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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nixon and Autism

Today would have been Richard Nixon's 100th birthday.  What did he have to do with autism?  Some have speculated that his verbal precocity, social awkwardness, and physical clumsiness may have been signs of Asperger's -- but that proposition is unprovable.  But what is clear is that he signed several measures that shaped policy for people with autism and other disabilities:

  • Objecting to parts of the bill, Nixon reluctantly signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Amendments of 1970 (P.L. 91-230), which created a separate Act, the Education of the Handicapped Act (EHA). Part B authorized  grants to states to assist them with programs for the education of children with disabilities.  
  • Nixon signed the Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Amendments of 1970 (P.L. 91-517), which  contained the first legal definition of "developmental disabilities," includedbroad responsibilities for a state planning and advisory council to plan and implement a comprehensive program of services for persons with developmental disabilities.  The law also authorized grants to support interdisciplinary training in institutions of higher education of personnel providing services to persons with developmental disabilities.
  • After vetoing earlier versions, Nixon signed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112). Sections 501, 503 and 504 prohibited discrimination in federal programs and services and all other programs or services receiving federal funds. Section 504: “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”