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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Autism, Police, and the Dilemma of Difference

In The Politics of Autism, I write:

[M]any police departments have trained officers and other first responders how to spot signs of autism and respond accordingly. Some organizations have also published identification cards that ASD adults can carry in order to defuse potential conflicts. Virginia provides for an autism designation on driver licenses and other state-issued identification cards. Once again, however, the dilemma of difference comes into play. One autistic Virginian worries: “Great, so if I get into an accident, who’s the cop going to believe, the guy with the autistic label or the guy without it?” Clinical psychologist Michael Oberschneider is concerned about the understanding level of first responders: “I think many people still think of Rain Man or, more recently, the Sandy Hook Shooter, when they think of autism even though very few people on the autistic spectrum are savants or are homicidal and dangerous.”

Sam Farmer at The Hill:

As somebody living with autism who had to fight to build self-esteem and find true happiness in an essentially non-autistic world, I consider the use of the word "disability" in public discourse about autism to be a mixed bag. On a societal level, labeling autism a disability is clearly essential when it comes to justice for all of the Linden Camerons and Neli Latsons of the world who pay an unjust price as a result of improper treatment under the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act necessitate referring to autism as a disability if autistic individuals who require government assistance or special accommodations in school are to receive the services they deserve. Furthermore, it is very understandable for people with more moderate or severe autism spectrum profiles and those who work with and care about them to view autism as a disability. But what do you do if you are autistic and actively working on learning how to accept and love who you are, yet you are having to do so while being looked upon by society as being disabled? In this respect, the necessity for society to label autism a disability is deeply regrettable to me in that it will inevitably interfere in the process of building self-esteem for at least some people living on the spectrum.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

QAnon and Conspiracy Theory

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.

But there’s a broader problem, says Seema Yasmin, a Stanford physician and expert on health misinformation. Conspiracies, Yasmin says, thrive in the absence of clear and consistent guidance from leaders. As the pandemic wears on, the Trump administration continues to contradict itself, sending mixed messaging on testing, schools, masks, and social distancing—not to mention the possible vaccine. Parents are left to their own devices, relying on incomplete information to keep their families safe. “We are in a state of heightened anxiety and fear, and we’re looking for a way to understand what’s happening in the world,” Yasmin said. “Charlatans are plugging those knowledge gaps. They’re saying completely false things with a sense of authority.”


 The spread of misinformation isn’t restricted to local parenting groups—it’s also flourishing in holistic child-rearing and natural birth communities. On his Facebook page, Dr. Bob Sears, an attachment parenting guru and vaccine critic with 97,000 followers, rails against school closures and COVID vaccines. Based in Southern California, he has invited his local followers to attend “freedom rallies” protesting mandatory masks and social distancing measures. In his podcast, “The Vaccine Conversation,” he promotes the discredited coronavirus treatment of hydroxychloroquine and celebrates citizens who are “pushing back against state government” on mask mandates and business closures.

While Sears doesn’t explicitly mention any of the more far-fetched QAnon ideas, his followers do in the comments. “It will take the entire world to stop the corruption of Bill Gates, the World Health Org, the CDC and the FDA, collectively known as the ‘#medicalmafia,’ reads one comment on a post criticizing the idea of a mandatory COVID vaccine. In response to a post in which Dr. Sears praises the CDC for calling for schools to reopen, one commenter speculates that the CDC is “planning some 5G rollouts in/near schools which will help fuel their ‘second wave’ narrative.”


But it can be difficult to figure out how to change the minds of people who are convinced that they are correct. In a recent advice piece about conspiracy theories spreading through online parenting communities, The New York Times suggested, “If it’s someone you don’t know personally, respond with facts.” That’s a start, but Yasmin, the Stanford physician and health misinformation expert, believes that approach might not be enough. “More and more I’m seeing that misinformation and disinformation are packaged with political information—vaccines and masks are anti-freedom, anti-American,” she says. “You don’t counter that by citing studies. These are tied into beliefs about freedom and what it means to be American.” In other instances, the misinformation is packaged in a way that’s meant to tug at parents’ heartstrings —say a story about a child who died after receiving a routine vaccination. In order to combat misinformation, Yasmin says, pro-science groups will have to beat the purveyors at their own game, finding effective ways to reach fellow parents. One idea that some vaccine advocacy groups are already trying out: sharing stories of children who died of vaccine-preventable diseases. “Compelling and well-told stories on parenting sites—those can really connect with parents,” she says. “They offer an emotional connection that’s very hard to counteract with facts.”

