Search This Blog

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Charter Schools

In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Vouchers and charter schools are part of the ongoing debate.

The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools has a report titled Key Trends
in Special Education in Charter Schools in 2015–2016: Secondary Analysis of the Civil Rights
Data Collection

Compared to traditional public schools, charter schools report a higher percentage of  enrollment of students with specific learning disability (the largest population of students with disabilities) (47.79% v. 43.98%), autism (8.08% v. 7.71%), and emotional disturbance (4.72% v. 3.89%)

Our analysis of specialized charter schools’ websites revealed that schools typically advertise that they serve students with multiple different disabilities or one specific
disability. Of the schools we identified, most (63.3%) focus on two or more disabilities. Of the schools that advertise that they specialize in serving students with a specific
disability, emotional disturbance (14.5% of the schools) and autism (14.5% of the schools) were the most common
 The most-represented disability focuses are not necessarily the same among specialized charter schools in Florida, Ohio, and Texas. In Florida, the majority of specialized
charter schools have a general focus (n = 28), followed by a focus on autism (n = 7) and developmental delay (n = 3).

Friday, November 29, 2019

Integrated Communities

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  Housing is a big one for autistic adults.

Eileen Abbott at The Hill:
Some 87 percent of autistic adults live with their parents, according to the Autism Housing Network, and almost 1,000,000 of those live with family caretakers that are older than the age of 60. But what happens when the parents die?
Integrated communities are now emerging nationally as a possible solution where both neurotypical and developmentally disabled residents share living space in an opportunity to thrive together.
A housing model that best illustrates this is the Faison Residence in Virginia’s capital city. Located off West Broad Street in Richmond, the apartment complex dedicates one-third of its 45 units for adults with autism and other developmental differences.

“The Faison Residence is designed to develop and foster natural relationships between individuals in our program and members of their community,” says Director of Adult & Residential Services Matthew Osborne, in an interview with Changing America. “Our program apartments are scattered throughout the building, so their neighbors truly are their community.”
 Adults with autism tend to fall through the cracks, according to the Autism Housing Network. Less than 3 percent of autism research funding is for adult issues — even though autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. More than 75 percent of autistic adults report their top concern in securing housing is not being able to afford it. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, unemployment rates for people with disabilities are higher across all education levels compared to those without a disability.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Health of Autistic Senior Citizens

The Politics of Autism discusses health care, and explains that autism services can be complicated, creating difficulties for autistic people and their families. 

The abstract:
While there is emerging evidence on the prevalence of physical and mental health conditions among autistic adults, less is known about this population’s needs during older adulthood (aged 65+). We conducted a cross-sectional retrospective cohort study of 2016–2017 Medicare data to compare the prevalence of physical and mental health conditions in a national sample of autistic older adults (N = 4685) to a matched population comparison (N = 46,850) cohort. Autistic older adults had significantly greater odds of nearly all physical health conditions including epilepsy (odds ratio = 18.9; 95% confidence interval = 17.2–20.7), Parkinson’s disease (odds ratio = 6.1; 95% confidence interval = 5.3–7.0), and gastrointestinal conditions (odds ratio = 5.2; 95% confidence interval = 4.9–5.5). Most mental health conditions were more common among autistic older adults, including schizophrenia and psychotic disorders (odds ratio = 25.3; 95% confidence interval = 22.4–28.7), attention deficit disorders (odds ratio = 24.4; 95% confidence interval = 16.2–31.0), personality disorders (odds ratio = 24.1; 95% confidence interval = 17.8–32.5), and suicidality or self-inflicted injury (odds ratio = 11.1; 95% confidence interval = 8.9–13.8). Health conditions commonly associated with advanced age in the general population (e.g. osteoporosis, cognitive disorders, heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, osteoarthritis) were also significantly more common among autistic older adults. By highlighting the significant physical and mental health needs for which autistic older adults require care, our findings can inform healthcare systems, healthcare providers, and public health initiatives seeking to promote well-being in this growing population.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Couirt Case on Tax-Credit Plan

