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Thursday, April 19, 2018

More on Asperger and Nazism

In The Politics of Autism, I write about the dangers of eugenics and euthanasia.

In A Different Key, John Donvan and Caren Zucker found that Dr. Hans Asperger worked with Nazis in Austria.  We are now learning more details. 

Herwig Czech has an article at Molecular Biology titled "Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and “Race Hygiene” in Nazi-era Vienna." The abstract:

Hans Asperger (1906–1980) first designated a group of children with distinct psychological characteristics as ‘autistic psychopaths’ in 1938, several years before Leo Kanner’s famous 1943 paper on autism. In 1944, Asperger published a comprehensive study on the topic (submitted to Vienna University in 1942 as his postdoctoral thesis), which would only find international acknowledgement in the 1980s. From then on, the eponym ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ increasingly gained currency in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the conceptualization of the condition. At the time, the fact that Asperger had spent pivotal years of his career in Nazi Vienna caused some controversy regarding his potential ties to National Socialism and its race hygiene policies. Documentary evidence was scarce, however, and over time a narrative of Asperger as an active opponent of National Socialism took hold. The main goal of this paper is to re-evaluate this narrative, which is based to a large extent on statements made by Asperger himself and on a small segment of his published work.


Drawing on a vast array of contemporary publications and previously unexplored archival documents (including Asperger’s personnel files and the clinical assessments he wrote on his patients), this paper offers a critical examination of Asperger’s life, politics, and career before and during the Nazi period in Austria.


Asperger managed to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty with career opportunities. He joined several organizations affiliated with the NSDAP (although not the Nazi party itself), publicly legitimized race hygiene policies including forced sterilizations and, on several occasions, actively cooperated with the child ‘euthanasia’ program. The language he employed to diagnose his patients was often remarkably harsh (even in comparison with assessments written by the staff at Vienna’s notorious Spiegelgrund ‘euthanasia’ institution), belying the notion that he tried to protect the children under his care by embellishing their diagnoses.


The narrative of Asperger as a principled opponent of National Socialism and a courageous defender of his patients against Nazi ‘euthanasia’ and other race hygiene measures does not hold up in the face of the historical evidence. What emerges is a much more problematic role played by this pioneer of autism research. Future use of the eponym should reflect the troubling context of its origins in Nazi-era Vienna.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Research on Causation

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss various ideas about what causes the conditionHere is just a partial list of correlates, risk factors, and possible causes that have been the subject of serious studies:
This Keynote Lecture, delivered at the 2016 meeting of the International Society for Autism Research,discusses evidence from human epidemiologic studies of prenatal factors contributing to autism, such as pesticides,maternal nutrition and her health. There is no single cause for autism. Examples highlight the features of a high-quality epidemiology study, and what comprises a compelling case for causation. Emergent research directions holdpromise for identifying potential interventions to reduce disabilities, enhance giftedness, and improve lives of those with ASD
From the article:
The first decade of concerted efforts to identify environmental/modifiable causes of autism has produced a plethora of clues about risk and protective factors, with increasingly compelling evidence for a few: short interpregnancy intervals, maternal diabetes. The field has begun to mature, moving into its mid‐ to late childhood stage, where research is building and consolidating gains through replication of results and refinement of methods, even while still uncovering new connections. Also arising from this literature is the recognition of complexity in ASD etiology. Thus, we are poised to approach adolescence, where new developments in molecular biology, electronic connectedness and big data create possibilities and opportunities to address some of the major perplexing challenges.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Autism in France

 In The Politics of Autism, I describe the need for comparative perspectives on the issue

Richard Bates at The Conversation:
France has a problem with autism. The country’s highest administrative court estimates that there are 700,000 autistic people in France. However, only 75,000 are diagnosed. Autistic children have historically been diagnosed later in France than in neighbouring countries. They have often been excluded from mainstream education and lacked access to support services and extracurricular activities.

Many French autists are confined to day hospitals and live-in institutions, isolated from the community and frequently unable to communicate through speech – whereas in the US, for example, public schools are required by law to fully include autistic children in mainstream classroom education. For years, families in northeast France have taken autistic children to Belgium, to access its superior services.
The French government recognises these shortcomings. It was forced to do so in 2004 by a combination of domestic campaign groups and international pressure: the Council of Europe judged France’s autism provisions to be in breach of the European Social Charter. This judgement has been repeated in several subsequent cases. In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also worried that French autists “continue to be subjected to widespread violations of their rights” to education and support.

