recorder into the washed and dried shirt.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 2:31 PM on August 31, 2009

Response by poster: Also, drop-in visits aren't an option, according to the school. Regardless, what I'm trying to find out is what's happening when the teachers/kids/anyone thinks that they have free rein. This is not to say that I don't like his teacher, but he has 4 separate teachers.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 2:37 PM on August 31, 2009

mitzyjalapeno: I think this is bad idea, and I think you know it.

One more idea though: if you can park outside his school, is a UHF bug.

Doesn't that sound crazy though? Playing government spook, aiming a yagi antenna at your son? Personally, that would trigger some alarm bells. I'm not sure you're in this thread for advice anymore. If you wanted to do this, I've told you how. I think this is fulfilling some other emotional need for you, which is understandable, but probably better dealt with through counselling.

Parenting a child with developmental issues is rough, I know several people who have been dealt the same hand. But I think you need to take a step back and think about how this situation looks to an outsider.

Disclaimer: the foregoing "technical advice" is offered for recreational/educational use, and is not intended to incite or condone any sort of illegal behavior.
posted by phrontist at 2:46 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You could look here for some options.
posted by Aquaman at 2:48 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is this even legal? You'd be recording other students and other teachers without their knowledge or permission.
posted by afx237vi at 2:53 PM on August 31, 2009

mitzyjalapeno, you have just moved your son to a new school. Changing routines can be very harrowing for children on the autistic spectrum. Can't you open a rapport with his four teachers and get regular reports on what is going on?

Did your son have trouble at his old school, or did he just move because of his age or your location? Are your fears coming strictly from his behavior, or this gossip from your neighbor about her daughter?

I can understand that you are frustrated. But school has not even been in session for a few weeks now. It really sounds as if you are panicking and, yes, to quote your title, becoming sneaky and paranoid. Recording what is going on is, I am sure you are aware as phrontist said, a really bad idea.
posted by misha at 2:55 PM on August 31, 2009

Response by poster: I'm not sure if it's legal. I'm having a couple of friends look into it. The original idea was to record my son and whoever was within a three-foot radius of him, not his entire class.

Phrontist, you're right that I think the whole thing is bad. I'm getting a huge bad vibe about everything to do with the school, so I'm trying to figure out what's going on when I'm not standing there. I agree that it seems kind of crazy to sit outside his school, which is why I'm not doing that. But I have to do something, and it can't be removing him from school entirely. There are no programs for him at private or parochial schools, transfers take upwards of six weeks, and I can't let him stay in a potentially harmful situation.

Thank you everyone for your references.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 3:03 PM on August 31, 2009

IANAL, IANYL, but according to this, in Louisiana, at least one of the parties being recorded must consent to the recording. Your son, being 7 and on the autism spectrum is probably not considered old enough, etc. to be that person, even if you were to tell him that's what you are doing and he comprehended what you said when you put the recording device on him. So what you are thinking of doing is almost certainly illegal.
posted by misha at 3:05 PM on August 31, 2009

Why don't you ask the teacher(s) if you can install a webcam and mic so you can keep up with the day's activities and monitor your child's behavior? If you can get them on board with the idea of you keeping tabs on your kid, they might be more amenable to a technological solution.

You could phrase it something like: "he's autistic, not dealing with change well, not acting within his own general framework, and we clearly have to find out what's triggering him to act out like this. Since I can't be there to witness it and therefore work with you to find the solution, we'd like to monitor him from afar to stop these issues before they become worse."

Good luck. Your heart is in the right place and your intuition is telling you something is off. But just be careful that you don't quickly make things worse for you and for your son. Illegal and likely-to-be-caught solutions will just take this from bad to worse, and quickly.
posted by barnone at 3:12 PM on August 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

Depending on what state you are in, you need to be aware of the laws for recording conversations in that state. See here for the various state laws: http://www.rcfp.org/taping/states.html.