From the Autism Society:
The Autism Society signed onto a friend of the court brief developed by the National Disability Rights Network, The Arc of the United States, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), and other advocacy organizations in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue asking the Court to uphold the decision made by the Montana Supreme Court invalidating Montana’s private school tax-credit scholarship program as it is harmful to students with disabilities. While families petitioning the court suggest that the program would help students with disabilities, school vouchers and tax-credit programs like Montana’s actually hurt students with disabilities by redirecting public funds to private schools that are largely unbound by the federal laws in place for over four decades that protect the rights of students with disabilities.
When students with disabilities use vouchers or tax credits to attend a private school, typically they forfeit their rights mandated by federal law —including the right to an appropriate, individualized education—because the statute’s key provisions do not apply to private schools. At least seven states have voucher programs that require parents to explicitly waive all or most of their disability rights protections under federal law to participate. In other states, parents often do not realize the rights they are forfeiting: 83% of parents of students with disabilities in such programs report that they receive inaccurate or no information on the loss of those rights, according to a federal watchdog report. The Court has scheduled to hear oral arguments on January 22, 2020.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee Call for Nominations

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the Inter-Agency Autism Coordinating Committee.

A release from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:

The Office of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is seeking nominations of individuals to serve as non-federal public members on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC). Nominations will be accepted between Tuesday, November 19, 2019 and Friday, January 24, 2020.

Supplementary Information

As specified in the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-416) and reauthorized by the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2019 (Public Law 116-60). The Office of the Secretary has directed the Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) of the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health to assist the Department in conducting an open nomination process. Appointments of non-federal public members to the committee shall be made by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Eligibility Requirements

Nominations of new non-federal public members are encouraged, and current non-federal public members may also be re-nominated to continue to serve if they have served only one term previously, in accordance with the provisions of the Autism CARES Act of 2019. Self-nominations and nominations of other individuals are both permitted. Only one nomination per individual is required. Multiple nominations of the same individual will not increase likelihood of selection. The Secretary may select non-federal public members from the pool of submitted nominations and other sources as needed to meet statutory requirements and to form a balanced committee that represents the diversity within the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) community.

Those eligible for nomination include individuals on the autism spectrum, parents or guardians of individuals with ASD, leaders or representatives of major ASD research, advocacy and service organizations, healthcare and service providers, educators, researchers and other individuals with professional or personal experience with ASD. Nominations of individuals with a variety of disability and support needs, individuals from all U.S. states and territories, and individuals representing diverse populations within the autism community, including all genders and gender identities, cultural, ethnic and racial groups are encouraged. Requests for reasonable accommodation to enable participation on the Committee should be indicated in the nomination submission.

IACC non-federal public members are appointed as special government employees and are required to be U.S. citizens. To serve, they must submit an annual confidential financial disclosure report used to determine conflicts of interest as well as a foreign activities questionnaire. Prohibited foreign activities include holding a position or title with a foreign governmental entity (including certain universities), and from receiving compensation and certain gifts from a foreign government. In accordance with White House Office of Management and Budget guidelines (FR Doc. 2014–19140), federally-registered lobbyists are not eligible. Federal employees may not serve as non-federal public members. IACC non-federal public members may be restricted from serving on other federal advisory committees while serving on the IACC. Male non-federal public members must have signed up for the U.S. Selective Service in order to be eligible.