Monday, September 21, 2020

RBG and Disabilities

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

The Arc on the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Often lost in the day to day of life are the big moments in history that make today possible. Today, a life in the community for millions of people with disabilities is possible because of the actions of those who came before them, that led to justice. We mourn the loss of one of those champions, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote the opinion in the landmark ruling affirming that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination.

“Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act transformed the country in important ways, changing expectations for the lives of people with disabilities. Thanks to the work of countless committed advocates, we have taken meaningful steps toward the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Two advocates that carried the promise of the law all the way to the Supreme Court were Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson. Their bravery and refusal to live behind the dark walls of institutions led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead v. L.C. decision in 1999. The case established that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act – and that people with disabilities have a right to live in the community rather than institutions.

“In the opinion, Justice Ginsburg focused on the fact that ‘institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable of or unworthy of participating in community life.’

“This big moment, and her staunch affirmation of the human dignity of people with disabilities and their rightful place in the community of their choice, fundamentally changed the course of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities. With this history in our hearts, we will carry on our fight for inclusion and justice for all people with disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO, The Arc.

From Ginsburg's concurrence in Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509 (2004) (h/t Robyn Powell)

 Including individuals with disabilities among people who count in composing “We the People,” Congress understood in shaping the ADA, would sometimes require not blindfolded equality, but responsiveness to difference; not indifference, but accommodation. Central to the Act’s primary objective, Congress extended the statute’s range to reach all government activities, §12132 (Title II), and required “reasonable modifications to [public actors’] rules, policies, or practices,” §§12131(2)–12132 (Title II). See also §12112(b)(5) (defining discrimination to include the failure to provide “reasonable accommodations”) (Title I); §12182(b)(2)(A)(ii) (requiring “reasonable modifications in [public accommodations’] policies, practices, or procedures”) (Title III); Bagenstos, supra, at 435 (ADA supporters sought “to eliminate the practices that combine with physical and mental conditions to create what we call ‘disability.’ The society-wide universal access rules serve this function on the macro level, and the requirements of individualized accommodation and modification fill in the gaps on the micro level.” 

Ria Tabacco Mar at WP:

Apart from her legendary dissents on the Supreme Court of the United States, Ginsburg is perhaps best known for the six cases she argued before the court as director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, a position I’m privileged to hold now. In 1973, the year Ginsburg had her first argument before the high court, she and the Women’s Rights Project co-founder, Brenda Feigen, filed a federal lawsuit in North Carolina on behalf of Nial Ruth Cox, a Black woman who had been forcibly sterilized in 1965 as part of a gruesome state eugenics program targeted at people with mental disabilities.


Sunday, September 20, 2020

Politics and School-Based Autism Rates

We reviewed federal special education data to determine school-identified prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other disability categories by U.S. state. We also examined whether state-level policies, demographic factors, and rates of other eligibility categories are predictive of these state ASD rates. Results indicate that overall, 1 of 81 school-aged children are served under an ASD special education eligibility. State-level demographic factors, such as socioeconomic status and political leanings were highly predictive of rates of ASD. States with higher rates of ASD had lower rates of intellectual and learning disabilities, but higher rates of Other Health Impairment (OHI).
From the article:
The results from this study provide further support for the idea that ASD prevalence rates by state are associated with SES factors, including the proportion of special education students being served under an ASD eligibility (Palmer et al. 2005; Sullivan 2013; Thomas et al. 2011). Despite evidence that SES factors and race/ethnicity are intertwined in their relation to ASD identification (Fountain et al. 2011), we failed to improve our model by including race as a predictor. Our findings also indicate that political leanings on the state level might be partially implicated in these discrepancies. In fact, the model that included political leanings explained about 6% more of the variance in ASD rates than did the model including only income and education as predictors. After removing the outlier of Iowa, the model of just state-level demographic factors of politics, household income, and average adult education accounted for 40% of the proportion ASD by state. This same model failed to predict the overall proportion of students in special education by state, indicating that ASD specifically, and not simply special education services, is tied to these demographic factors. Interestingly, states with centrist politics had higher ASD rates than Democratic or Republican states after controlling for income and education. While the reason for this specific group difference warrants further investigation, the overall finding implicates the role of politics in ASD prevalence at the state level. This may be due to the impact of either policies or simply collective values within states around different special education eligibility categories.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

