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Monday, October 31, 2016

Bleach "Cure"

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss autism quackery.  One particularly dangerous "cure" involves bleach.

At KABC-TV, David Ono and Lisa Bartley report:
Eyewitness News teamed up with ABC News to conduct a year-long investigation into a supposed "miracle cure" that's peddled by the so-called "Church of Bleach," which has a chapter in Southern California.
The "miracle cure" is really a form of industrial bleach, but that doesn't stop believers from pushing the potion on the sick, the desperate, and perhaps most alarmingly, the parents of children with autism.
Dr. Paul Wang, a pediatrician and the senior vice president of Autism Speaks, a nationally recognized advocacy and support group, said parasites do not cause autism.
"No, parasites do not cause autism," Wang said. "She says that MMS is not a bleach, but it is."
"And frankly, it's a poison. It should not be given to anybody with autism or cancer or diabetes or any other condition that they claim it can treat," he continued.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Reversing TRICARE Rate Cuts

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  As many posts have discussed, the challenges are especially great for military families.

Tom Philpott reports at The Military Advantage Blog:
Language in both the House and Senate versions of the defense bill orders the Department of Defense to restore TRICARE reimbursement rates for applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder to the higher levels paid until last April.
The rate cuts were significant enough that some groups of ABA providers stopped caring for military children, telling affected families they can’t properly pay staff or sustain their businesses with such low fees.
With the new rates TRICARE reimbursements fell sharply, but TRICARE capped the cut to no more than 15 percent the first year. Complaints from families and providers spurred the armed services committees to insert rollback language to their defense bills but then delayed final passage.
Despite the complaints, [Navy Capt. Edward Simmer, deputy director of the TRICARE Health Plan] said TRICARE has more than 28,000 ABA providers in its networks, more than two for every one of 13,000 military children receiving or seeking autism therapy.
“We’ve actually added providers under the new rates,” he said. “And everywhere we did have a provider drop because of the rates, we were able to place those patients with other very well qualified providers…So by and large we don’t believe the rates have had any significant impact on access.”
[Military autism advocate Karen] Driscoll said she the provider lists TRICARE touts are unreliable. She said she queried two clients, both of them large, multi-state ABA providers, to compare employee lists to what TRICARE posted. The results showed only 17 percent of providers listed for one company and 28 percent for the other were serving TRICARE beneficiaries. [emphasis added]

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Vaccines, Autism, and the Amish: Snopes Weighs In

In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.   Antivaccine activists claim that the Amish do not vaccinate, and that there is no autism among them.  At Snopes, Alex Kasprak debunks both assumptions:
A 2011 study published in the journal Pediatrics surveyed 1,000 Amish parents about their vaccination habits. Of the 359 people who responded:
68% stated that all of their children had received at least 1 immunization, and 17% reported that some of their children had received at least 1 immunization.
These rates are lower than the national average, but to claim that the Amish do not vaccinate their children is false, as a majority of them do vaccinate to some degree.
Furthermore, researchers have documented many cases of autism amongst the Amish populations. Researchers from the University of Miami and Vanderbilt University interviewed 1,899 Amish children from two prominent Amish communities in Holmes County, Ohio and Elkhart-Lagrange County, Indiana. In a 2010 presentation to the International Society of Autism Research, they stated:
Preliminary data have identified the presence of ASD in the Amish community at a rate of approximately 1 in 271 children using standard ASD screening and diagnostic tools although some modifications may be in order. Further studies are underway to address the cultural norms and customs that may be playing a role in the reporting style of caregivers, as observed by the ADI. Accurate determination of the ASD phenotype in the Amish is a first step in the design of genetic studies of ASD in this population.

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Great Program: Exceptional Minds

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Many posts have discussed programs to provide them with training and experience.

One such program is Exceptional Minds, a visual effects animation studio in Hollywood.

Exceptional Minds is a full-time, 3-year vocational program where students learn to do visual effects, animation and title work specifically for the entertainment industry.
"The program would teach them not only the technical skills that they needed but the work readiness skills that they needed in order to get a job," said Ernie Merlan, EM program director. "So we focus on how they look and what their attitude is and organizing themselves and problem solving on their own and then work place conflict, which is something I think we all have but learning how to deal with it is a little tough."
Exceptional Minds also has part time and summer programs for younger children.

