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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Bureau of Disability Rights

In The Politics of Autism, I write:

“Civil rights” usually referred to the fight against racial segregation.  In several ways, this struggle set the template for other civil rights issues, including disability rights. First, cases such as Brown v. Board of Education demonstrated that disadvantaged groups could gain protections in the courts.  Second, movement leaders found that nonviolent protests could gain public sympathy and put pressure on elected officials. Third, civil rights statutes that helped African Americans would also point to means by which the government could protect other excluded groups. 

President Biden has nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.  On his way out, Becerra has made an important announcement.

 From the California Department of Justice:

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the establishment of the Bureau of Disability Rights (Bureau) within the Civil Rights Enforcement Section (Section) of the California Department of Justice. The Bureau will focus on matters that seek to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are advanced through specific investigations and litigation. The Bureau will also expand on the Section's work to vindicate the rights of persons with disabilities on issues including discrimination in education, healthcare, employment, access to public services, and with regard to law enforcement involvement.

“If we are going to make meaningful progress towards protecting the rights of Californians with disabilities, we must devote attorneys and resources to work specifically on these issues,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The establishment of the Bureau of Disability Rights marks an important step toward ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities are considered in all of our work here at the California Department of Justice. I look forward to seeing all that the Bureau is able to accomplish.”

Already, Deputy Attorneys General in the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, who will be staffed to the Bureau, have secured relief for persons with disabilities through the inclusion of specific corrective measures in judgments which require reforms. These judgments, for example, advance the rights of students with disabilities, including students who are disciplined for behavior resulting from their disability, and mandate reforms of law enforcement practices relating to officer involvement with individuals experiencing mental health crises, those with disabilities, and the profiling of individuals perceived to have disabilities.

The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of Californians with disabilities. Since taking office, Attorney General Becerra has:

Monday, January 25, 2021

Antivaxxers and California Recall Efforts

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.

Anita Chabria and Paige St. John at LAT

Hardline activists from the anti-vaccination movement. Two leaders, Denise Aguilar and Tara Thornton with the Freedom Angels, organized and participated in numerous rallies at the state Capitol that promoted the recall effort. At these events, speakers denounced vaccines and health orders. The Proud Boys, who have been involved in protest violence, from street brawls in Sacramento to the incursion of the nation’s Capitol, are also often present. Aguilar has said they provided security.


 Heatlie said his organization cut ties with at least one of those early partners, the Freedom Angels, and is careful about connections to groups with far-right views such as science deniers. Yet, The Times found recall signature gatherers continue to frequent such events.


Strident language has become more common in the recall as the pandemic progresses, with the Freedom Angels one group turning up the temperature. The group first gained prominence in California opposing laws that require vaccinations for public school attendance, which they claim is an overreach of government authority. With the pandemic, two leaders of the Freedom Angels splintered off to join those opposed to COVID-19 closure and stay-at-home orders.

The splinter group also recently started an all-female militia, and advertises seminars on social media on how to target local health department officials, including staging nonviolent actions at officials’ private homes


Heatlie said he became concerned about the Freedom Angels in May, after an unruly Capitol rally in which 32 people, including Aguilar and Thornton, were detained by the California Highway Patrol. But despite his misgivings, Heatlie agreed to appear on a Freedom Angels webcast in June, on the day the Secretary of State’s office approved his petitions for circulation. And later in the month, Heatlie’s recall campaign called on supporters to attend a Freedom Angels rally at the Sacramento courthouse to support those who had been arrested during demonstrations.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Reviewing the Literature on Autistic Adults

In The Politics of Autism, I write:

When disabled people reach their 22d birthday, they no longer qualify for services under IDEA. ... People in the disability community refer to this point in life as “the cliff.” Once autistic people go over the cliff, they have a hard time getting services such as job placement, vocational training, and assistive technology. IDEA entitles students to transition planning services during high school, but afterwards, they have to apply as adults and establish eligibility for state and federal help. One study found that 39 percent of young autistic adults received no service at all, and most of the rest got severely limited services.

