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Monday, October 24, 2016

Juking the Stats in Alice, Texas

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the educational and civil rights of people with autism and other disabilities. 

At The Houston Chronicle, Brian M. Rosenthal reports on Willie Ruiz, an Alice, Texas, school official whose son is on the spectrum.
Marco was diagnosed in 2012, in second grade. With the help of his dad, who had been promoted to operations director, Marco got services. They helped him stay afloat, though his handwriting remained basically illegible.
By 2012, Alice had lowered its special ed rate to 9.4 percent, but it was still above the state target.
Last May, when Marco was re-evaluated and found to no longer need services, Willie disagreed.
"I know it's about numbers. I've worked here for 27 years, and I know what's going on," he said during the meeting, according to a recording.
The parents are fighting. They've hired an advocate, and they are getting an independent evaluation.
The most recent data, which is from 2015, showed that 8 percent of Alice ISD kids were in special education. It was the first time it fell below 8.5 percent.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


In The Politics of Autism, I discuss health care issues and state Medicaid services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

At Autism, Rini Vohra, Suresh Madhavan, and Usha Sambamoorthi have an article title "Comorbidity Prevalence, Healthcare Utilization, and Expenditures of Medicaid Enrolled Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders."  Using Medicaid data, they find:
Adults with autism spectrum disorders had significantly higher rates of psychiatric comorbidity (81%), epilepsy (22%), infections (22%), skin disorders (21%), and hearing impairments (18%). Adults with autism spectrum disorders had higher mean annual outpatient office visits (32ASD vs 8noASD) and prescription drug use claims (51ASD vs 24noASD) as well as higher mean annual outpatient office visits (US$4375ASD vs US$824noASD), emergency room (US$15,929ASD vs US$2598noASD), prescription drug use (US$6067ASD vs US$3144noASD), and total expenditures (US$13,700ASD vs US$8560noASD). The presence of a psychiatric and a non-psychiatric comorbidity among adults with autism spectrum disorders increased the annual total expenditures by US$4952 and US$5084, respectively.
From the study:
From a policy perspective, our study showed that adults with ASD represent a high needs group within the Medicaid population. Medicaid coverage provides substantial number of services for adults with ASD which also transforms into extremely high costs. With the recent efforts to reduce long term healthcare costs and still maintain quality care, understanding the pattern of healthcare utilization and factors influencing the high services use among adults with ASD draws attention to the need for better coordinated care and/or processes to improve communication and treatment experiences of this group.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Senators Back Ban on Shock

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
For those who remain at larger residential institutions, the horrors of yesteryear have generally ended. In 2012, however, a ten-year-old video surfaced, showing disturbing image of an electric shock device at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton Massachusetts. Staffers tied one student to a restraint board and shocked him 31 times over seven hours, ignoring his screamed pleas to stop. The Rotenberg Center is the only one in the nation that admits to using electric shocks on people with developmental disabilities, including autism. Center officials said that they had stopped using restraint boards but insisted that shocks were necessary in extreme cases to prevent officials insist the shock program is a last resort that prevents people with severe disorders from hurting themselves or others. Though a majority of the FDA’s Neurological Devices Panel said that such devises pose “an unreasonable and substantial risk of illness or injury,” the agency had not banned them as of 2014.
From Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT):
In a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert M. Califf, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) led U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) in applauding the FDA for proposing a rule to ban electrical stimulation devices (ESDs) and urging the FDA to quickly implement the ban. The use of ESDs, particularly on children, has been associated with depression, anxiety, learned helplessness, worsening of self-injurious behaviors, symptoms of PTSD, pain, and burns. Despite research confirming the substantial health risks of ESDs, the devices are still legal in the United States and continue to be used as behavioral therapy at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, a facility in Massachusetts. In their letter to the FDA, the senators point out that there have been significant scientific, therapeutic, and pharmacologic advances that provide safer, more effective behavioral therapy solutions.
“The use of these electric shock devices as aversive therapy for individuals with developmental disabilities is inhumane, especially since many of these individuals have difficulty communicating and alternative effective treatment options are available,” wrote the senators. “Put simply, it is outrageous that this practice is allowed in the United States for this vulnerable population and it should be stopped immediately. As such, we urge you to finalize the proposed rule as quickly as possible.”
The full text of the letter is available here

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Trump Supporter: "No Vaccines"

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in presidential campaigns.   In this campaign, a number of posts have discussed Trump's support for the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.  He also has a bad record on disability issues more generally.'