Responsibilities of Appointed Non-Federal Public Members

As specified in the Committee's authorizing statute (section 399CC of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. 280i-2, as amended), the Committee will carry out the following responsibilities: (1) monitor autism spectrum disorder research, and to the extent practicable, services and support activities, across all relevant Federal departments and agencies, including coordination of Federal activities with respect to autism spectrum disorder; (2) develop a summary of advances in autism spectrum disorder research related to causes, prevention, treatment, early screening, diagnosis or ruling out a diagnosis; interventions, including school and community-based interventions, and access to services and supports for individuals with autism spectrum disorder across the lifespan of such individuals; (3) make recommendations to the Secretary regarding any appropriate changes to such activities, including with respect to the strategic plan; (4) make recommendations to the Secretary regarding public participation in decisions relating to autism spectrum disorder, and the process by which public feedback can be better integrated into such decisions; (5) develop a strategic plan for the conduct of, and support for, autism spectrum disorder research, including, as practicable, for services and supports, for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder across the lifespan of such individuals and the families of such individuals, which shall include (A) proposed budgetary requirements; and (B) recommendations to ensure that autism spectrum disorder research, and services and support activities to the extent practicable, of the Department of Health and Human Services and of other Federal departments and agencies are not unnecessarily duplicative; and (6) submit to Congress and the President: (A) an annual update on the summary of advances; and (B) an annual update to the strategic plan, including any progress made in achieving the goals outlined in such strategic plan.

Committee Composition

In accordance with the Committee's authorizing statute, "Not more than 1/2, but not fewer than 1/3, of the total membership of the Committee shall be composed of non-Federal public members appointed by the Secretary."

All non-Federal public members are appointed as Special Government Employees for their service on the IACC, of which:
  • At least three such members shall be individuals with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder;
  • At least three such members shall be parents or legal guardians of an individual with an autism spectrum disorder; and
  • At least three such members shall be representatives of leading research, advocacy, and service organizations for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
The Department strives to ensure that the membership of HHS Federal advisory committees is balanced in terms of points of view represented and the committee's function. Every effort is made to ensure that diverse views and perspectives are represented on HHS Federal advisory committees and, therefore, the Department encourages nominations of qualified candidates of all genders, cultural, ethnic, and racial groups, people with disabilities, and individuals who may belong to other underrepresented groups. The Department also seeks geographic diversity in the composition of the Committee. Appointment to this Committee shall be made without discrimination on the basis of age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and cultural, religious, or socioeconomic status. Requests for reasonable accommodation to enable participation on the Committee should be indicated in the nomination submission.

Member Terms

Non-Federal public members of the Committee "shall serve for a term of 4 years, and may be reappointed for one additional 4-year term… Any member appointed to fill a vacancy for an unexpired term shall be appointed for the remainder of such term. A member [with a valid appointment] may serve after the expiration of the member's term until a successor has been appointed."

Meetings and Travel

"The Committee shall meet at the call of the chairperson or upon the request of the Secretary. The Committee shall meet not fewer than 2 times each year." In the years 2014-2019, the IACC held an average of 4 meetings, 1 workshop and 2 phone conferences per year, including full committee, subcommittee, working and planning group meetings, and workshops. Travel expenses are provided for non-federal public Committee members to facilitate attendance at in-person meetings. Members are expected to be committed to making every effort to attend all full committee meetings and workshops in person and relevant subcommittee, working and planning group meetings by phone. For those who occasionally cannot travel or for individuals with a disability that prevents travel, remote access options are provided.

Submission Instructions and Deadline

Nominations are due by Friday January 24, 2020 and may be sent to Dr. Susan Daniels, Director, Office of Autism Research Coordination/NIMH/NIH, 6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 7220, Bethesda, Maryland 20892 by standard or express mail, or via e-mail to Confirmation of receipt will be provided. More information about the IACC is available at

Nominations should include a cover letter of no longer than 3 pages describing the candidate's interest in seeking appointment to the IACC, including relevant personal and professional experience with ASD, indication of any membership eligibility requirements met, disability accommodation requests, and an indication of commitment to attend IACC meetings if selected, as well as full contact information and a current resume or curriculum vitae. Up to 2 letters of support are permitted in addition to the nomination, with a page limit of 3 pages per letter. Please do not include other materials unless requested.


For additional information please contact the Office of Autism Research Coordination at 301-827-1437 or email

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Voting Barrier Falls in Wisconsin

Molly Beck at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Voters with disabilities will no longer be required to state their name and address — a requirement advocates for people with disabilities said was humiliating and even preventing some from casting ballots.