Patricia Howlin has an article at The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders titled " Adults with Autism: Changes in Understanding Since DSM-111."


Over the past four decades there have been significant advances in our understanding of autism, yet services for autistic adults continue to lag far behind those for children, and prospects for employment and independent living remain poor. Adult outcomes also vary widely and while cognitive and language abilities are important prognostic indicators, the influence of social, emotional, familial and many other factors remains uncertain. For this special issue marking the 40th anniversary of DSM-III, the present paper describes the changing perspectives of autism in adulthood that have occurred over this period, explores individual and wider environmental factors related to outcome, and suggests ways in which services need to be changed to improve the future for adults living with autism.

In the four decades since the publication of DSM-III (American Psychiatric Association [APA] 1980) there have been many changes in our understanding of autism. We now know much more about how reliably to diagnose the condition; underlying genetic and neuropsychological processes are far better understood, and the quality of intervention research- at least with respect to young children- has greatly improved. Nevertheless, very many autistic adults, and their families, continue to face significant difficulties in their daily lives. To mark the 40th anniversary of DSM-III, the following article focuses principally on research conducted over the intervening period that has changed our understanding of autism in adulthood. Variables related to prognosis, challenges experienced in adulthood, and interventions that may help to reduce these are explored. The paper concludes with recommendations for improving quality of life for autistic adults and those living with or caring for them.

From the article:

It needs to be acknowledged that the quality of research on interventions for adults is far inferior to that for autistic children, especially very young children. Thus, although there is some evidence of potentially effective interventions to improve adult social functioning and mental health, the variability and complexity of the treatments involved means that we still know very little about the specific components of services or therapies that are crucial for success. Evidence of methodologically sound and ecologically valid interventions and services is limited, and far greater funding and dedicated research is required to redress the current imbalance between child and adult research and access to effective interventions.


Saturday, January 23, 2021

Program for Autistic Students at the University of Idaho

At the Moscow-Pulman Daily News, Lex Van Horn reports on a program for autistic students at the University of Idaho:
Raven Scholars Project supports students as they transition from the distractions of typical high-school classrooms to learning in a more supportive setting.

“There is that place where I can go and everybody knows I’m on the autism spectrum,” Program Coordinator Leslie Gwartney said. “I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t have to worry about if I’m stimming (self-stimulation behavior) or if I’m having a bad day or if I want to talk about my special interest. People are going to understand.”

The UI Raven Scholars Program, one of several UI programs supporting these students, helps 30 students with ASD, diagnosed or undiagnosed, per semester, Gwartney said. Students regularly talk with her about their academic work, time management, self-care and social skills. These meetings are meant to become shorter and less frequent because Raven Scholars is a program helping high-school students transition into college life.

The change to online learning because of COVID-19 has challenged students with ASD. Some instructors have expected students to fill in gaps, but ambiguous assignments can be challenging for students with ASD, Gwartney said. Assignments that place equal weight on small portions of work instead of heavily weighting a final project can also be difficult. Students may feel like it’s busywork and avoid it.

Other students have struggled more with transitioning their social lives online. Normally, students have access to the Raven Room, a large, open space where students can work, eat, relax or chat with each other. Puzzles, board games and books are organized on shelves around the room while sensory tools and fidget toys lay on a counter near the common table. Two large windows oversee neighboring halls and their courtyards.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Antivaxxers at the Insurrection

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.

It should not be a surprise that they took part in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Ellie Rushing and Anna Orso at The Philadelphia Inquirer:

A South Jersey mom who is prominent in anti-vaccine and right-wing activist circles was among a crowd of people barreling into a line of police and attempting to breach the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, video from the day shows.

Stephanie Hazelton, of Medford, who also identifies herself as Ayla Wolf, can be seen among the mob trying to push through the building’s West Terrace entrance. Video shows Hazelton emerging from the entrance to direct more people to help break through the doors.