It is costly to run a program like Exceptional Minds. Most families can only pay partial tuition. The program provides financial assistance to every student at the school.
Some students find jobs immediately after finishing the three year Exceptional Minds program. Other students work first at the Exceptional Minds studio. There, students gain connections to Hollywood’s major entertainment studios, like Marvel, Fox and Sony. They get to work on movies and television.
Ernie Merlan says the exacting, creative nature of animation seems to fit for some people with ASD. But, he hopes that Exceptional Minds can serve as a model program for teaching other vocations to those on the spectrum.
“Our dream is that we can show other people how to do what we’re doing. That they can in their own towns can figure out ways that these individuals can be useful to the town to the local industry and have them be a part of society.”

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Antivax People AWOL in CA Disability Battles

In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.

Matt Carey writes at LeftBrain/RightBrain:
This past year we have been fighting a big battle here in California. We were fighting to restore some of the services funding we’ve lost over the preceding years. We were trying to get a 10% increase in services funding, which wouldn’t make up for what we’ve lost over the years, but would be a big step forward.
This was a long fight, and one that we didn’t initially win. Even though we fought hard from the start, the budget did not include any increase for disability services. We could have used some help, more voices from the advocacy community. Even though we lost at first, advocates kept trying and finally got a 7.5% increase. And that’s a victory. The Arc of California/United Cerebral Palsy were working hard organizing the effort, organizing call in campaigns, fax campaigns and in-person activism in the state capital. Other groups, such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network were also helping, as were others.
But here’s the thing: you wouldn’t know any of that if you were only following the vaccines-cause-autism focused groups and people.
Yes, instead of doing anything, anything at all, to work towards restoring lost services funding, they were lobbying against a vaccine bill. Not “lobbying against a vaccine bill and working for a restoration of services.” Just lobbying against a vaccine bill.
Carey goes on to name names.

A number of posts on this blog have discussed the antivax effort in California.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Epilepsy and ASD

In The Politics of AutismI discuss dangers facing autistic people, including co-occurring conditions such as epilepsy.

At The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, "Shiny Thomas, Mary E. Hovinga, Dheeraj Rai and Brian K. Lee have an article title "Brief Report: Prevalence of Co-occurring Epilepsy and Autism Spectrum Disorder: The U.S. National Survey of Children’s Health 2011–2012."

The abstract:
Epilepsy is reported to co-occur in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Previous studies across the world have found prevalence estimates ranging from 4 to 38 %. We examined parent-reported prevalence of co-occurring epilepsy and ASD in the most recent U.S. National Survey of Children’s Health, 2011–2012. All analyses accounted for survey weights to account for the complex sampling design. In the overall analytic sample of 85,248 children ages 2–17, there were 1604 children with ASD (prevalence of 1.8 %) and 1083 children with epilepsy (prevalence of 1.2 %). Epilepsy was reported to co-occur in 8.6 % of ASD cases. In children with ASD, the co-occurrence of epilepsy was associated with increasing child age, female gender, intellectual disability, speech problems and lower socioeconomic status.
From the article:
Finally, epilepsy was more common in ASD children with lower family income, consistent with what has been observed in the general, non-ASD population. The relationship between low socioeconomic status and incidence of epilepsy and ASD is not well-understood. However, low socioeconomic status is associated with adverse perinatal outcomes such as intrauterine growth restriction or preterm birth that may increase risk of epilepsy or neurodevelopmental disorders such as ASD. The complex relationship between socioeconomic status, epilepsy, and ASD deserve further investigation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Stopping Transplant Discrimination

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

Congressman Mike Honda and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler have called on the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights (HHS OCR) to issue guidance on organ transplant discrimination with regards to persons with disabilities. People with an intellectual and/or developmental disability are too often denied life-saving organ transplants for no reason other than their disability.
A 2008 survey of 88 transplant centers found that 85 percent of pediatric transplant centers consider neurodevelopmental status as a factor in their determinations of transplant eligibility at least some of the time. About 71 percent of heart programs surveyed also applied neurodevelopmental status in determining transplant eligibility.
In the mid-90s, 34-year-old Sandra Jensen was denied a heart-lung transplant because of her Down’s Syndrome. In handing down what was effectively a death sentence, hospital officials advised her, “we do not feel that patients with Down syndrome are appropriate candidates for heart-lung transplantation.” She fought the decision which eventually led to California being the first state to pass legislation prohibiting such discrimination and that precedent has since been followed by several other states.
More recently, the parents of Amelia Rivera, a New Jersey girl who was refused a kidney because of her mental disabilities, successfully challenged that decision with the help of an online petition. That case inspired to adopt “Amelia’s Law, similar legislation that banned such discrimination.
However, Reps. Honda and Herrera Beutler have argued for enforcement of federal law that should already cover this issue.
“This is discrimination that has life or death consequences,” Rep. Honda said. “No one should be denied their right to life simply because of an intellectual or a development disability. Such discrimination directly violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and does not abide the American values of fairness and inclusion that we hold so dear as Americans, for all our communities.”
“It’s unacceptable that someone’s intellectual or developmental disability has been a hurdle to them receiving this lifesaving care,” said Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler. “My colleagues and I believe the Department of Health and Human Services must issue clear guidance protecting people with neurological disabilities – in Southwest Washington and around the country – from discrimination in organ transplants.