Gov. Tony Evers signed into law a bill Friday that removes the requirement for people who are unable to say their name and address because of a disability. Instead, poll workers will rely on the voter's identification card and allow another person accompanying the voter to say the voter's name and address.
“We have to make sure voting is fair and accessible, and that everyone has the opportunity to cast their vote at the ballot box,” Evers said in a statement.

During the 2018 general election, more than six people contacted Disability Rights Wisconsin — an advocacy group for people with disabilities — about incidents during which voters who were deaf or had a developmental disability could not vote or were shamed by poll workers.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Seclusion in Illinois

In The Politics of Autismdiscuss the use of restraint and seclusionMany posts have mentioned these techniques, both in schools and facilities for people with disabilities.

Dusty Rhodes at Illinois Public Media:
The Illinois State Board of Education is encouraging anyone with information about abusive time-out rooms or restraints in any school setting to share that information directly with the agency. The request comes in the wake of a report earlier this week by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica documenting thousands of instances of children, usually with special needs, placed in seclusion in their schools.
Kevin Rubenstein, president of a statewide group of special education administrators, told the board to expect to hear even more stories.
"You will hear about school districts that did not report data to the federal government. You will learn about how many issues there are in private special education facilities across the state. And we will hear story after story of families and children who are not being served well," he said.
Anyone with relevant information can send an email to
From the Pro Publica report:
Crystal Lake school employees have suggested to Kayla Siegmeier that her son, Carson, who has autism, might benefit from time in a “Blue Room,” she said.
“It turns out the Blue Room is a locked, padded room,” she said.
She read Illinois’ isolated timeout law and got a doctor’s note last year that prevented the school from secluding Carson, now a second grader. “Hard stop,” she said she told the school.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Disability Issues in the 2020 Campaign

Robyn Powell at Rewire News:
As presidential hopefuls vie for voter support during an election season, they usually focus on specific, although often overlapping, demographic groups, including people of color, suburban women, and middle-class voters. Until this election, candidates have mostly overlooked disabled people as a crucial voting bloc. But, the tides may be shifting ahead of the 2020 election, as some are recognizing the importance of the disability vote by centering disability rights in their platforms.
Last week, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Juli├ín Castro released a comprehensive disability policy plan as part of his platform, promising people with disabilities “dignified work, decent housing, quality education, affordable health care, to live independently and achieve self-sufficiency.” His proposal comes on the heels of those released by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) in late August, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who released a plan to expand disability rights in early November.
Other candidates, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), former Vice President Joe Biden, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), and author Marianne Williamson, include disability rights sections on their websites and have mentioned people with disabilities to varying degrees in their other policy plans. No GOP candidates have similar plans listed on their websites.
In May,Eric Ascher wrote at The RespectAbility Report:
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock is running for President on the idea that he is a Democratic Governor in a red state who knows how to work with people on both sides of the aisle. But how does he fare on disability issues?
While running for re-election in 2016, Gov. Bullock completed the #PwDsVote Disability Campaign Questionnaire for presidential, senate and gubernatorial candidates put out by RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. In his response to the questionnaire, he focused on employment, independent community living, veterans with disabilities, education, healthcare, caregivers support and workforce development issues.
One of the key accomplishments he highlighted in his response was expanding Medicaid in Montana. He wrote:
“At a time when partisan gridlock is paralyzing much of the nation, I’m proud to have passed the HELP Act in 2015, a bipartisan bill that expanded access to healthcare to tens of thousands of Montanans. We know that many of the people who now qualify for coverage under the HELP Act are individuals struggling with disabilities who may not yet qualify for Medicare or SSDI and home health care workers taking care of people with disabilities and until the HELP Act, couldn’t afford their own healthcare. We were able to get this important legislation passed because a bipartisan group of legislators was willing to come together and work with me on a compromise solution that put Montanans’ health above political ideology and partisan bickering.” From ongoing efforts to strengthen “public schools instead of privatizing them” to reimagining programs “to better serve Montanans with disability in living the lives they choose and deserve,” Gov. Bullock has been a vocal and active supporter of the disability community.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Shortage of School Psychologists in Texas

Laura Isenee at Houston Public Media:
In 2018, federal regulators ordered the state to stop capping the number of children who could receive services and to ensure all kids with special needs are identified.