Bottom line is that some states are one party states (eg. New York), where only one party must consent to the recording of a conversation. Other states are two party states (eg. California), where consent from all parties must be obtained. I don't think you can meet either of these qualifications with what you are thinking of doing because your son most likely wouldn't count as a consenting party. I would seek legal advice before taping someone without their knowledge regardless of your state.
posted by LightMayo at 3:12 PM on August 31, 2009

Not just state law, but Federal law 18 U.S.C. 2511(2)(d) requries at least one party consent.
posted by yeti at 3:14 PM on August 31, 2009

if there are no good solutions to get him out of the school, what would you gain by illegally taping people and trying to use that against them? if it's just one teacher or student, ok, maybe someone will get fired or transferred, but as you would have illegally obtained the information, the school district would be foolish to act on it.
posted by nadawi at 3:28 PM on August 31, 2009

Best answer: Record him. If you are just looking for information this seems like it will help. As you point out, this is your child and you need to do whatever you can to help him. Unless you plan on using the information to set someone up, using it to better understand his day should turn out ok.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 3:29 PM on August 31, 2009

I'm kind of concerned about "dropping in" not being an option according to the school. I'm not sure that's kosher/legal. I'd check with the education board to see what your rights are. There have been some changes in federal law dealing with students with disabilities, mostly in favor of the parents.
posted by lysdexic at 3:39 PM on August 31, 2009 [6 favorites]

You are legally entitled to an IEP. You can request a conference at any time to discuss your child's Individual Education Program and whether or not his needs are being met. You can also request who you would like present at the conference: teachers, school guidance counselor, etc.

I'm going to bow out now, but please consider going through the processes that are available to you under Federal and state law before venturing into shady territory.
posted by misha at 3:48 PM on August 31, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm sure you must have experience with support groups, locally or online. Can you talk to other parents who might have had similar issues? I think that would be a good resource for suggestions from people who have really been where you are.

If you don't have anything like this and aren't sure which of the Google hits is going to result in helpful people, drop me a line. I have a good friend whose child is on the spectrum and can get some links to sites and groups that can get you started. I'm reasonably sure that the microphone idea is a non-starter, but your son's IEP may allow for other ways to get him what he needs--an aide, perhaps? You just may need to figure out what the possibilities are within the system and how to demand them. The best way I can think of is to go to the source and speak to other parents and caregivers who have expert advice in this area.
posted by padraigin at 4:04 PM on August 31, 2009

What are you going to do after you get the recording? Either 1) you will hear something that will help explain the change in behavior, in which case you still have to go talk to the teacher and I can't imagine you want to confront her with, "I got this because I secretly recorded your classroom." Or 2) you will hear nothing conclusive and you will pore over it again and again and still be stuck right where you are now.

Go talk to the teacher. If the teacher won't talk, go talk to the principal. Go all the way up the chain of command to get in the classroom and find out what's going on. The legal and social consequences you face if it's discovered that you are taking secret recordings of the teacher and other people's kids, even if this isn't illegal, could hurt your kid and your family in unpredictable ways.
posted by juliplease at 4:09 PM on August 31, 2009

A very similar story was just in the news.
posted by 517 at 4:10 PM on August 31, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - op is not anonymous. if you have advice for them on another topic please email them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:15 PM on August 31, 2009

Network with parents of other kids in his classes. See if you can volunteer in the school; it will get you in to visit. Your son is lucky to have you looking out for him. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 4:15 PM on August 31, 2009

Response by poster: 517, that link is the reason my husband and I started thinking about this. Thank you.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 4:22 PM on August 31, 2009

mitzy, if you're familiar with 517's link, are you dissuaded at all by the filed appeal? If the appeal is successful, an indication that the gathered recordings were not admissible, I would imagine that a successful appeal would dissuade you from trying out this same tactic.

Please consider talking with the teacher, principal or superintendent of your school and district. And as theora55 said, your son's lucky to have you concerned & looking out for him.
posted by boo_radley at 4:49 PM on August 31, 2009

Metatalk per misha.
posted by mlis at 5:01 PM on August 31, 2009

But I have to do something, and it can't be removing him from school entirely. There are no programs for him at private or parochial schools, transfers take upwards of six weeks, and I can't let him stay in a potentially harmful situation.

I suppose this is what I don't understand. If you suspect abuse, why not remove him now as a precaution? Lets say you go through with this and come away with indications of abuse. What happens then? Don't you remove him anyway?