The response has been a series of “Plans Autisme”, so-called “Marshall Plans” directing investment towards improving outcomes. The latest such plan – the fourth – was launchedin early April by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and will run until 2022. It seeks to recruit thousands of teaching assistants to enable autistic children to attend mainstream schools, as well as facilitating more diagnoses. Yet its very existence demonstrates that the results of the previous three plans were disappointing.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Reporting Offensive Tweets

 In The Politics of Autism, I examine the role of social media in the development of the issue.

Melissa Blake at CNN:
The next time you report a Twitter troll for polluting your timeline, you might notice an additional word on the reporting form.
It's just one word. One we've seen thousands of times before. In fact, if you weren't looking closely at the form in the frenetic moments of reporting a tweet, you might not even notice it.
But make no mistake: This change is no small feat. It's a long overdue win in what seemed like a never-ending battle, one that people with disabilities like myself have been fighting online for years. Thankfully, Twitter joined that fight earlier this month when it revised its reporting form to include hate directed at people with disabilities.
"It's against our rules to directly attack or threaten someone based on their protected category, including disability," Twitter said in a tweet posted April 2. "You asked us to clarify this in our reporting flow, and we've updated it to be more specific."
The change is thanks to Natalie Weaver, who called on Twitter to revise its reporting form after her daughter's photo was used in an offensive tweet promoting eugenics. Her daughter, Sophia, has Rett syndrome, a genetic brain disorder that affects such things as language, walking and coordination. At first, Weaver told the website The Mighty, Twitter refused to take down the tweet, but eventually changed course, removing the offending account entirely.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Differences Among States in Autism Prevalence

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the uncertainty surrounding estimates of autism prevalence

At The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, R. Christopher Sheldrick and Alice S. Carter have an article titled" State-Level Trends in the Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) from 2000 to 2012: A Reanalysis of Findings from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Network." The abstract:
Since 2000, the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Network (ADDM) has published detailed prevalence estimates for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among 8 year-olds, which are widely interpreted as the U.S. national prevalence of ASD. Although differences in state-level ASD prevalence has been reported, state-level heterogeneity has not been explored systematically. We analyzed state-level estimates and trends in ASD prevalence from 2000 to 2012 using secondary data from bi-annual ADDM reports. Heterogeneity among state-level ASD prevalence estimates were apparent in 2000 and grew between 2000 and 2012. Findings highlight the need for greater understanding of how children with ASD are identified by the medical and educational systems, which has significant implications for the state-level resources required to effectively manage ASD.
New Jersey has the highest prevalence, Alabama the lowest.  Why?

From the article:
Consideration of such differences is important for at least two reasons. First, a large proportion of service delivery for ASD is managed at the state level. Strong differences in ASD prevalence at the state level therefore have implications for the resources required to provide adequate services (Wise et al. 2010). Second, improved understanding of the causes of observed changes in ASD prevalence may depend on a
more detailed understanding of heterogeneity. For example, the ADDM and others have speculated that trends in ASD prevalence over time may be attributable either to changes
in the true prevalence of ASD, for example resulting from trends in exposure to risk factors such as environmental toxins, or changes in the ascertainment of ASD, for example attributable to increased awareness of or sensitivity to ASD symptoms (Blumberg et al. 2013; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2014; Hansen et al. 2015; Idring et al. 2015). 
  • Blumberg, S. J., Bramlett, M. D., Kogan, M. D., Schieve, L. A., Jones, J. R., & Lu, M. C. (2013). Changes in prevalence of parent-reported autism spectrum disorder in school-aged U. S. children: 2007 to 2011–2012. National Health Statistics Reports, 65, 1–11.Google Scholar
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years—Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 sites, United States, 2010. MMWR, 63(SS-2), 1–21.Google Scholar
  • Hansen, S. N., Schendel, D. E., Parner, E. T. (2015). Explaining the increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(1), 56. Scholar
  • Idring, S., Lundberg, M., Sturm, H., Dalman, C., Gumpert, C., Rai, D., … Magnusson, C. (2015). Changes in prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in 2001–2011: Findings from the Stockholm youth cohort. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(6), 1766–1773. Scholar
  • Wise, M. D., Little, A. A., Holliman, J. B., Wise, P. H., & Wang, C. J. (2010). Can state early intervention programs meet the increased demand of children suspected of having autism spectrum disorders? Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 31(6), 469–476. Scholar