Already, the Texas Education Agency has seen the number of students tested for special ed services soar by 56%, to 138,000 evaluations in 2018-19.
But no region in Texas has enough licensed school psychologists to meet national staffing recommendations and keep up with that kind of demand.
Statewide, there’s only one licensed school psychologist for about 2,800 students, though national guidelines say there should be about one for every 500-700 students.
The shortage leaves current school psychologists with heavy caseloads, according to Stephanie Barbre, who works in the Lubbock area and is the incoming president of the Texas Association of School Psychologists.
“The only ones that got somewhat close were in the Austin and San Antonio areas,” says Barbre, who’s crunched the numbers for a statewide journal.

She says it’s worst in East Texas where 31 districts don’t have any licensed school psychologist on staff.

Many advocates, psychologists and administrators say the key to the workforce shortage lies on college campuses, though again there are challenges. One issue: A master’s degree to become an LSSP [licenbsed specialist in school psychology] is longer than a typical master’s. It generally takes someone studying full-time three years to graduate. Another issue: Colleges often have small school psychology programs that don’t always get much promotion to undergraduates.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Cameras in Special Ed Classrooms

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

KXAS-TV  in Dallas:
Dallas ISD trustees are talking about some potential changes that could affect hundreds of special education classrooms in the district.
It's a new proposal presented this month by trustee Dustin Marshall of District 2 in the north Dallas area.
Right now, state law requires cameras to be installed only of a parent, teacher or staff member requests it.

This DISD proposal would just outright require it in all special education classrooms.
Marshall said installing cameras district-wide would help protect the most vulnerable kids in DISD and even protect teachers if they are falsely accused of wrongdoing.
"These are really our most vulnerable children. Many of them have autism, down syndrome -- most of them are nonverbal. So if there was an incident in their classroom, the kids can't speak up for themselves and can't report it," he explained. "And from time to time, we do have reports of incidents. Sometimes there's merit to them and sometimes not, and having a camera in classroom provides accountability for the teachers and adults that encounter that child."

DISD administrators voiced concerns at the last meeting that cameras in nearly 500 classrooms could be expensive or could even drive teachers away.
Others raise privacy concerns.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Ohio Study: Gaps in Transition Aid

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.
A release from Case Western Reserve University:
New research at Case Western Reserve University found big gaps in services and continued care for children with autism--and their families--as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. 
The families need more support, including improved job training, access to services and transportation, according to research from the university's Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

Researchers surveyed 174 families from Northeast Ohio to examine the needs and barriers to services for youth with autism--from 16 to 30 years old--and their family caregivers.

Participants were recruited from 28 public and private agencies and organizations. The survey asked about services--both received and needed--as well as top concerns. Chief among them: limited access to information, reported by 51% of the respondents. Other issues include waiting lists or services not being available (44%), location (39%) and cost (37%).

Researchers also examined the quality of the services provided. They found that often families don't know where to turn for service, or what services exist.

"The number one thing we heard from parents was that they weren't aware of the services available to them," said Karen Ishler, a senior research associate at the Mandel School and co-director of the project. "How do you know what you don't know? Who do they talk to?"

David Biegel, the Henry L. Zucker Professor of Social Work Practice at the Mandel School and one of the project's co-directors. said there were some positives learned from the research, too. More than 60% said they "see eye-to-eye" with their spouse/partner regarding care, and more than 65% of the caregivers reported other positive aspects of care.

"Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects the entire family," said Biegel, "Many young people with ASD are at risk for reduced quality of life in adulthood. Additionally, families of adolescents and young adults with ASD face all kinds of stressors--especially during those critical transition years."

Take, for example, finding a job. Children with autism are allowed to stay in public schools until age 22. When they finish, though, employment training and support dries up, according to the study.

"What happens when they age out? It's a growing concern," Ishler said. "We have to look at the service delivery, because we know there are many unmet needs."


"A lot of these kids diagnosed at 4, 5 and 6 years old are now becoming young adults," Biegel said. "It's putting new pressures on them, and particularly their families, as they age out of school-based services."