The only way this plan makes sense is as a way to ensure possible abusers are punished, to "catch" them. But it seems like a better way to do that, pragmatically speaking, would be to talk to the higher ups at the school.
posted by phrontist at 5:40 PM on August 31, 2009

You might find out quite a lot just from making a scheduled classroom visit. If the school won't allow that, then there is definitely a problem.

I learned a lot about my son's teachers just from sitting in the classrom for 15 minutes. It didn't take long to pinpoint problems with how-she-worked vs how-he-worked. There was no problem with abuse (and he didn't have autism) but it helped me to figure out ways to help him.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:15 PM on August 31, 2009

Clearly, your son is reacting to something. And he cannot articulate what is it, other than by his "bad" behavior. I think the webcam idea is terrific, especially if you can get them to see this as an opportunity to pick up something that may be subtle and hard to detect for new teachers. And I hope that is indeed what it is, something subtle and unreadable to new teachers that you will be able to detect easily.
Certainly, you should be able to have at least scheduled visits to your son's classroom. It is a red flag that that is not an option.
I read the news item referenced above about the Atlanta family's shirt-collar recorder, and notice that the lawyers are trying to say that evidence is inadmissible. They are lawyers; that's their job. At least the family found out what was going on.
You are the mom, and the person who knows your son the best. I recommend you listen to your instincts, and don't get "counseled" out them, although what exactly is setting off your son may be something other than you can think of. Sometimes is appropriate to be the Mama Bear. Good luck on this.
posted by Yimji at 7:10 PM on August 31, 2009

They pretty much have to let you observe your child in the classroom.

I would suggest reading these links and bringing this to the attention of the principal and escalate to the school board if necessary. 1 and 2

There is no legal basis to keep you out of the classroom and there is a legal basis for you to have access.

posted by imposster at 8:10 PM on August 31, 2009

Best answer: Drop by and visit him in the classroom for a bit. Just come into the class with him in the morning, say hello to the teacher, and say you'd like to observe and visit for a short while. The only circumstance in which this could be a problem is if your presence is significantly distracting to your son or other kids (I don't know whether your son would be hugely bugged if you were in the room), at which point it's unfair to the teacher to cause that disturbance. Otherwise, just grab a seat in the back of the classroom and hang out for a bit. If your presence doesn't bother the kids, you're acting perfectly reasonably. What are they going to do? Drag you kicking and screaming from the school?
posted by zachlipton at 8:54 PM on August 31, 2009

Best answer: I haven't read the whole thread, so I don't know if anyone has suggested this, but--

What about just putting a microphone right out there on the open on his shirt. Yes, everyone will know it's there. If they were doing something inappropriate before, maybe the won't after they see it. But isn't that a *good* thing? It seems win-win to me.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:45 PM on August 31, 2009

I don't have an answer to this question nor can I even begin to imagine how difficult this situation is. Especially in New Orleans where standard education sucks - good special ed programs must be really hard to find.
posted by radioamy at 9:57 PM on August 31, 2009

You have a right to call an IEP meeting anytime you want. You have a right to demand the presence of everyone at such a meeting who is in any way involved with your child's education: teachers, counselors, therapists, administration. You have a legal right to bring anyone you want to an IEP meeting: a knowledgeable friend, an advocate, even legal counsel. Learn your rights and use them to your child's advantage.

You do not have the right to record conversations. If you incidentally recorded my kids via such a scheme, I would be furious.

The key to getting a good special-ed education for your kids is finding a good school. If that doesn't work out, then you must learn the system to get the most out of it. I don't have any good links for your area but I'm hoping someone else will.

Please don't go forward with this scheme. Regardless of whether it's illegal, it's wrong.

IANAL, I'm the father of three autistic boys who has had to fight the system for over ten years now.

Good luck.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:22 PM on August 31, 2009 [5 favorites]

Hiding a mike on the kid is not the solution to the problem. It is likely illegal and it sends the wrong message. If you want to listen, you can not do it secretly, you must do it out in the open. Anything else is likely illegal, and definitely not moral. You are going to be recording not only your own child but the conversations of everyone he interacts with. This is something that must be done in concert with your doctor, the school, and probably your lawyer.
posted by caddis at 3:08 AM on September 1, 2009

Audio recorders
Pin-hole spy cameras: some appear to be smaller than the audio recorders.
posted by Akeem at 4:37 AM on September 1, 2009

66-Hour Digital Audio Recorder
posted by chugg at 7:54 AM on September 1, 2009

Best answer: Maybe this will help. I posted something like this in the Metatalk post about this.