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Blackstone Acquires CARD

An April 13 release from Blackstone:
Blackstone (NYSE: BX) announced today that private equity funds managed by Blackstone have agreed to acquire the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, LLC (“CARD”), a leading provider of autism behavioral health services for children and adults affected by autism spectrum disorder. CARD Founder and CEO Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh and CARD management will invest alongside Blackstone in the transaction.
CARD offers center, school, and home-based behavioral therapy nationwide to children and adults diagnosed with autism. The company delivers rigorous clinical quality and positive outcomes through a highly credentialed and well-trained workforce of behavior analysts and behavior technicians, high engagement with patients and their families, proprietary software for treatment planning and ongoing monitoring, and an evidence-based, individualized approach to treating each child or adult. Dr. Granpeesheh will continue to lead CARD along with members of her experienced management team.
Bruce McEvoy, Senior Managing Director at Blackstone, said, “Dr. Granpeesheh has built an industry-leading provider of behavioral therapies for autism. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Dr. Granpeesheh and the rest of her visionary management team and look forward to supporting the company as it continues to expand access to treatment and services for those affected by autism.”
Dr. Granpeesheh, Founder and CEO of CARD, added, “We are proud of the high-quality services we provide and our commitment to helping individuals affected by autism achieve their full potential. Partnering with Blackstone will enable us to dramatically enhance our ability to serve the autism community through increased investments in people, clinics, technology, and research.”
The transaction is expected to close later this year. Blackstone was advised by Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Cain Brothers, a division of KeyBanc Capital Markets. CARD was advised by Nevers, Palazzo, Packard, Wildermuth & Wynner, PC, and Berkery Noyes.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Test Scores Flat

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

Christina Samuels at Education Week:
Students with disabilities posted stagnant scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2017 and failed to close the gap with students not identified as having disabilities, who also reflected generally flat performance on the latest results for what's been called the "Nation's Report Card."
Fourth-grade students with disabilities earned an average of 187 on the NAEP's reading test and 214 on the NAEP's math test, both of which are scored on a 500-point scale.

For 4th-grade students without disabilities, however, the average score was 227 on the reading test and 243 on the math test.

Eighth grade students with disabilities earned 232 on the reading test and 247 on the math test. Reading was a small bright spot—that score was a 2-point gain for students with disabilities from the last time the test was administered, in 2015.

But the reading test scores of 8th-grade students without disabilities also rose, by 1 point. Their average score was 271 on the reading portion of the test and 288 on the math section of the test.
Nevertheless, graduation rates are going up.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Cliff, 2018

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.
At US News, Gaby Galvin writes about the cliff.
But support is not guaranteed after that, contributing to the poor educational and vocational outcomes, which vary greatly depending on the state and even the county people live in, says Paul Shattuck, who directs the Life Course Outcomes Program at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University. He likens the institute and its research efforts to "the Census Bureau of the autism world."

Part of the geographic variation is because states have different eligibility requirements for services – such as supported employment or housing – that are often focused on intellectual disability or mental health, but not autism specifically. People with autism tend to "fall between the cracks," Shattuck says, leaving many young adults and their parents struggling to navigate the complicated network of programs available as they leave the school system.

And as service-sector jobs have overtaken the U.S. economy in recent decades, it's become increasingly important to provide supports to prevent autistic adults from becoming even more marginalized, he says.