One caregiver's response about his or her daughter summed up the problem: "Don't assume that just because she is highly intellectually functioning that she doesn't need support and acceptance socially."

Biegel and Ishler found that 82% of those with autism live with their parents into adulthood. "This confirms what we already know: families shoulder the burden of autism," Biegel said. The study found that 28% family members had elevated anxiety and 35% had elevated symptoms of depression.

"We tend to emphasize the people who aren't doing well," he said. "We knew there were going to be issues. But some families are doing just fine--they've figured out how to navigate the system. However, here is also a significant number of families that have major concerns and needs. Our hope is that these results stimulates discussion and awareness."

The study was funded by the International Center for Autism Research and Education (ICARE) through a Mt. Sinai Foundation catalytic grant.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Mesa, Arizona: "Autism Certified City"

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families

AZ Big Media reports:
Mesa is the first-ever Autism Certified City in the U.S. designated by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), raising the profile of the East Valley city to millions of individuals with autism and millions of annual travelers impacted by autism. The innovative initiative is expected to raise the national profile of the city and inject a new source of visitor dollars to the region.
The nearly year-long effort behind the autism designation was launched by Visit Mesa, the leading regional destination marketing organization, to encourage businesses to participate in specialized autism training geared toward executives and front-facing hospitality and service staff to better recognize Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and service the needs of ASD travelers from the planning stages of a vacation to when they arrive in the destination, and throughout their stay. Marc Garcia, Visit Mesa’s CEO, ignited the effort after his 6-year-old son’s autism diagnosis.
“With Visit Mesa leading the charge, Mesa, Ariz. is rolling out the welcome mat for individuals on the autism spectrum,” said Mayor John Giles. “We commend Marc Garcia and the staff at Visit Mesa for their vision.”

Monday, November 18, 2019

Vax Rates

In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autismTwitterFacebook, and other social media platforms have helped spread this dangerous myth.   Measles can kill.

Ed Pilkington at The Guardian:
A new study by Health Testing Centers has found between 2009 and 2018 27 of the 50 US states experienced a drop in the percentage of vaccinated kindergarten-age children. In Georgia and Arkansas, the decline was more than 6%.
The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR), which is the focus of much activity by the so-called anti-vaxxer movement, is especially vulnerable. Alarmingly, the study finds that more than half of the states – 26 in total – have vaccination rates that have fallen below the target of 95% which experts state is needed to provide maximum protection against the diseases.

Three states – Colorado (88.7%), Kansas (89.1%) and Idaho (89.5%) – have rates that have fallen below the 90% that scientists say renders populations particularly vulnerable to a measles outbreak.
The study is based on data compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The authors analyzed CDC data covering the vaccination rates for kindergartners for the most common vaccines including MMR, polio, hepatitis B and varicella.
The news comes at a time of renewed attention on the activities of anti-vaxxer campaigners who are vociferously opposed to the mandatory vaccination of children. Opponents of vaccines frequently peddle incorrect information, such as the debunked theory that MMR causes autism.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Antivax Facebook Ads

In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.  TwitterFacebook, and other social media platforms have helped spread this dangerous myth.

In 2018, Facebook introduced Ad Archive as a platform to improve transparency in advertisements related to politics and “issues of national importance.” Vaccine-related Facebook advertising is publicly available for the first time. After measles outbreaks in the US brought renewed attention to the possible role of Facebook advertising in the spread of vaccine-related misinformation, Facebook announced steps to limit vaccine-related misinformation. This study serves as a baseline of advertising before new policies went into effect.

Using the keyword ‘vaccine’, we searched Ad Archive on December 13, 2018 and again on February 22, 2019. We exported data for 505 advertisements. A team of annotators sorted advertisements by content: pro-vaccine, anti-vaccine, not relevant. We also conducted a thematic analysis of major advertising themes. We ran Mann-Whitney U tests to compare ad performance metrics.