At Mediaite, Ken Meyer reports that a Trump supporter gave an odd reason for backing him: “Veterans care. No vaccines…”
It is likely that Judy is referencing a strange position Trump has taken in the past about how vaccinations are connected to autism. Trump has defended his old stance during the 2016 election, even though nowalmost the entire medical community has concluded that its not just unproven but simply untrue.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Improvement in Graduation Rates

In The Politics of Autism, I write about education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

From the US Department of Education:
The national graduation rate for public high school students rose to a new high of 83.2 percent in 2014-15, according to data released today by the National Center for Education Statistics. This adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) measures the percentage of students who graduate with a regular high school diploma within four years of starting 9th grade. The ACGR has risen by about four percentage points since the data were first collected in 2010-11.
The data released today show that between 2010-11 and 2014-15, graduation rates increased for all reported groups of students, including all racial and ethnic subgroups, low-income students, English learners, and students with disabilities. However, graduation rate gaps persist among the racial and ethnic subgroups.
From 2010-11 to 2014-15, the ACGR has increased 6 percentage points to 76.1 percent for low-income students; has increased 8 percentage points to 65.1 percent for English Learners; and has increased 6 percentage points to 64.6 percent for students with disabilities.
To view the full data, please visit

From the White House:
 Graduation Gains for All Students
Year-by-Year Data: National Center for Education Statistics

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

More on Trump and Antivax

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in presidential campaigns.   In this campaign, a number of posts have discussed Trump's support for the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.  He also has a bad record on disability issues more generally.

One of the major-party presidential candidates has had plenty to say during this year's campaign. But almost none of the words from Donald J. Trump have been about the importance of science and science literacy to the nation's economic growth, security and international prestige—as well as to the health and well-being of the American people and the future of the planet itself. Trump has, however, made statements about science over the years, many of them in the form of tweets. They betray his beliefs about scientific issues, so we are reprinting a selection of them here. We have not fact-checked them.
I've seen people where they have a perfectly healthy child, and they go for the vaccinations, and a month later the child is no longer healthy. [SOURCE]
Autism rates through the roof—why doesn't the Obama administration do something about doctor-inflicted autism. We lose nothing to try. [SOURCE]
Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn't feel good and changes—AUTISM. Many such cases! [SOURCE]

Monday, October 17, 2016

Disability and the 2016 Election

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in presidential campaigns. As I explain in the book, Hillary Clinton has a long history with the issue. In this campaign, a number of posts have discussed Trump's support for the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. He also has a bad record on disability issues more generally.

Steve Flamisch reports at Rutgers:
On Nov. 8, 35.4 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote, representing about one-sixth of the electorate.
When Donald Trump mocked a disabled New York Times reporter last year, he ignited a firestorm in the disability community. Hillary Clinton responded with a television ad featuring a well-known disability rights advocate, and she recently introduced a plan to increase job opportunities for people with disabilities. Rutgers Today asked Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations Professors Douglas Kruse and Lisa Schur about their latest research on the political participation of people with disabilities and how the candidates' actions could influence voter turnout.

Have you ever seen a presidential election with so much focus on the disability community?
Schur: People with disabilities are definitely receiving more attention in this election. Disability has long been a bipartisan issue in the U.S., as shown by the strong support from both Republicans and Democrats for the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and the 2008 ADA Amendments Act, which expanded the definition of disability to cover more people. So disability has not been a significant partisan issue in past elections, but that changed this year with the controversy created by Trump's behavior and the focus by Clinton on policies to expand employment for people with disabilities.
You've analyzed mountains of federal data to project the total number of eligible voters with disabilities, nationwide and on a state-by-state basis. What are your significant findings?

Kruse: Based on Census data, we project that 35.4 million people with disabilities will be eligible to vote on Nov. 8, representing about one-sixth of the electorate. Perhaps more importantly, we project 62.7 million eligible voters who either have disabilities or household members with disabilities, representing over one-fourth of the electorate. This is important because family members of people with disabilities are often very motivated to take action on disability issues, so disability can motivate the whole family. We find large numbers of people with disabilities in every age, racial, and ethnic group. In addition, there are large numbers of people with disabilities in every state, ranging from 12.7 percent of the electorate in Nebraska to 24.1 percent in West Virginia.

What kinds of disabilities are taken into account?
Schur: We use the Census Bureau's six questions that identify mobility impairments, cognitive impairments, hearing impairments, visual impairments, and general activity limitations inside and outside the home.

What kinds of obstacles do people with disabilities encounter when they go to vote and how does that affect turnout?
Kruse: Our 2012 national post-election survey found that 30 percent of voters with disabilities reported some type of difficulty in voting at a polling place, compared to 8 percent of voters without disabilities. The most common problems reported were difficulty in reading or seeing the ballot, or understanding how to vote or use voting equipment. Some of these problems can be avoided by voting by mail, and people with disabilities are more likely than those without disabilities to vote by mail, but a majority of voters both with and without disabilities say they prefer to vote at a polling place.
Do you believe turnout among people with disabilities will be higher this year because of the candidates' actions?
Schur: Probably yes, because of the way disability has become an issue in this campaign, along with the strong efforts by the disability community to increase turnout.