"What's the one thing that all service jobs have in common? You have to be able to relate to people and be sociable," Shattuck says. "And that is uniquely disadvantageous for people whose disability by definition is having difficulty relating to people."
Because autistic students can take longer to learn some skills, students should be out in the community as often as possible, practicing things like grocery shopping and taking public transportation to help them develop a sense of independence and responsibility, says Dr. Peter Gerhardt, founding chairman of the Scientific Council for the Organization for Autism Research and executive director of the Educational Partnership for Instructing Children, a school for autistic children in New Jersey.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Service Use Among Adolescents

The Politics of Autism includes an extensive discussion of insurance and  Medicaid services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

At The Journal of Autism and Development Disorders, Lindsay Shea and colleagues have a brief report titled "Service Use and Associated Expenditures Among Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder Transitioning to Adulthood."  From the article:
This study is among the first to show that Medicaid-enrolled adolescents with ASD  ransitioning into adulthood are relying upon the public health insurance system for psychiatric and medical outpatient services and medications, and expenditures for these services increase as they age. There is less evidence for optimal types or quantities of services for adolescents and adults with ASD than there is for children but the high rate of use of outpatient services compared to other services is understandable since outpatient behavioral interventions are the primary modality of care for ASD. The
drop in medical outpatient services among the ASD group from 2001 to 2005 warrants further study, as it is not echoed in the ID group. Medications utilized by individuals with
ASD are typically prescribed to address repetitive, aggressive, or hyperactive behavior. These symptoms may be more characteristic of ASD than ID or may grow more frequent
or severe in presentation during the transition to adulthood (Shattuck et al. 2007).
The increase in expenditures for inpatient and especially in long-term care services among the ASD group as they aged is particularly troubling. These results extend
findings from studies among children (Cidav et al. 2013). Inpatient episodes often represent crises for individuals with ASD, their families, and their communities. Other
research has found that children with caregivers with a lower  socioeconomic status and educational grade are at higher risk for inpatient episodes (Siegel and Gabriels 2014). Children with ASD also have more frequent and longer inpatient stays, increasing their cost (Kalb et al. 2012). These findings suggest patterns observed in childhood continue through adolescence and into early adulthood.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Schools Discipline Disabled Students at a High Rate

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

The Government Accountability Office reports:
Black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined (e.g., suspensions and expulsions) in K-12 public schools, according to GAO’s analysis of Department of Education (Education) national civil rights data for school year 2013-14, the most recent available. These disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school attended. For example, Black students accounted for 15.5 percent of all public school students, but represented about 39 percent of students suspended from school—an overrepresentation of about 23 percentage points (see figure).
For students with disabilities, the same pattern of disproportionately higher rates of discipline compared to their peers without disabilities was evident, according to Education’s school year 2013-14 data (see fig. 5).33 Students with disabilities represented approximately 12 percent of all public school students, and accounted for nearly 25 percent or more of students referred to law enforcement, arrested for a school-related incident, or suspended from school (an overrepresentation of roughly
15.5 percentage points for referrals to law enforcement and school related arrests, and 13 percentage points for out-of-school suspensions). Further, our analysis of discipline for students with disabilities by both race and sex showed that Black students with disabilities and boys with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined across all six actions. For example, Black students with disabilities represented about 19 percent of all K-12 students with disabilities, and accounted for nearly 36 percent of students with disabilities suspended from school (about 17 percentage points above their representation among students with disabilities).

One reason for the high rate of arrests and referrals to law enforcement is that calling the cops enables schools to bypass IDEA's procedural requirements for suspensions and expulsions.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Good News on Disability Employment