It is not illegal for a private citizen to record anything. Anyone person's constitutional rights do not apply to private citizens*. The reason police need warrants to do wiretaps is because they are a government agency invading a private citizen's privacy. If you want to wire your child to walk around school and listen to whatever was said to him then do it. I would personally try talking to the teachers and other parents first. Maybe they noticed the same thing in their children as well?

* Please note that THIS does not apply to breaking into/trespassing/ illegally being somewhere and hiding listening devices on private property. If you are illegally at a place and trying to record something then you have broken the law. But your son is legally on school property so I don't think this will apply here.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:00 AM on September 1, 2009

I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. If I were going to do something that might expose me to criminal and civil liability, I'd ask a lawyer in my state.

That said, LA is one party consent. Courts have been mixed about whether or not parents can vicariously consent to recording minor children. A case where they said it was ok for a mother to tape when she thought her kid was being molested. A case where they said it wasn't ok to tape to see what a non-custodial parent was up to. Neither was in LA.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:30 AM on September 1, 2009

It is not illegal for a private citizen to record anything.

This is, actually, very incorrect in most states in the US, where it is absolutely illegal for a private citizen to record other private citizens without the consent of (depending on the state) one or all of the parties being recorded. This is highly jurisdiction-dependent, but we're not talking about warrants, we're talking about the laws that apply to private individuals.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:34 AM on September 1, 2009

As the mom of an autistic child who once walked into the classroom to find the teacher and the teacher's aide both sitting on my son, mitzyjalapeno's question seems a lot more understandable to me than it might to others. Still, I would not do the hidden microphone taping. I'd use the fact that his behavior has changed and he's acting out at home to call an emergency IEP meeting.
posted by tizzie at 12:00 PM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have no idea if this is legal or whatever, but I've worked with mics a lot, so disclaimers aside, here's an answer to your question.

In my experience, the best way to wear a lavalier (lapel) microphone is to strap it to the leg, and then disguise it under pants. In your case I guess you'd want a flash recorder or something to capture the data- you can get small ones in the $200 range.

Use 4" wide elastic and sew a loop that fits tightly around the calf, with an elastic pocket for the battery pack of the microphone or flash recorder to sit in. Put the loop on the calf, and slip the mic into the pocket so it's on the front of the leg, about an inch below the knee, and just inside the shinbone. Kind of like the white band in this photo, and the mic pac would sit a little higher than where the brown ribbon is tied- that way it doesn't interfere with the knee bending and shouldn't be visible through ordinary jeans. Experiment at home to make sure your rig is secure and your son will tolerate it and it won't make it hard for him to navigate his pants in the washroom, etc.

Run the mic cord up the leg, under the underpants & undershirt (maybe loop it once around the elastic strap you made, and use a couple of dabs of surgical tape here and there up his body to keep the right amount of slack in the cord), and then use surgical tape to stick it to his skin or sew it into the band of the collar as you suggested. Also make sure his shirt won't lift up and expose a black wire running up his body, that could be awkward.

When placing the actual microphone, try to find a place where the mic head won't be constantly rubbed by fabric, or that's all you'll hear. On adults, usually the mic goes on the sternum and the height of the breasts or pec muscles lifts the shirt up off the mic. It would be harder to achieve this on a slim child, so depending on your son's build, sewn into the collar might be better.

You'll have to play around to make sure the microphone picks up ambient noise. Be aware that the mic is directional, so make sure it's pointing "out", ie, towards the face of whoever would be speaking to your son.

Sorry to hear he's having a rough time. Good luck solving the problem.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:44 AM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't think your son is going to like the new sensations of all that stuff on him. I'm sure you're aware that Auties have enough sensory problems without adding to it.

Potty time would be terribly interesting under the scenario above.
posted by lysdexic at 6:50 AM on September 2, 2009

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