"People with disabilities deserve equitable access to all kinds of health care, including organ transplants,” said Ari Ne’eman, President and co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “We're grateful to Reps. Honda and Herrera Beutler for leading on this issue, and hope that HHS OCR will act swiftly to re-affirm the ADA rights of people with disabilities seeking organ transplantation."
A copy of the letter can be found here.

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.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Case for Inclusion

In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and inclusion.

Vikram Jaiswal is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.  Tauna Szymanski, an attorney and volunteer chair of the Arlington Inclusion Task Force.  They are the parents of a child with autism. With an introduction by Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post, they describe their 7-year-old autistic daughter's exclusion from regular education, and make a plea for inclusion.
Over 30 years of research has shown that students with disabilities learn more and better when they are given the supports they need in regular classrooms, alongside peers who do not have disabilities.
For example, in a recent series of studies[2], Jennifer Kurth and Ann Mastergeorge compared autistic middle schoolers who had been educated since kindergarten in either regular or self-contained classrooms. This placement in kindergarten was determined by Zip code, not ability: Those in the regular classrooms lived in a district that did not have self-contained classrooms; all children were educated together. Students in the two groups had similar IQ scores (none above 70), but those educated in regular classrooms scored five to nine times higher than those educated in self-contained classrooms on every measure of reading, writing, and math achievement given.
This is a dramatic difference, but the explanation is simple: opportunity and access. The autistic students in the regular classrooms had more opportunities to learn. They spent almost 90 percent of their time engaged in instructional activities; those in the self-contained classrooms did so just 60 percent of the time. Most of the rest of their time was spent taking breaks.
Autistic students in the regular classrooms also had more exposure to grade-level material: The curriculum they used was aligned with the one used by the students without disabilities almost 90 percent of the time. In contrast, the curriculum used in the self-contained classrooms was aligned just 0.1 percent of the time. Over one-third of the instruction involved no curriculum at all.
The research on the benefits of educating disabled children in regular classrooms could not be clearer. No study conducted since the late 1970s has shown an academic advantage for students educated in separate settings, but plenty have shown the reverse. The research on the social benefits of including disabled children is similarly impressive: Studies show that disabled children make more friends and feel more connected to the school community when they are educated alongside nondisabled children. There are benefits for the nondisabled peers too: Studies show they exhibit more positive attitudes about diversity and even experience increased academic engagement themselves.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Trump v. People with Disabilities, Continued

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.

Gideon Resnick reports at The Daily Beast:
Just in case you thought Donald Trump was insufficiently awful: He repeatedly called a deaf actress “retarded,” three sources tell The Daily Beast.

Trump, who was accused on Wednesday of making sexual comments toMarlee Matlin, an Oscar-winning actress who once competed on Trump’sCelebrity Apprentice, also apparently had a habit of insulting, mimicking, and demeaning as mentally handicapped his star female contestant—all because she was deaf.
Ms. Matlin responds:

Friday, October 14, 2016

Autism Speaks: A Change in Mission Statement

The Politics of Autism includes a discussion of major interest groups such as Autism Speaks.

Michelle Diament reports at Disability Scoop that the its board has modified the group's mission statement.
The new iteration is shorter and strikes a markedly different tone. Gone are terms like “struggle,” “hardship” and “crisis.” Also absent is any mention of seeking a cure for the developmental disorder.
“Our mission statement was updated to reflect the evolving strategic direction of Autism Speaks and current needs in the autism community,” C.J. Volpe, the group’s spokesman, tells Disability Scoop.
The approval of a revamped mission statement caps a year in which the nonprofit saw significant leadership turnover, bringing on a new president, saying goodbye to its chief science officer and the death of co-founder Suzanne Wright this summer.
Stephen Mark Shore, a member of the Autism Speaks board, said the revision reflects a broader shift for the nonprofit.
Autism Speaks was established more than a decade ago in part by merging with existing advocacy groups including one known as Cure Autism Now. For years, critics blasted Autism Speaks for lacking representation from people with autism themselves. But last year the group invited Shore and Valerie Paradiz, who are both on the spectrum, to join its board.
“Autism Speaks was founded on the goal of curing autism as one of its objectives,” Shore said. “However, similar to many experiences of parents of children with autism, the organization grew to believe that autism is something to be worked with for promoting fulfilling and productive lives of people on the spectrum — rather than something that has to be done to.”