“More people, we gotta keep going,” Hazelton said as she waved the crowd toward the entrance.

“Men, we need more men,” she said repeatedly, coughing and wiping her eyes while holding up her pink phone to record herself. “Let’s go.”

Michael Wittner at Patch:

A Beverly Hills skincare salon owner and a prominent anti-vaxxer physician and her spokesman appeared at the U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday to face charges of participating in the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol.

Gina Bisignano, 52, was arrested Tuesday morning, and Simone Gold, 55, and John Strand, 37, were taken into custody Monday, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

The defendants, all of whom reside in Beverly Hills, appeared Tuesday afternoon before a Los Angeles magistrate judge, who granted each of them bond on charges filed in the District of Columbia.

Bisignano, owner of Gina's Eyelashes and Skincare in Beverly Hills, was ordered released on a $170,000 bond and is subject to home detention. A preliminary hearing was set in her case on Feb. 4 in Los Angeles. She was charged Tuesday with civil disorder, destruction of government property; aiding and abetting; obstruction of an official proceeding; restricted building or grounds; violent entry or disorderly conduct, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gold, a physician and attorney who has criticized the coronavirus vaccination as ineffective and touted hydroxychloroquine as treatment for COVID-19, was released on a $15,000 bond and is also subject to home detention. Her next court appearance is a virtual hearing with the District of Columbia on Thursday. She was charged Tuesday with restricted building or grounds; violent entry and disorderly conduct.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

From ACLU's To-Do List for President Biden

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

From the American Civil Liberties Union:

  • Now more than ever, the administration needs to make sure that states and school districts continue to meet their obligation to provide appropriate educational services and assessments to students with disabilities. This includes helping them make up for instructional time and services lost during distance learning and school closures due to COVID-19. To support students with disabilities who have been left behind during the pandemic, the administration must make targeted Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding a priority for the next congressional COVID-19 relief package. The Department of Education must also provide robust guidance that highlights best practices that school districts have adopted during the pandemic and ensures students with disabilities are not unnecessarily pushed into alternative schools during the pandemic.
  • The administration also must stop the unnecessary and harmful restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities in schools by executive action and supporting appropriate legislation. Mechanical or physical restraints harm children and inflict lasting psychological trauma, yet their use still happens far too often in schools. Action is needed now to end these draconian practices and ensure that our schools are places where children feel safe to learn.
  • The overuse of police, known as school resource officers, in our nation’s schools disproportionately harms students of color with disabilities, criminalizes normal childhood behavior, and funnels students into the school-to-prison pipeline. The administration must take executive action and pursue legislative opportunities to eliminate federal funding that puts police in schools and reinvest those funds to hire school counselors, psychologists, and other supportive mental health personnel for our students. The administration must also investigate school districts where the data show disproportionate rates of law enforcement referrals and arrests for students with disabilities, and hold those school districts accountable.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Rep Jess

In The Politics of Autism, I write:  "Support from the general public will be an important political asset for autistic people. Another will be their sheer numbers, since a larger population of identified autistic adults will mean more autistic voters and activists."  Previous posts have discussed autistic officeholders and political candidates in New YorkGeorgiaTexas, and Wisconsin.

Megan Magensky at WHP-TV:

 A newly elected Pennsylvania state representative is one of only a handful of openly autistic politicians in the country, and she’s ready to go to work for her community.

State Representative Jessica Benham (D-14th District) is basically the opposite of what you think about when you think politician.

She’s young, autistic and a member of the LGBTQ community. She says she’s ready to fight for everyone.

 Meghan Holohan at Today:

Growing up, Jessica Benham never saw people with autism in politics. In fact, she rarely even heard of women having autism. When the 29-year-old disability activist was sworn into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last week, she became one of only a handful of politicians with autism across the United States and as a bisexual woman, one of a few LGBTQ women in politics.

“I never thought that running for office was going to be what I did. It wasn’t in the Jessica Benham plan,” she told TODAY. “I really felt the call from my community to step up for them."