309 advertisements were included in analysis with 163 (53%) pro-vaccine advertisements and 145 (47%) anti-vaccine advertisements. Despite a similar number of advertisements, the median number of ads per buyer was significantly higher for anti-vaccine ads. First time buyers are less likely to complete disclosure information and risk ad removal. Thematically, anti-vaccine advertising messages are relatively uniform and emphasize vaccine harms (55%). In contrast, pro-vaccine advertisements come from a diverse set of buyers (83 unique) with varied goals including promoting vaccination (49%), vaccine related philanthropy (15%), and vaccine related policy (14%).

A small set of anti-vaccine advertisement buyers have leveraged Facebook advertisements to reach targeted audiences. By deeming all vaccine-related content an issue of “national importance,” Facebook has further the politicized vaccines. The implementation of a blanket disclosure policy also limits which ads can successfully run on Facebook. Improving transparency and limiting misinformation should not be separate goals. Public health communication efforts should consider the potential impact on Facebook users’ vaccine attitudes and behaviors.

From the article:
One of the ways Ad Archive aims to increase transparency is by identifying and labeling advertisement buyers. Among antivaccine advertising buyers, two were responsible for a majority (54%) of content: World Mercury Project (n = 47) and an individual buying for the group Stop Mandatory Vaccination (n = 36). World Mercury Project (WMP) and the closely aligned Children’s Health Defense (CHD) are part of an advocacy group chaired by a political celebrity spokesperson, [Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.] largely centered on the belief that vaccines are harmful and are contributing to an ‘‘epidemic of childhood chronic illness” [33]. While Ad Archive lists WMP/CHD with 90 ads, only 47 appeared in our dataset, suggesting that not all advertisements were vaccine-related, or could be identified with our search parameters. Content was consistent under both WMP and CHD labels and included a mixture of newsletters, video advertisements, and endorsements for books, products, and seminars. Most advertisements (85.1%) linked back to the group’s webpages. Two ads linked directly to, a fundraising platform, with an appeal to support the group and related legal fees. 
The group, Stop Mandatory Vaccination (SMV), is run by a California-based activist [Larry Cook] who utilizes crowdfunding to post these advertisements and pay for personal expenses [34]. Ad Archive lists 52 ads for SMV; our search parameters produced 36 (72%) of these. Many advertisements featured stories of infants allegedly harmed by vaccines, using taglines like, ‘‘Healthy 14 week old infant gets 8 vaccines and dies within 24 h.” Other advertisements shared videos of parents describing their vaccine-injured children and/or how to live a life without vaccines. One advertisement promoted a candidate running on a vaccine choice platform in California. Several others included links to products and events.
Lena Sun reports on the study at The Washington Post:
 Researchers said the results surprised them. Much of the anti-vaccine content posted on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter may appear to be organic, grass-roots discussions led by neighborhood groups and concerned parents, said David A. Broniatowski, an associate professor at George Washington University and one of the authors of the study.
“In fact,” said Broniatowski, who studies group decision-making, “what we are seeing is a small number of motivated interests that are trying to disseminate a lot of harmful content.” The small group of anti-vaccine ad buyers successfully used the ads to reach targeted audiences.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

YouTube Bans MMS Videos

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

Tom Porter at Business Insider:
YouTube has updated its policies to explicitly ban videos which endorse the substance known as Miracle Mineral Solution.

The change comes after a Business Insider investigation found hundreds of videos on the site presenting the substance as a cure for cancer, autism and malaria.
The claims are groundless, and medical authorities warn members of the public not to ingest the substance, which is actually a type of toxic bleach, chlorine dioxide.