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

Americans with disabilities reached a milestone this month, as the major economic indicators showed increases for the 24th consecutive month, according to today’s National Trends in Disability Employment – Monthly Update (nTIDE), issued by Kessler Foundation and the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability (UNH-IOD). The strengthening economy underscores the value of diversity in the workplace. As hiring increases, preparing for the workplace is more important than ever for people with disabilities. Jobseekers with skills and experience gain employment more readily. Programs that provide hands-on work experiences are equipping people with disabilities with the skills they need to succeed in careers in government, nonprofits and private industries.
In the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Jobs Report released Friday, April 6, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 28.6 percent in March 2017 to 31.7 percent in March 2018 (up 10.8 percent; 3.1 percentage points). For working-age people without disabilities, the employment-to-population ratio also increased from 73.3 percent in March 2017 to 73.6 percent in March 2018 (up 0.4 percent; 0.3 percentage points). The employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the percentage of people who are working relative to the total population (the number of people working divided by the number of people in the total population multiplied by 100).
MeiMeiFox reports at Forbes:
Stella Spanakos serves as the cofounder and director of development at the Nicholas Center, which offers services to teach social and vocational skills, while also supporting families. The Nicholas Center provides vocational support to three enterprises also cofounded by Spanakos: Spectrum Designs, Spectrum Bakes, and Spectrum Suds. Spectrum Designs is a fully functioning apparel customization shop that provides gainful employment for individuals with autism within a social enterprise. Spectrum Bakes makes customizable granola bars. And Spectrum Suds is a boutique laundry service. Clientele for these businesses includes Google, Comedy Central and Betches, as well as municipalities, nonprofits and schools.
In Indianapolis, Rich Nye reports at WTHR:
On West Main Street in Carmel's Arts and Design district, No Label at the Table Food Company is now open every day except Monday.
The bakery offers tasty treats and jobs for people with autism.
Founder Shelly Henley’s desire for her son to become a productive, working adult became a business that's baking with a purpose.
“No Label at the Table is a gluten- and dairy-free company that employs people with autism,” explained Chef Hannah Johnson while stirring chocolate frosting Friday morning.
The business started about a year ago just opened the bakery storefront two weeks ago.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

France to Make Amends for Treatment of Autistic People

In The Politics of Autism, I describe the need for comparative perspectives on the issue.
The French government has launched a €340m (£297m) strategy in an effort to make amends for the country’s scandalous state treatment of children and adults with autism, which has been denounced by the United Nations as a “widespread violation” of citizens’ rights.
President Emmanuel Macron, who made the need to improve the education and rights of people with autism a part of his election campaign, said he wanted everyone “to be included in school and everyday life”.
The strategy was launched by the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, on Friday afternoon and intends, in the words of one government adviser, to “at last” give children with a neurodevelopmental disorder access to mainstream education in France – a legal right that they have consistently been denied.
There will also be a drive to improve support for autistic adults, only 0.5% of whom are in regular employment, and who are routinely admitted to psychiatric hospitals. The government acknowledged that an adult with autism in France is three times more likely to be in long-term psychiatric care than the rest of the population. Rights groups decry the treatment as inadequate and inappropriate.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Medical Marijuana for Autism

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
The conventional wisdom is that any kind of treatment is likely to be less effective as the child gets older, so parents of autistic children usually believe that they are working against the clock. They will not be satisfied with the ambiguities surrounding ABA, nor will they want to wait for some future research finding that might slightly increase its effectiveness. They want results now. Because there are no scientifically-validated drugs for the core symptoms of autism, they look outside the boundaries of mainstream medicine and FDA approval. Studies have found that anywhere from 28 to 54 percent of autistic children receive “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), and these numbers probably understate CAM usage
These approaches sometimes include marijuana.

Maria Clark at The New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Louisiana residents living with autism disorder are one step closer to accessing medical marijuana as a possible treatment option.
The bill (HB 627) cleared the Louisiana House 78-21 Thursday (April 5) after several members of the cabinet questioned a new amendment proposed by Rep. Dodie Horton R- Bossier that would have made medical marijuana accessible to anyone with any medical condition. Horton added that it would be up to medical specialists to determine whether a patient could be treated with medical marijuana.
The amendment was a complete 180 for Horton who on Thursday morning voted against a similar bill (HB 579) that expands the use of medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, glaucoma, severe muscle spasms, and chronic pain. The bill cleared the committee with a vote of 8-4
At The Denver Post, John Ingold reports on a bill to allow medical marijuana for autism.
At the end of more than five hours of testimony and debate, lawmakers on the state House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee approved the bill by a 12-1 vote, the first of several hurdles at the Capitol that it must clear before becoming law.

The bill, House Bill 18-1263, would allow doctors to recommend marijuana as a treatment for symptoms suffered by anyone diagnosed on the autism spectrum. An initial provision in the bill that also would have qualified acute pain as a condition meriting cannabis was stripped out before the committee’s final vote.

Thursday’s hearing echoed numerous prior debates in recent years at the Capitol that pitted families with personal anecdotes of transformations brought about by cannabis against doctors worried by the lack of high-quality studies and unknown long-term effects.
Overall, more than 93,000 people in Colorado have active medical marijuana cards — 314 of those age 17 or younger, a decline from several years ago, when families with children who suffer from epilepsy poured into the state in a similar quest to help their children through marijuana.