FBI Questionnaire Aids in Finding Missing Autistic Kids

The Politics of Autism discusses the problem of wandering, which has been the topic of legislation.

A release from the FBI:
The search for a missing 6-year-old with autism in 2018 left a profound impression on the North Carolina community where the boy went missing—and on the FBI’s teams that specialize in finding children who suddenly disappear.

Since then, a special agent on the FBI team that assisted in the search for Maddox has developed a one-page questionnaire for investigators to use when a child with autism goes missing.

“I wanted to make sure that if I had another opportunity, I’d be ready,” said Special Agent James Granozio, who works in the Bureau’s Charlotte Field Office and also leads one of the FBI’s four regional Child Abduction Rapid Deployment (CARD) Teams. These teams are composed of agents, intelligence analysts, operational specialists, and behavioral analysts who deploy on short notice when police departments request FBI assistance in missing child cases.

After the Maddox case, Granozio learned all he could about autism and autistic children, reaching out to local and national organizations for information. The feedback led to the development of the checklist of baseline questions that Granozio said should be asked immediately of parents or caregivers of missing autistic children.

“I want to know from the family early on: Does the child have a tracking mechanism? Is the child afraid of water or do they like water? If they like water, do they know how to swim?” said Granozio. “What about traveling at night? Is the child scared at night? Will they hunker down or will they like to move? All these things I want to know early on, and hopefully we can save a life.”

The questionnaire has been circulated among the FBI’s CARD Team, which includes approximately 75 members in FBI field offices across the country. They, in turn, have distributed the material to local law enforcement agencies during training exercises on child abductions and joint search and rescue operations. The CARD Team holds multiple table-top-style exercises every year to prepare local law enforcement on how to properly respond to the infrequent events.

When the CARD Team deploys, Bedford said, trainings provided to our law enforcement partners have proven to be particularly beneficial because everyone already knows how to work alongside the CARD Team. “So when the CARD Team comes in, the lead investigative agency doesn’t need to waste time developing a plan, they’ve got a very effective playbook that they can roll out immediately. And I think local departments really appreciate that.”

Friday, September 18, 2020

Commission Looks Into Shooting of Autistic Teen

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between police and autistic people.  Police officers need training to respond appropriately.  When they do not, things get out of hand. A recent incident in Salt Lake City is getting national attention.

 Amy Donaldson at The Deseret News:

When Darlene McDonald read about Salt Lake police officers shooting a 13-year-old autistic boy whose mother had called for help with a mental health episode, she saw herself in the tragic situation.

But when the mother of an autistic young man and member of Salt Lake City’s newly formed Racial Equity in Policing Commission learned that a new policy about enhanced de-escalation tactics went into effect hours after he was shot, she was “floored.”

“So this seemed to me that there was a disconnect, either between what we thought was already in place or what’s not in place,” said McDonald, who chaired Wednesday night’s commission meeting that discussed several specific policies, conducting a survey of Salt Lake officers, police officers in schools and the possibility of pairing officers with commissioners for research purposes.

“Is that something that you could speak to because when I read that article, I almost hit the floor. I was so shocked by that,” McDonald asked.

Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown was listening to the virtual meeting, and he responded to the concerns by letting her know the new policies were refining what already existed.

“With these new policies, we’re going to try to expand upon it, and we’re going to really talk about when we do it, but also report back,” he said. “Again, we’re going to foot-stomp that even more into the culture of our organization.”

He mentioned that officers are recognized for utilizing de-escalation tactics, and a commissioner asked for more insight into what kind of accountability there is for officers who fail to utilize these techniques.