Business Insider in an investigation in May exposed how YouTube videos promoting the substance were racking up millions of views, with many claiming the substance has curative properties.
When Business Insider flagged the videos to the site, YouTube shut down some channels mentioned in the investigation which it said breached its rules against promoting harmful substances.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Good Doctor and Driver License Bill

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

Erin Donnelly at Yahoo:
A New York dad is lobbying for driver’s licenses and state-issued ID cards to start carrying a symbol identifying drivers with autism — an idea he says was inspired by an episode of The Good Doctor.
The ABC medical show, which stars Freddie Highmore as a surgical resident with autism, featured a scene in its Season 3 premiere in which Highmore’s character Shaun struggles on a first date due to a series of unexpected incidents that agitate him. The importance of order and the havoc that unpredictability can wreak on a person with autism got Peter Gagliardo thinking about what someone like his son might do in a tense situation out of the blue — like being pulled over by a police officer while driving.
“It popped into my mind about kids that are on the spectrum,” Gagliardo, a retired firefighter whose 18-year-son Ryan has autism, told WABC. “What happens to my son now that he is driving if he gets pulled over in this instance? What is he going to do if something happens out of the norm?”
Gagliardo’s suggestion: Driver’s licenses and state-issued ID cards that bear symbols notifying officers and officials that someone is on the spectrum. (A mock-up features the puzzle piece logo for the Autism Speaks advocacy organization, but Gagliardo clarified to Yahoo Lifestyle that the design is just a placeholder example of what an autism symbol might involve, and his project currently has no affiliation with the group.)

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Charges in the Guiding Hands Incident

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the use of restraint and seclusion. Many posts have mentioned these techniques, both in schools and facilities for people with disabilities.

Last year at Guiding Hands School in El Dorado, California, autistic student Max Benson died after staff members put him in face-down restraint for more than an hour. This year, the state withdrew the school's certification, and it closed. On Tuesday, the El Dorado County District Attorney's office announced that  it would file charges  in relation to the November 28, 2018, death.
Guiding Hands School, Inc., a California corporation, the entity which owned and operated the school, will be charged with one count of felony involuntary manslaughter. In addition to the corporation, the school’s Executive Director and Site Administrator, Cindy Keller, the school principal, Staranne Meyers, and Kimberly Wohlwend, a credentialed special education teacher working at the school, are also being charged with felony involuntary manslaughter in violation of Penal Code section 192(b) in relation to the student’s death.
All defendants are scheduled to be arraigned on the charge on November 13, 2019. This charge is based on the November 28, 2018, prone restraint of a minor student by Kimberly Wohlwend that resulted in that student’s death.
This case is being filed after a lengthy, multi-agency investigation into the facts and circumstances that led to the death of this student, who is being identified as “M.B.” in the Complaint because he is a minor-aged victim.
Guiding Hands School, Inc. is a privately operated, publicly funded school specializing in providing educational services for students with needs so exceptional that they cannot be met in a public school setting. On December 5, 2018, The California Department of Education suspended the certification of Guiding Hands School, Inc., and the school was subsequently closed.
At KOVR in Sacramento, Julie Watts reports that the teacher who allegedly held the student down was still teaching at another school until this week:

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


From CDC:
From January 1 to November 7, 2019, 1,261* individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 31 states. CDC will now be updating these data monthly.
  • This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1992. More than 75% of the cases this year are linked to recent outbreaks in New York. Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in U.S. communities where groups of people are unvaccinated.
  • The majority of cases are among people who were not vaccinated against measles.
  • Measles can cause serious complications. From January 1 – November 7, 2019, 123 of the people who got measles this year were hospitalized, and 61 reported having complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Cuts for Disabilities, Contracts for Consultants

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the issue's role in campaign politics.   In the 2016 campaign, a number of posts discussed Trump's bad record on disability issues more generally.   As his actions as president indicate, he has little use for Americans with disabilities.

This past spring, the Trump administration proposed big cuts for Medicaid and other programs that benefit people with autism and other disabilities.

Meanwhile, however, agency that runs Medicaid blew millions on PR consultants. Dan Diamond and Adam Cancryn at Politico:
At least eight former White House, presidential transition and campaign officials for President Donald Trump were hired as outside contractors to the federal health department at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, according to documents newly obtained by POLITICO.
They were among at least 40 consultants who worked on a one-year, $2.25 million contract directed by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. The contractors were hired to burnish Verma’s personal brand and provide “strategic communications” support. They charged up to $380 per hour for work traditionally handled by dozens of career civil servants in CMS's communications department.