KSWO-TV reports on a movement to allow it in Arizona:

KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Things That Do Not Cause Autism

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the discredited theory that vaccines cause autism

 Alex Berezow, at the American Council on Science and Health, observes Autism Awareness Month by noting several things that do not cause autism.
Vaccines. A substantial proportion of people refuse to accept the reality that vaccines do not cause autism. This was never controversial in the scientific community. After the fraud Andrew Wakefield published his sham "study" linking vaccines to autism, the New England Journal of Medicine published the results of an absolutely enormous study (including more than 537,000 children) that thoroughly refuted Wakefield. Since then, the evidence has grown even stronger, concluding once and for all that vaccines are not a cause of autism.
Child Car Safety Seats. At least one lunatic believes that strapping a child into a car safety seat increases the risk of autism. How so? Chemicals. To prove his case, he shows that as the usage of car safety seats has increased over the years, so have cases of autism. QED. There's only one problem: A lot of things have increased over the years, such as sales of organic food. Possibly organic carrots cause autism, too?
Parenting style. Some people make great parents, while others stink at it. But parenting style itself won't cause autism, as was once elaborated by the "Refrigerator Mom" hypothesis. Instead, parenting style can ameliorate or exacerbate the symptoms of autism.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Forty-Three Senate Democats Oppose H.R. 620

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

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and 42 of her colleagues wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) today pledging to block a House Republican-led effort to curtail the civil rights of Americans living with disabilities. Together, the group of 43 Senators is large enough to defeat the discriminatory ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620), which civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) described as, “a bill that turns the clock backwards and strikes a devastating blow in the fight for civil rights.” The legislation would isolate Americans living with disabilities as the only federally-protected class of citizens forced to rely on “education,” rather than strong enforcement, to exercise their basic civil rights.
H.R. 620 would gut the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by eliminating incentives for businesses of any size, including the largest corporate hotel, restaurant and movie theater chains, to make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Instead, businesses would be encouraged to avoid complying with the nearly 30-year-old law until people with disabilities notify them that they are unable to enter their facility. Businesses would be allowed to discriminate for at least 120 days following notification, and they would only need to make “substantial progress” towards accessibility to make their facility ADA-compliant. That would set a dangerous precedent by forcing Americans living with disabilities to personally experience the humiliation of discrimination – and then be required to educate those who violate their civil rights – before having violations of their civil rights remedied.
Notably, special interests lobbying for H.R. 620 have misleadingly implied that the ADA allows people to sue for monetary damages even though the ADA does not, and has never, authorized damage awards. That’s because Congress modeled the right of private action under title III of the ADA after title II of the seminal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which authorizes private lawsuits to enforce the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin in certain places of public accommodation. To help businesses achieve compliance, Congress also crafted the ADA to only require removal of barriers when it is not too difficult or expensive, and Congress established a small business tax credit and a tax deduction for businesses to lower the costs of making their facilities accessible.
Duckworth has been a vocal critic of H.R. 620, which only narrowly passed the House of Representatives last month. She went to the House floor last month ahead of the vote on the bill to urge her House colleagues to vote against the bill. She also penned an op-ed in The Washington Post about how this legislation would make Americans with disabilities second-class citizens again and send a signal that their civil rights are not worthy of strong enforcement. Civil Rights organizations like The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Veterans Service Organizations like the Paralyzed Veterans of America have also urged Senators to strongly oppose the legislation while the U.S. Department of Justice warned that H.R. 620 “would also unnecessarily limit individuals’ abilities to obtain much-needed barrier removal in a timely manner (and) may instead result in additional areas of litigation.”
The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
 A full copy of the letter is available online here

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

How the Education Department Can Ignore Civil Rights Complaints

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

At Disability Scoop, Hannah Lang reports the the Education Department has a new way to thwart "mass filers," who file many civil rights complaints on behalf of others.
Since January 2016, Marcie Lipsitt has filed 2,400 complaints with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights over web accessibility for people with disabilities.

Lipsitt, a Michigan-based special education activist, estimates that a thousand of those complaints have ended in resolutions. However, last month she began receiving letters notifying her that dozens of her complaints under investigation had been dismissed.

