On Thursday, September 27, the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency, released “Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and Their Children” -- a groundbreaking policy study, infused with real life stories of parents with disabilities, to provide a comprehensive overview of factors that support and obstruct Americans with all kinds of disabilities from exercising their fundamental right to begin and maintain families.
“Twenty-two years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act with an increasing number of people with disabilities taking advantage of increased protections to receive an education and go to work, parents with disabilities continue to be the only distinct community that have to fight to retains – and sometimes gain – custody of their own children without cause,” said NCD Council Member, Ari Ne’eman. “Currently, the U.S. legal system is not protecting the rights of parents with disabilities and their children. Two-thirds of state child welfare laws allow courts to determine a parent is unfit solely on the basis of a parent’s disability. In fact, every state allows disability as a consideration when determining the best interest of a child in family or dependency court. Whether actions are taken at the state or federal level—as an amendment or a new law—the need to correct this unfair bias could not be more urgent or clear.”At several points, the report specifically discusses autism:
- "Discrimination by legal authorities and in child custody proceedings against parents with emerging disabilities is common as well. For example, as improved diagnosis and expanding diagnostic criteria have enhanced identification of children and adults on the autism spectrum, discrimination against parents diagnosed as autistic has emerged as a serious and ongoing systemic problem. As our society recognizes autism and other newly identified disabilities in a greater percentage of the next generation, the percentage of the American public susceptible to discrimination will increase. Parents who belong to these groups will experience the same abuses of their civil rights that parents with psychiatric disabilities currently experience; notably, status-based removals and deprivation of due process protections such as reunification services" (p. 15 of PDF).
- The report tells the story of Lorena, an ASD woman who had to put her children in foster care -- and has been unable to get them back (pp. 107-108).
- "Another example of the use of persistent social stereotypes and prejudicial assumptions can be found in discussions regarding parents on the autism spectrum. These parents are subject to many of the same unfounded stereotypes, claiming incapability to parent or risk of violence, which parents with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities encounter. Additionally, parents on the autism spectrum are often presented as uncaring or lacking empathy toward their children or spouses.539 Despite research showing these claims to be inaccurate, they persist in guidance provided to family law professionals regarding autism and Asperger’s syndrome (a type of autism).540 For example, a 2003 article by a family law professional made the case that in high-conflict divorces in which one party has a diagnosis of Asperger’s, the fault should be presumed to lie predominantly with the autistic parent, even if evidence suggests otherwise.541 The long-term consequences of these stereotypes are significant—some parents who are on the autism spectrum have said that fear of discrimination in child custody proceedings keeps them from leaving relationships with abusive partners.542"
- 539. Melanie Yergeau, “Circle Wars: Reshaping the Typical Autism Essay,” Disability Studies Quarterly 30(1) (2010), http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/1063/1222.
- 540. Kimberly Rogers et al., “Who Cares? Revisiting Empathy in Asperger Syndrome,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities 37 (2007): 709–715, http://www.cog.psy.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/papers/2007/Rogers %282007 %29_JAutismDevDisord.pdf; Sheila Jennings Linehan and Jan Schloss, “Who’s Minding the Children? Child Contact and the Neurologically Impaired Parent,” Journal of International Family Law 4 (2003): 205–209, http://www.familymattersassociates.ca/ images/WhosMindingtheChildrenInternationalFamilyLaw.pdf.
- 541. Id.; Sheila K. Jennings, “High Conflict and Asperger’s Syndrome,” Mediate.com (2003), http://web.archive.org/web/20100111025800/ http://www.mediate.com/articles/linehan_s1.cfm#bio.
- 542. Autism Self Advocacy Network, “Cassandra’s Impact on Autistic Victims of Domestic Violence” (2009), http://autisticadvocacy.org/2009/05/cassandras-impact-on-autistic-victims-of-domestic-violence.