Thursday, October 13, 2016


In The Politics of AutismI discuss dangers facing autistic people, including the use of restraint and seclusion.

Heather Vogell reports at ProPublica:
Once again, government actions against a controversial for-profit company’s chain of group homes for the disabled may have come too late to protect a child. ProPublica has learned that Maryland had begun pulling about 30 children out of homes owned and managed by AdvoServ in August, but hadn’t yet relocated a teenage girl when she died a month later after being manually restrained by staff.
Maryland’s Department of Human Resources had also stopped placing children in AdvoServ homes, following inspections that identified deficiencies in quality control, record-keeping, and conditions in residential and common areas. Last year, ProPublica chronicled AdvoServ’s long record of problematic treatment, its use of mechanical restraints, and its efforts to weaken regulation as it took in more people with developmental or intellectual disabilities and behavior challenges.
The girl was not the first teenager to die at an AdvoServ home. In 1997, a 14-year-old autistic boy with epilepsy was found dead in his bed with low levels of anti-seizure medicine in his blood. In 2013, a 14-year-old autistic girl died at the company’s Florida home after a night in which she was restrained — at times fastened to a bed and chair — while she vomited repeatedly.
“The safety of our children is DHR’s top priority and we are taking this case very seriously,” Maryland spokeswoman Katherine Morris said in an emailed statement, referring to the 15-year-old girl’s death. The company said in a brief statement last month that it was “heartbroken over the loss of a young woman in our care.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

More on the Endrew F. Case

In The Politics of Autism, I write about IEPs:
At these meetings, the district has several advantages, starting with Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley (1982), the first IDEA case to reach the Supreme Court. Amy Rowley was a hearing-impaired girl whose parents wanted her to have a qualified sign-language interpreter in all of her academic classes. The Court said that the district was already supplying her with sufficient supports, and that the law did not require this additional step. Even though the legislation’s sponsors said that its goal was educational equality, the majority found that there was no substantive language in the statute itself regarding the level of education that children with disabilities must get,
Previous posts have discussed an important new caseEndrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 (No. 15-827).
Despite being separated only by the Hudson River, a disabled child who lives in New York City could have a dramatically different life than one who grows up just a few miles to the west in a neighboring New Jersey suburb.
In New York, a student with autism could receive special education services that are just above “trivial.” Yet in New Jersey, courts hold schools to a higher standard.
This disparity is at the heart of the argument Colorado attorney Jack Robinson will make before the U.S. Supreme Court in what’s seen as a potentially pivotal case. Robinson maintains that for 34 years, federal circuit courts have been “in disarray” over the level of special education services a school is required to provide its students under the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
Two circuit courts have ruled that IEPs must provide students a “meaningful educational benefit,” according to the appeal to the Supreme Court; five others have rejected this higher standard, holding that IDEA requires a “just-above-trivial educational benefit.” Three additional circuits appear to agree with the lower standard, and the Ninth Circuit is split, with different panels aligning with opposing standards. The circuit court in Washington, D.C., has not described the level of benefit IDEA requires.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Clinton Anti-Trump Ad Centers on Autism

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.

John Wagner reports at The Washington Post:
With Donald Trump bleeding support from high-profile Republicans, Hillary Clinton’s campaign launched a series of television ads Monday seeking to persuade rank-and-file GOP voters to side with the Democratic nominee in November.
The four ads, airing in battlegrounds states, seek to highlight different concerns about Trump, with testimonials from Republican voters as to why they believe he is unqualified to be president.
The ads feature a former Reagan administration official, a Republican mother of a child with autism, a Republican Army veteran and a former local Republican party official.

Addressing the Texas Special Education Scandal

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

Laura Isensee reports at Houston Public Media:
Last week, federal authorities ordered Texas to end its arbitrary benchmark for special education, unless state officials can show no child has been denied services.
Some state lawmakers want to take further steps to eliminate the target, which has drastically limited the number of special ed students in public schools.
“I plan on having a piece of legislation that pretty much says that the TEA (Texas Education Agency) and the school districts are not allowed by law to have any kind of set caps or limits on special education,” said state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston. “It’s just, ‘You may not do it.’”
Federal law requires public schools to provide specialized education to all eligible students with any type of disability, and the U.S. Department of Education has put Texas officials on notice for its 12-year-old target.
But some lawmakers want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Many didn’t know children with disabilities could be denied services until a Houston Chronicle investigation. That’s how Wu found out.
“I was enraged — I almost threw something at my monitor,” he said.
The Houston Chronicle posted the letter from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services giving the Texas Education Agency 30 days to address the problem.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Autism Law Summit

At the Autism Law Summit, Judith Ursitti just gave a terrific presentation on housing.  Here are some of the links that she mentioned:
Michele Trivedi, who did landmark work on the Indiana insurance mandate,just did an equally terrific presentation on insurance appeals.  She emphasized the importance of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

MIND Institute

I have had a wonderful time discussing The Politics of Autism at the Autism Law Summit. Thanks to Lorri Unumb and Mike Wasmer.

At The Atlantic, Joceyln Wiener reports on The MIND Institute:
Nearly two decades after the men first imagined it, the MIND Institute counts among its ranks 55 of the world’s premier scientists working on autism and other neurological conditions. Most researchers are based in two neighboring buildings on campus; the rest are scattered in departments across the university. MIND has research grants and contracts that total about $25 million annually, the majority of them from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The state of California kicks in about $2.7 million a year.
 Over the years, the institute’s researchers have made major discoveries in the fields of neuroscience, immunology, behavioral and language interventions, environmental toxicology and targeted treatments. “MIND and the investigators that are present there have been central to most of the significant developments within autism research within the last decade or so,” says Mathew Pletcher, interim chief science officer for the advocacy organization Autism Speaks.Their early goal for the institute—finding a ‘cure’ for their children’s autism—has become increasingly controversial.
What sets MIND apart, he and others say, has been its focus on collaboration: between experts from different disciplines, with other universities, and between researchers, clinicians and families. This type of integration was part of the institute’s founding vision.
Families have driven research fundraising for a host of childhood conditions. This is hardly surprising; nothing motivates parents like seeing their children suffer. In the 1990s, as autism diagnoses were accelerating but research funding remained sparse, parent-led research efforts emerged en force.

The small cadre of parents who formed MIND were especially well positioned. By the time their young sons were diagnosed with severe autism, many were community leaders in Sacramento, California’s state capital. They used their connections, influence, skill, and passion to amass funding and political support for the new institute. Their vision influenced everything from the organization’s research agenda to the color of its walls.
In the early years, these parents sat on grant evaluation panels, helping to decide which pilot research proposals would be funded. They pushed for the creation of the International Meeting for Autism Research, which today brings together more than 2,000 researchers, advocates and family members from around the world. But their early goal for the institute—finding a ‘cure’ for their children’s autism—has become increasingly controversial.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

DA's Antivax Stand Causes Problems

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism

Guillermo Contreras reports at The San Antonio Express-News
As District Attorney Nico LaHood tightens his embrace of anti-vaccination activism, his critics don’t just include medical professionals.

Lawyers who helped elect him — and who have spent months shaking their heads at multiple controversies involving him — say LaHood’s strenuous advocacy for the debunked notion that childhood vaccines “can and do” cause autism, as he put it, could put the integrity of his office at risk.

His stance against vaccinations could affect child-custody and child-abuse cases, where Texas Child Protective Services caseworkers are represented by LaHood’s staff, they pointed out. In many cases, LaHood’s prosecutors have argued that failing to vaccinate kids is medical neglect, said defense attorney Joseph Hoelscher, who has sparred with LaHood on social media.

“So the next time I deal with that in court, what is the prosecutor going to say?” Hoelscher asked. “There’s a lot of cases where parents have arguments with CPS about their child’s medical care, and having a DA take a fringe position like this undermines the credibility of the department’s medical decision-making.”

Friday, October 7, 2016

ABLE Act Controversy

The Politics of Autism includes a discussion of the ABLE Act.

The ABLE Act limits accounts to people with disability onset before age 26.  Michelle Diament reports at Disability Scoop:
Just last month, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance approved two bills giving more flexibility to those who are already eligible for ABLE accounts. The ABLE to Work Act would allow people with disabilities who are employed to save additional money each year in their accounts while the ABLE Financial Planning Act would let money saved for an individual with a disability in a 529 college savings plan be rolled over into an ABLE account.
However, a third bill — raising the eligibility age to 46 — was left out of any discussions before the Senate committee. And that has many advocates feeling shortchanged.
“The limitation on eligibility based on age of onset of disability did not exist in the original legislation and was added at the end of the ABLE Act’s eight year legislative history with the understanding that Congress would act to restore the broader eligibility criteria,” reads letters signed by 82 disability advocacy groups that were sent this week to key lawmakers in the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
The last-minute addition of the age criteria led many people who had championed the ABLE Act for years to be left out, said Chris Rodriguez, senior public policy advisor at the National Disability Institute and co-chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Task Force on Financial Security, which initiated the correspondence to lawmakers.
Groups that have pledged to oppose some ABLE bills include The Arc, the Autism Society, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the National Down Syndrome Congress, United Cerebral Palsy and others largely representing individuals who would easily meet the existing cutoff at age 26.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Senators Push for TRICARE Funding

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  As many posts have discussed, the challenges are especially great for military families.

A release from Senator Thom Tillis:
Bipartisan Group Of Senators Call For Sustained Funding For Autism Therapy For Military ChildrenOct 04 2016

Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) sent a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committee urging funding to be included in the final version of the FY 2017 Department of Defense Appropriations Act to reverse cuts to reimbursement rates for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) treatment for military children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to ensure they can continue to receive care under TRICARE.
TRICARE is a managed health care program for active duty, reserve component and retired members of the uniformed services, their families, and survivors. TRICARE began a demonstration project last year to provide a single, uniform benefit to the estimated 26,000 TRICARE beneficiaries with ASD. However, in April, TRICARE adjusted the reimbursement rates to providers of ABA therapy threatening a severe reduction in access to crucial ABA services for dependents with ASD. The Senators called on the committees to ensure the final appropriations for the Department of Defense include a reversal in the TRICARE cuts to mirror this reversal in the House and Senate National Defense Authorization Act bills.
“ABA therapy is an intensive one-on-one therapy usually conducted at the home of the recipient. One of the objectives of the demonstration program was to provide a single, uniform benefit to the estimated 26,000 TRICARE beneficiaries with ASD, and approximately 40% of eligible beneficiaries receive ABA services under this program,” the Senators wrote. “We request that you include $32 million in the final appropriations bill that provides funding for the Department of Defense for FY 2017. These funds will ensure that military children with ASD in need of therapy can obtain the services they and their families deserve.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Not Who We Are: An Autistic Person v. Trump

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 the Not Who We Are PAC, Alicia Bonus writes:
I am a 28 year old writer living in Pennsylvania. Early on in life, I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome (Autism) around the age of five. At age 10, I was also diagnosed with Ulcerlative Colitis (Crohns Disease). During the past decade, I have missed opportunities, due to this disease. I had to hold off practicing driving to get my license, I didn’t go to prom, and I couldn’t work during the summer. Fortunately, because of Medicare I was able to get treatment, complete my college degree, and live a full life.

As a person with Aspergers Syndrome, I was extremely offended when Donald Trump called a well-known and hard working reporter a liar, let alone mocked him in public in front of thousands and possibly millions of people. I have a disability and know what it’s like when people bring you down. I want a leader that can see what we can do to make a difference in the world. I want a leader who can take us seriously at what we do. I want a leader that believes in us all, no matter how different we may be. I don’t want Donald Trump.

As a member of the Autism community, I invite all members to stand together against the racial, religious and other intolerance that Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric promotes. It is putting our Latino, Muslim-American, those with disabilities, and other community members directly at risk.
There is no place for this kind of discrimination in America.
As a community, we affirm the values that make us who we are: diversity, openness and compassion.
Join me in saying: Donald Trump is not who America is, and he is not who Autism is.
Why is this important?

This is important as a member of the Autism community...As a person with Aspergers Syndrome, I was extremely offended when Donald called a well-known and hard working reporter a liar, let alone mocked him in public in front of thousands and possibly millions of people. Having Aspergers, I too have a disability and know what it's like when people bring you down. Little do many people across the U.S. know that many people with disabilities and autism are being hired everyday, due to their constant routines and hard work. Most importantly, they are known to be good at what they do and are honest about it, because they want to show what they can do and are proud of it. As a person with autism and disabilities, I want people to notice me by what I can do and not what I can't do. I want a leader that can see what we can do to make a difference in the world. I want a leader who can take us seriously at what we do. I want a leader that believes in us all, no matter how different we may be. I don't want Donald Trump.