The reason: Under a new set of guidelines that went into effect March 5, the Office for Civil Rights can now dismiss reports if “a complaint is a continuation of a pattern of complaints previously filed with OCR by an individual or group against multiple recipients, or a complaint is filed for the first time … that places an unreasonable burden on OCR’s resources.”
The guidelines in the manual also no longer allow for complainants to appeal if their case is dismissed. According to [Elizabeth] Hill at the Education Department, this system was eliminated because the appeals process seldom resulted in a different outcome.

“There’s absolutely no check and balance system at the OCR for any errors that are made in the investigation of complaints,” said Lipsitt.

If the complainant doesn’t agree with the dismissal, their only option now would be to hire a private lawyer to fight the decision — an option Lipsitt said many families can’t afford.
In August, Politico reported:
Betsy DeVos’ Education Department has closed more than 1,500 civil rights complaints at the nation’s schools — including dismissing more than 900 outright — in the two months since her acting civil rights chief took steps to reduce a massive backlog.

The June directive from acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson told the department's investigators to narrow their focus to the merits of a particular claim, rather than probing systemic issues, as they had done during the Obama administration. Jackson also gave regional civil rights offices more autonomy to close cases without approval from D.C.

The dismissals come as civil rights groups and Democrats express fear the Trump administration will “diminish” civil rights enforcement — a major focus of former President Barack Obama’s Education Department. Advocacy groups said that while the data offers just a two-month snapshot, the large number of dismissals and so-called “administrative closures” — in which a case is closed without any findings of wrongdoing — are alarming.

Monday, April 2, 2018

World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
The number of people with a stake in the issue is going to mount. I am not saying that there will be a true increase in the prevalence of autism. As we saw in chapter 3, it is unclear how much of the apparent change involves awareness and diagnostic standards. Even if there has been a true increase in recent decades, there is no way of knowing whether it will go on. But the rise in the number of autism diagnoses and educational determinations will translate into a growing population of people who have lived with the autism label, and who think of themselves as autistic. Most in this category will have family members and other people who are close to them. They may be guardians or caregivers, or they may just be friends and relatives with a deep concern. Either way, autism will be part of their lives, too. Overall, the share of Americans who know someone with autism will surely top the 39 percent recorded in 2008. One study found that 60 percent of respondents in Northern Ireland knew someone with autism in their own family, circle of friends or co-workers. There is no reason to think that the figure would be lower in the United States.


Freddie Highmore, star of The Good Doctor, appears in a PSA for Autism Speaks:

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Dr. Hans Asperger's Nazi Connection

In The Politics of Autism, I write about the dangers of eugenics and euthanasia.

In A Different Key, John Donvan and Caren Zucker found that Dr. Hans Asperger worked with Nazis in Austria.  We are now learning more details.

Edith Sheffer writes at The New York Times:
Child “euthanasia” was the Reich’s first program of mass extermination, begun by Hitler in July 1939 to get rid of children regarded as a drain on the state and a danger to its gene pool. Most of the victims were physically healthy, neither suffering nor terminally ill. They were simply deemed to have physical, mental or behavioral defects.
At least 5,000 children perished in around 37 “special wards.” Am Spiegelgrund, in Vienna, was one of the deadliest. Killings were done in the youths’ own beds, as nurses issued overdoses of sedatives until the children grew ill and died, usually of pneumonia.
Asperger worked closely with the top figures in Vienna’s euthanasia program, including Erwin Jekelius, the director of Am Spiegelgrund, who was engaged to Hitler’s sister. My archival research, along with that of other scholars of euthanasia like Herwig Czech, the author of a forthcoming paper on this subject in the journal Molecular Autism, show that Asperger recommended the transfer of children to Spiegelgrund. Dozens of them were killed there.
One of his patients, 5-year-old Elisabeth Schreiber, could speak only one word, “mama.” A nurse reported that she was “very affectionate” and, “if treated strictly, cries and hugs the nurse.” Elisabeth was killed, and her brain kept in a collection of over 400 children’s brains for research in Spiegelgrund’s cellar.
Professor Sheffer is the author of the forthcoming book  Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna.