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Saturday, February 29, 2020

Maine Antivaxxers Target Pharma

In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing disease to spread.

Antivaxxers in Maine have a slogan: "Reject Big Pharma." Lev Facher at STAT:
But the referendum that Maine voters will decide on Tuesday, known as Question 1, has little to do with drug prices. Instead, approval would overturn a 2019 law that requires all schoolchildren to receive vaccinations unless granted an exemption by a doctor. The advertisements, meanwhile, are funded in large part not by drug pricing activists but by a nationwide network of anti-vaccine groups.
The media blitz marks a new effort by anti-vaccine activists to win new adherents, and to do so by co-opting public anger toward pharmaceutical companies — not just over exorbitant drug prices but because of the industry’s role in the opioid crisis, which has hit Maine hard.
A recent ad barrage from the group zeroes in on Merck, highlighting the roughly $6 billion in revenue the company drew from vaccines during the first nine months of last year. While vaccine sales total billions of dollars, however, pharmaceutical companies’ vaccine profit margins are typically far smaller than for other drugs.
Nonetheless, the messaging has helped to generate a broad coalition of support for repealing the vaccine mandate. Backers of the repeal include five Republican state lawmakers, a University of Maine professor, and at least 11 local chiropractors.
But the group’s biggest contribution came from half a continent away: a $50,000 check from the Organic Consumers Association, a Minnesota group whose anti-vaccine rhetoric helped fuel a measles outbreak in Minneapolis in 2017.
Despite the broad public health consensus about the benefits of mandating vaccinations, the issue in Maine has become starkly partisan.

When Maine’s legislature passed the law last year, nearly every Democrat supported the legislation, while all but four Republicans opposed it.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Autistic Candidate in Pennsylvania

In The Politics of Autism, I write:  "Support from the general public will be an important political asset for autistic people. Another will be their sheer numbers, since a larger population of identified autistic adults will mean more autistic voters and activists."  Previous posts have discussed autistic officeholders and political candidates in New YorkGeorgiaTexas, and Washington State

Rhuaridh Marr at Metro Weekly:
The Allegheny Democratic Party endorsed a Trump supporter who posts anti-transgender screeds on social media instead of a fellow primary candidate who is a progressive and bisexual.
Now the state party and influential Democratic backers are denouncing the decision and vowing not to support the candidate if she wins the primary.
Candidate Heather Kass has railed about Obamacare, said she wished addicts would overdose to save public funds, and called people on public assistance “lazy no good idiots.”
“Junkies get everything we should just make the drugs legal let them OD and less s— in the world…” she wrote on Facebook. The county is one of the hardest hit by the nationwide opioid crisis.
Her opponent, Jessica Benham, is a bisexual disability advocate who is also autistic. She has been endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund; she would be the first LGBTQ woman elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature.
In October, Zack Budryk reported at The Hill that Benham would be the first autistic woman in a state legislature:
Benham is quick to note that she would not be the first autistic women elected to office overall, as there are two currently serving on school boards. Both these cases and her own candidacy, she said, illustrate the need for disabled people who want a seat at the table to get involved locally.
“Disabled people make up approximately 20 percent of the population in the United States, but emerging research confirms what we’ve known on the ground — we don’t have equitable representation in government,” Benham told The Hill. “I want to use my perspective to ensure that disabled people have the same access and opportunities as everyone else in our district.”

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Police and Autistic People

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between police and autistic people.  Sometimes they occur on the road.  A number of ASD people drive cars.  Some states have actual or proposed programs  for voluntary identification.

Parents of Autistic Children, [is] a nonprofit based in New Jersey that provides training for parents and educators on how to teach children with autism to respond to people in uniform. The group also hosts workshops for police officers and other officials on how to interact with people with special needs. To date, they’ve trained more than 70,000 police officers, firefighters and ambulance squads in New Jersey.

The tendency of many people on the autism spectrum to wander can lead to encounters with the police, but Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, said there are two distinct categories, wandering and elopement, though they are often used interchangeably.
Wandering, she said, is more purposeful and usually happens between ages 4 and 7. “That child will have it in his head that he wants to go swimming or to the park,” she said. “It’s what he wants to do regardless of the safety issues, which can be crossing a busy street without looking so he can get to his destination. It’s hard to stop him.”
In elopement, a child may bolt because of an overwhelming situation such as being around large crowds.
The association has two free downloadable programs with tools to address these issues. The Big Red Safety Box covers wandering and elopement, and the Meet the Police program teaches parents of children on the autism spectrum and children with autism how to interact with the police.
According to a 2017 study from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University, an estimated one in five teenagers with autism was stopped and questioned by the police before age 21, and 5 percent were arrested. And according to research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, people with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum, are five times more likely to be incarcerated than people in the general population, and “civilian injuries and fatalities during police interactions are disproportionately common among this population.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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.  

A release from RespectAbility:
New statistics show that job gains among Americans with disabilities have dramatically fallen compared to previous years of sustain growth. The Disability Statistics Compendium, released earlier this month by the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, shows that the national disability employment rate has only risen to 37.6 percent compared to 37 percent last year.
Out of the more than 20 million working age (18-64) people with disabilities, only 7.6 million have jobs. There remains a serious gap in the Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) between people with and without disabilities. In 2018, 37.6 percent of U.S. civilians with disabilities ages 18-64 living in the community had a job, compared to 77.2 percent for people without disabilities. That means there is a stunning 40-point gap in employment outcomes between people with and without disabilities. Even as other minority groups are entering the workforce in larger and larger numbers, people with disabilities are being left behind.
The nonpartisan advocacy group RespectAbility compared this year’s Compendium to previous years. What they found is that nationwide, there were only 29,893 new jobs for people with disabilities in 2018. This is a precipitous drop from the previous year’s increase of more than 111,000 new jobs and a ten-fold decrease compared to the 343,000 new jobs experienced by people with disabilities in 2016.
“The disability community needs to take a hard look to better understand the catastrophic results we are seeing in the job numbers,” said Philip Kahn-Pauli, policy and practices director of RespectAbility. “When you look across the intersection of disability and race, you find even bigger gaps in outcomes.”
Disability issues are poised to get greater national attention as the year gets closer and close to the presidential election in November. Research conducted in the 2018 election shows that 74 percent of likely voters either have a disability themselves or have a family member or a close friend with disabilities.
To earn those votes, many of the Democratic presidential candidates have brought special attention to disability issues by public releasing comprehensive disability plans and speaking publicly about what they would do if elected. You can read more about those plans and see which candidates have made disability part of their platforms here:
For a more comprehensive break down of key statistics on disability employment, education and demographics, please visit RespectAbility’s website here:
Media Contact:
Lauren Appelbaum, Vice President, Communications | 202-517-6272

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Limited Literature on Postsecondary Education of Autistic Students

As a result of this inquiry, many of the gaps in the literature have been exposed. For example, what we have learned about parent participation in the postsecondary education of their students with ASD is very limited, even though parents are important stakeholders and invest significant financial resources in the education of their students with ASD. Serious challenges of individuals with ASD such as communication (four studies) vocational needs (six studies), and transition (three studies) are not fully addressed by the research.
Although Autism is a communication disorder and parents in the Elias and White (2017) study regarded speech/language services as a need, there are no studies that specifically examined the provision of those services to students with ASD. The question remains why so few communication supports were implemented or addressed by researchers given the nature of ASD. For those with ASD who have experienced atypical development and delay of speech, the need for communication services is real. Odd prosody and/or dysfluency can be a lifelong impairment which may prove to be a barrier to employment and community integration after school is over. Effective verbal communication affects outcomes not just in terms of navigating through college life, but in terms of postgraduate life. 
Students with ASD attend postsecondary schools to increase the probability they will become employed, but only six studies addressed vocational needs. Given the importance of postsecondary education as a path to employment (Ohl et al. 2017; Shattuck et al. 2012), there is a gap in interventions designed to ensure that students with ASD have acquired the skills needed to obtain employment once the degree is completed. For example, preparing individuals with the vocational skills such as writing a resume, practicing job interviews, understanding the soft skills requisite to be successful on the job, and providing opportunities for an internship all serve to provide students with experiences that aid in obtaining a job and successfully transition to employment.
With respect to transition, there are two periods of transition in the life of a postsecondary student with ASD: one to postsecondary education, and one from postsecondary education to employment or graduate school. There are no studies in this review that examine transition from college to employment or graduate school, but two articles reference transition to postsecondary education. Barnhill (2016) reports that 7 out of 30 universities in her study offered transition programs. Based on Brown and Coomes (2015) fndings, transition appears to be within the domain of services provided by 2-year colleges, with 42% of 2-year colleges surveyed reporting such services. 

Ashbaugh, K., Koegel, R. L., & Koegel, L. K. (2017). Increasing social integration for college students with autism spectrum disorder. Behavioral Development Bulletin,22(1), 183–196.
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Barnhill, G. P. (2016). Supporting students with asperger syndrome on college campuses: Current practices. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities,31(1), 3–15.
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Brown, K. R. (2017). Accommodations and support services for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD): A national survey of disability resource providers. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability.,30(2), 141–156.
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Brown, K. R., & Coomes, M. D. (2016). A spectrum of support: Current and best practices for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at community colleges. Community College Journal of Research and Practice,40(6), 465–479.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2018). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD): Data and statistics—prevalence:

Elias, R., & White, S. W. (2017). Autism goes to college: Understanding the needs of a student population on the rise. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(3), 732–746. Scholar

Elias, R., Muskett, A.E., & White, S.W. (2019). Educator perspectives on the postsecondary transition difficulties of students with autism. Autism, 23(1), 260–264. Scholar

Ohl, A., Sheff, M. G., Small, S., Nguyen, J., Paskor, K., & Zinjirian, A. (2017). Predictors of employment status among adults with autism spectrum disorder. Work,56, 345–355. Scholar

Shattuck, P. T., Narendorf, S. C., Cooper, B., Sterzing, P. R., Wagner, M., & Taylor, J. L. (2012). Postsecondary education and employment among youth with autism spectrum disorder. Pediatrics,129(6), 1042–1049. CentralGoogle Scholar

Monday, February 24, 2020

IDEA Autism Data

In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

From Department of Education, 41st Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2019:
Between 2008 and 2016, the percentage of the resident population ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, that was reported under the category of autism increased gradually from 0.4 percent to 0.9 percent, where it remained in 2017. Between 2008 and 2017, the percentages of the populations ages 6 through 11, 12 through 17, and 18 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B, that were reported under the category of autism all increased. Specifically, the percentages of these three age groups that were reported under the category of autism were 86.1 percent, 147.8 percent, and 163.2 percent larger in 2017 than in 2008, respectively 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

One-Third of Parents Delay Vaccinations

OBJECTIVES: To estimate (1) the proportion of children not adhering to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended early childhood immunization schedule and (2) associations between schedule adherence, sociodemographic characteristics, and up-to-date immunization status by 19 to 35 months of age.
METHODS: We used 2014 National Immunization Survey provider-verified vaccination data to classify vaccination patterns as “recommended” (ie, in line with ACIP dose- and age-specific recommendations), “alternate” (ie, in line with either limiting the number of shots per visit or skipping at least 1 vaccine series), or “unknown or unclassifiable” (ie, not in line with ACIP recommendations or clearly limiting shots per visit or vaccine series). We evaluated the association between vaccination patterns and up-to-date status for all ACIP-recommended vaccinations (including rotavirus and hepatitis A vaccines) using Poisson regression.
RESULTS: The majority of children’s patterns were classified as “recommended” (63%), with 23% and 14% following alternate or unknown or unclassifiable patterns, respectively; 58% of children were up-to-date with all ACIP-recommended immunizations by 19 to 35 months. Not being up-to-date was associated with alternate (prevalence ratio = 4.2, 95% confidence interval: 3.9–4.5) and unknown or unclassifiable (prevalence ratio = 2.4, 95% confidence interval: 2.2–2.7) patterns.
CONCLUSIONS: High vaccine coverage by 19 to 35 months of age may miss nonadherence to the recommended immunization schedule in the first 18 months of life, leaving children vulnerable to preventable diseases. With more than one-third of US children not following the ACIP schedule, targeted interventions are needed to minimize vaccine delays and disease susceptibility.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

App for Reporting Abuse

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
People with disabilities are victims of violent crime three times as often as people without disabilities. The Bureau of Justice Statistics does not report separately on autistic victims, but it does note that the victimization rate is especially high among those whose disabilities are cognitive. A small-sample study of Americans and Canadians found that adults with autism face a greater risk of sexual victimization than their peers. Autistic respondents were more than twice as likely to say that had been the victim of rape and over three times as likely to report unwanted sexual contact.

A release from the University of Rhode Island:
The incidence of sexual abuse of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is alarming. A 2018 National Public Radio investigation, citing previously unpublished U.S. Justice Department data, found that people with intellectual disabilities are seven times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than people without disabilities.
Krishna Venkatasubramanian, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Rhode Island, is looking for a way to help through technology. Venkatasubramanian has teamed with the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission to develop an app-based tool to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities better report sexual abuse. His work is funded by a three-year, $380,510 contract with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, part of a grant from the federal Administration for Community Living in the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
“It’s a terrible problem. Abuse is rampant in the community, and there are a lot of obstacles to reporting abuse,” says Venkatasubramanian. “Our goal is to build a tool that makes reporting easier, but also teaches folks how to recognize abuse and what they should do.”
“Violence against people with disabilities is a frequently unrecognized and under-reported problem that has reached epidemic proportions,” says Nancy A. Alterio, executive director of the Massachusetts commission. “People with intellectual or developmental disabilities face significantly higher rates of abuse than the general population. Forty-nine percent experience 10 or more incidents, and shockingly, only 3 % of sexual abuse cases involving people with IDD will ever be reported.”
The app, which is scheduled to be available in 2021, will provide interactive information to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities identify abuse, easily file a report, and take the appropriate steps in its aftermath to stay safe. In designing the app, Venkatasubramanian is collaborating with the Massachusetts commission, the Department of Developmental Services, and Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong, a statewide self-advocacy organization run for and by people with IDD, along with the input of clinicians, caregivers, experts and the future users of the app.
Deb Lloyd, project coordinator with Standing Strong, says there is a great need for the app. People with IDD are at heightened risk of being abused, she says, and many times abusers are people they know, adding difficulties to reporting abuse. At the same time, many in the population lack an understanding of what constitutes abuse.
“This is an amazing project,” Lloyd says. “Learning about abuse will be very helpful. Individuals will be able to access the information repeatedly and have a better understanding of the material. They also will be able to report independently. Fear of caregiver interference will hopefully be eliminated. The current reporting system is in writing or by phone and most cannot report without support or telling someone who will report on their behalf without judgment.”
Venkatasubramanian, whose research focuses on cybersecurity, personal safety and well-being, and accessibility with an aim to explore the frontiers of research in computer science to build usable technologies for marginalized populations, began work on the app in 2018 while teaching at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. When he heard the NPR report, he contacted local advocacy groups in Massachusetts and the commission to see how he could help.
In developing the app, Venkatasubramanian, along with psychologist Jeanine Skorinko, a professor of psychology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, has been working with advocacy groups and talking with people with IDD to understand how they use technology and learn about their daily lives. He learned most were comfortable with technology and most used tablet-based apps. As the app is developed, prototypes will be tested by its intended users to determine what designs are most effective.
“There are a whole bunch of design guidelines that typically are followed when the audience has IDD,” he says. “You have to make sure you don’t have upsetting colors or you’re not giving negative feedback. Some users also may have other conditions. They may have vision impairment. They may have motor disabilities.”
“Our goal is to co-design with people with IDD, not just make them a recipient of the great things we build,” he adds. “We don’t believe we can build for a population unless they’re involved.”
Tom Howard, a URI graduate student in computer science, is helping to oversee the project, working with fellow graduate students Emiton Alves and Mary Wishart. Howard and Alves have been working on story-board-like prototypes of abuse-awareness information, researching how to make it more engaging for users. “This project resonates really deeply with me,” says Howard, of Smithfield, Rhode Island. “I come from a family that’s done foster care my whole life. So, when I heard about a project that would give me an opportunity to potentially help so many people, it all just fell into place for me.”
Much of the foundational information needed to design the recognition and response functions is already available, including using instruction from a commission workshop tailored to educate people about abuse and how to protect themselves. For the reporting tool, Venkatasubramanian and Skorinko will survey clinicians and caregivers to understand the factors around abuse and how they might affect a victim’s ability to report abuse.
“We have to understand the abuser’s mindset, the victim’s mindset, their lifestyle, the circumstances around the abuse,” he says. “We want to build an app that allows victims to report abuse as safely as possible.”
When completed, the app’s reporting function will assist individuals in reporting abuse to the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission through its 24/7 hotline or the internet, Alterio says.
“The hotline number could be preloaded into the app so a user would not need to find the number,” says Alterio. “The app will also work with our soon-to-be new web abuse reporting portal. Individual pre-loaded information, such as name and contact information, could auto-fill the abuse reporting form and make it easier to use the portal. Once the report comes in, the cases will proceed through the commission’s usual screening, referral, and/or investigation processes.”
While the app is being designed to be used through the Massachusetts commission, Venkatasubramanian says its recognition and response functions will be universal and its reporting capability could be adapted for use in other states.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Rural-Urban Differences

In The Politics of Autism, I write:
Once parents get past all the red tape, they often find that providers are scarce. Rural states may be especially short on behavior analysts, who tend to prefer to work in large metropolitan areas that have greater educational and technological resources.  If psychiatric help is necessary, it may be hard to get. There is a shortage of child psychiatrists, and insurers are of little help in finding them.

Benjamin Zablotsky, Ph.D., and Lindsey I. Black have an article at National Health Statistics Reports titled "Prevalence of Children Aged 3–17 Years WithDevelopmental Disabilities, by Urbanicity:United States, 2015–2018."  The abstract:

Objective—This report examines the prevalence of developmental disabilities among children in both rural and urban areas as well as service utilization among children with developmental issues in both areas.
Methods—Data from the 2015–2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) were used to examine the prevalence of 10 parent- or guardian-reported developmental disability diagnoses (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], autism spectrum disorder, blindness, cerebral palsy, moderate to profound hearing loss, learning disability, intellectual disability, seizures, stuttering or stammering,  and other developmental delays) and service utilization for their child. Prevalence estimates are presented by urbanicity of residence (urban or rural). Bivariate logistic regressions were used to test for differences by urbanicity.
ResultsChildren living in rural areas were more likely to be diagnosed with a developmental disability than children living in urban areas (19.8% compared with 17.4%). Specifically, children living in rural areas were more likely than those in urban areas to be diagnosed with ADHD (11.4% compared with 9.2%) and cerebral palsy (0.5% compared with 0.2%). However, among children with a developmental
disability, children living in rural areas were significantly less likely to have seen a
mental health professional, therapist, or had a well-child checkup visit in the past year,
compared with children living in urban areas. Children with a developmental disability
living in rural areas were also significantly less likely to receive Special Educational
or Early Intervention Services compared with those living in urban areas
Conclusion—Findings from this study highlight differences in the prevalence of developmental disabilities and use of services related to developmental disabilities by rural and urban residence

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Autistic Person on Madison School Board

In The Politics of Autism, I write:  "Support from the general public will be an important political asset for autistic people. Another will be their sheer numbers, since a larger population of identified autistic adults will mean more autistic voters and activists."  Some are seeking and holding elected office.

At Education Week, Corey Mitchell interviews  Nicki Vander Meulen, an autistic person serving on the Madison (WI) Metropolitan School District Board of Education.
How do you connect with your constituents?
I'm the only board member who visited all 50-plus schools in our district. I've met with parents, [parent teacher organizations] and the students themselves. I need to know how their lives work and I need to come to them. They don't need to come to me. We have this assumption, if you have a problem, you have to [go] to the board. No, the board [should] come to you. We're the public servant, not the other way around. I've actually [met] with large groups, constituents of very different backgrounds because I'm willing to go wherever they need me to go and meet. If I could do that without a driver's license ... I don't see why others can't.
Are accommodations and attention given to your needs as a school board member?
Yes, they are because I have a district that will provide the accommodations, but not every [school] does. I want to bring it up to the forefront that this is a major issue, It's a civil rights issue, it's an equal rights issue. Sometimes the message doesn't get there.

(Editor's Note: In December, the Hartford Courant wrote about Sarah Selvaggi Hernandez, a former Enfield, Conn., school board member with autism. She sued the school board, alleging she was discriminated against because of her disability.)
Would you encourage other people with disabilities to serve on their local school boards?
Absolutely, I find this incredibly enriching. In order to have a seat at the table you have to play a role politically, as well. These [are] major, major decisions on how resources are used and how children are educated. The only way you can fix the system is from the inside out. You need to hear unrepresented voices and oftentimes individuals with disabilities have little or no contact and that needs to change.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

California Could Do Better on Special Education

More than 725,000 of California’s K–12 students qualified for special education services in 2018–19, but they entered a system that is often ill equipped to serve them.  
Despite the well-established consensus on the benefits of early identification, California continues to fall below national averages in identifying and serving infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with developmental disabilities. Ideally, all children should be screened, but fewer than 1 in 3 California children receive developmental screenings, and California ranks 43rd in developmental screening rates for young children (Hunt, 2020).
After they have been diagnosed, children age 3 and older receive special education services based on an Individualized Education Program (IEP), a legal document that specifies the instruction, supports, and services the child requires to make progress in school. Learning disabilities are diagnosed by (a) a severe discrepancy between student aptitude for learning and academic performance; (b) patterns of basic cognitive processing strengths or weaknesses impairing a student’s ability to learn; or (c) failure to respond positively to an individually customized instructional intervention (Farkas, 2020).
After comparing students with similar needs for academic assistance, students of all racial/ ethnic subgroup categories and most levels of need are identified for special education at a lower rate in California than national averages. And even though African American students are identified for special education at higher rates relative to their representation among all students, African American students who are low performing in reading and math are actually less likely to be identified for special education than similarly low-performing White students (Farkas, 2020).10 Low performance is associated with many causes other than disability; however, the lower likelihood of a low-performing African American student receiving special education services raises equity concerns, particularly if special education services are the primary resource available in schools to help low-performing students.
 While each student’s LRE is individually determined by their IEP team, the law states that student placement should maximize opportunities for students to interact with their peers without disabilities. However, in 2017–18, California had one of the lowest inclusion rates in the country: 56 percent compared to a national average of 63.4 percent (Humphrey, Gamse, Myung,& Cottingham, 2020).

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Mesa First Responders

From the Mesa, Arizona, Fire and Medical Department:
Mesa Fire and Medical Department joins more than 60 organizations in and near Mesa, AZ, to become a Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) in an effort to create a truly inclusive community. The CAC designation, granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), means that staff, firefighters and first responders at Mesa Fire and Medical Department have received position-specific training through IBCCES to enhance their understanding and sensitivity when helping individuals with autism or other sensory sensitivities.
“Mesa Fire and Medical Department is grateful for the opportunity to receive this training. It allows us to meet the needs of all citizens that we respond to and serve the community with CARE (Compassion. Accountability. Respect. Excellence.),” said Battalion Chief Chuck Busboom of Mesa Fire and Medical.
Mesa Fire and Medical Department provides an all-hazard delivery of service.

All-hazards can be defined as: a department that provides every level of a hazard response whether it is trench rescue, hazardous materials, confined space, building collapse, rope rescue, fire extinguishment, EMS, dive rescue, swift water and vehicle extraction.
As part of an initiative toward inclusion for residents and visitors with autism and other sensory disorders, Visit Mesa gathered community support from city and local officials, private businesses, and other partners to achieve the IBCCES designation of the first-ever Autism Certified City by IBCCES.

For almost 20 years, IBCCES has been the industry leader in cognitive disorder training and certification for education, healthcare, and corporate professionals around the globe. IBCCES provides evidence-based training and certification programs created in conjunction with clinical experts and individuals with autism in order to provide professionals serving individuals with cognitive disorders a better understanding of what these disorders are, industry best practices, varied perspectives, and the latest research in these areas.
“IBCCES is excited to partner with the Mesa Fire and Medical Department to further build a truly inclusive city. This designation shows their commitment to providing the best care for individuals with autism and ensuring they can respond appropriately in critical situations,” said Myron Pincomb, IBCCES Board Chairman.
IBCCES also created, as a free online resource for parents that lists certified locations and professionals. Each organization listed on the site has met Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) requirements.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Study of Vaccine Misinformation

From the Annenberg Public Policy Center:  (A previous post included the abstract)
People who rely on social media for information were more likely to be misinformed about vaccines than those who rely on traditional media, according to a study of vaccine knowledge and media use by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
The study, based on nationally representative surveys of nearly 2,500 U.S. adults, found that up to 20% of respondents were at least somewhat misinformed about vaccines. Such a high level of misinformation is “worrying” because misinformation undermines vaccination rates, and high vaccination rates are required to maintain community immunity, the researchers said.The study of vaccine misinformation, published in the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, was conducted in the spring and fall of 2019, when the United States experienced its largest measles outbreak in a quarter century. Between the two survey periods, 19% of the respondents’ levels of vaccine misinformation changed in a substantive way – and within that group, almost two-thirds (64%) were more misinformed in the fall than in the spring.
Media consumption patterns helped to explain the change in misinformation levels, the researchers found. Those respondents who reported increased exposure to information about measles and the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine on social media were more likely to grow more misinformed about vaccines. By contrast, those people who reported an increased exposure to news accounts about those topics in traditional media were more likely to grow less misinformed about vaccines.
“People who received their information from traditional media were less likely to endorse common anti-vaccination claims,” said lead author Dominik Stecula, a postdoctoral fellow in the science of science communication program at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). He co-authored the study with Ozan Kuru, another APPC postdoctoral fellow, and APPC Director Kathleen Hall Jamieson.
The result is consistent with research suggesting that social media contain a fair amount of misinformation about vaccination while traditional media are more likely to reflect the scientific consensus on its benefits and safety, according to the Annenberg researchers.
The researchers found that:
  • 18% of respondents mistakenly say that it is very or somewhat accurate to state that vaccines cause autism;
  • 15% mistakenly agree that it is very or somewhat accurate to state that vaccines are full of toxins;
  • 20% wrongly report that it is very or somewhat accurate to state that it makes no difference whether parents choose to delay or spread out vaccines instead of relying on the official vaccine schedule from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and
  • 19% incorrectly say it is very or somewhat accurate to state that it is better to develop immunity by getting the disease than by vaccination.
The researchers also found that an individual’s level of trust in medical experts affects the likelihood that a person’s beliefs about vaccination will change. Low levels of trust in medical experts coincide with believing vaccine misinformation, the researchers said.
In addition, the research found that vaccine misinformation proved resilient over time. Most of those in the sample (81%) were just as informed or misinformed in the spring (February/March) as they were five months later (September/October), despite the extensive news coverage of the measles outbreak and attempts by the CDC to educate the public. Among the 19% whose level of knowledge changed substantially, 64% were more misinformed and 36% were better informed.
The researchers point out that although the findings only show correlations between media coverage and individual attitudes – not causation – these findings still hold implications for the effectiveness of national pro-vaccination campaigns, the role of health professionals in addressing misinformation, and the impact of social media misinformation.
The findings, Kuru noted, come as a number of states have been debating whether to tighten their laws surrounding vaccination exemptions and social media companies have been wrestling with how to respond to different forms of misinformation.
The researchers said this study suggests that “increasing the sheer amount of pro-vaccination content in media of all types may be of value over the longer term.” They said the findings also underscore the importance of decisions by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest to reduce or block access to anti-vaccine misinformation.
“How Trust in Experts and Media Use Affect Acceptance of Common Anti-Vaccination Claims,” was published in the inaugural issue of the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review in January 2020.
Download this news release.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Rising Numbers in California

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the controversy surrounding diagnosis of autism and estimates of its  prevalence

Jill Escher at CalMatters:
In 1999, the state of California was in shock: baffling even the most seasoned of authorities, autism cases in the developmental services system had spiked from about 4,000 in 1987 to about 13,000 cases in 1998.
As it turns out, that was just a hint of what lay ahead: today, the Department of Developmental Services counts nearly 10 times that, more than 122,000 autism cases.
Back to the data, here’s more background Californians need to know:
  • The Department of Developmental Services identifies only 451 current autism cases from birth year 1984 (they will turn 36 this year), compared to 7,273 cases for birth year 2014, who will turn 6 this year. This is a 16-fold increase, with hundreds more born that year still expected to seek admittance. Worryingly, this upward trend shows no signs of abating.
  • Autism represented 5% of overall DDS cases in 1993, but now occupies nearly 40%. Disability service providers have been struggling to serve the autism wave, with its qualitatively different, and often more challenging, characteristics.
  • The California Department of Public Health has found a 10-fold increase in prevalence from .11% for 1987 births to 1.1% for 2013 births. Unpublished data indicate it is now closer to 1.4%. These numbers should dispel any notion that population growth or immigration is driving the autism increase.
  • California Special Education autism cases have also skyrocketed, from 14,038 cases in 1990 to 120,089 in 2018, an 8.5-fold increase. This autism spike has been fueling the need for ever-larger special education budgets across the state.
Alarmed by the lack of public reporting on autism growth, last month Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area called for a California Autism Reporting Program from the California Department of Public Health.

It is the least the state could do. These details, including levels of impairment lurking beneath the numbers, and the projected needs and costs for housing and services, are absolutely necessary if we are to responsibly find solutions for this burgeoning, vulnerable population.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Antivax Lawmakers in Minnesota

Ricardo Lopez at
The small but vocal group of parents propagating fringe views about the safety and effectiveness of childhood immunizations have found unlikely allies — Minnesota lawmakers.
Through personal and official Republican Senate media channels on Facebook, as well as appearances at an anti-vaccination rally last year at the Capitol, more than a dozen state legislators in the House and Senate have lent the support of their elected offices to groups that medical professionals say are sowing disinformation about vaccinations. Other Minnesota lawmakers made appearances at a February 2019 event featuring vocal anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at the Minneapolis Club.
The Minnesota lawmakers include state Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, chair of the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy committee, who formed the Minnesota Autism Council, an advisory panel. His decision to appoint two vaccine skeptics touched off criticism, given the 2017 measles outbreak in Minnesota, which was attributed to the work of anti-vaxxers spreading disinformation among the Somali community.
Kolina Koltai, a researcher at the School of Information at the University of Texas, has been studying the social media behavior of those active in the anti-vaccination movement for five years. In the past two, Koltai said she has detected a shift in partisan ID for those opposed to vaccinations, with Republicans increasingly more likely to sponsor legislation undermining immunizations.
“There’s a politicization of science that is happening,” Koltai said, likening it to the debate over climate-change, in which skeptics include many prominent Republicans who continue casting doubt on the scientific consensus.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Shortchanging Exceptional Families

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.

Rose Thayer at Stars and Stripes:
After accusing the government officials in charge of the military’s Exceptional Family Member Program of “happy talk,” but no action, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., vowed Wednesday [2/5] to bring the six executives back to Capitol Hill every three months until they’ve met all the recommendations made for their programs by the Government Accountability Office nearly two years ago.
“We are going to be hawks on this,” said Speier, chairwoman of the subpanel on military personnel for the House Armed Services Committee.
Wednesday’s hearing was the first time in more than a decade that the committee had heard about the program, known as EFMP, which is a mandatory enrollment program for service members who have a family member with special needs requiring specialized medical care, treatment programs or educational services.
While EFMP is meant to ensure that those service members receive duty assignments to locations where those special needs can be met, testimony from two military spouses with children in the program and three representatives from military advocacy groups depicted the program is failing in several ways. About 135,000 military family members are enrolled in the program, as of April 2019.
Nikki Wentling at Stars and Stripes:
One of those family members was Shannon DeBlock, wife of Navy Cmdr. Jason DeBlock.

A few years ago, the DeBlocks were transferred from Annapolis, Md., to San Diego, where they fought with the school district for two years over the education of their son Wesley, 11, who has autism.

“They put up every single barrier they could think of to not educate him,” she said.

The legal battle ended in mediation, during which the DeBlocks agreed to move back to Annapolis, where they knew Wesley could receive an appropriate, special-needs education. While Shannon and their two sons live in Maryland, Jason DeBlock is stationed in Norfolk, Va., commanding the USS Truxton.

Though Wesley is now getting a good education, the move to San Diego had lasting effects. He went two years with little schooling, and his reading regressed from a second-grade level to that of a kindergartner.

“We chose to separate our family to avoid the conflict of a legal battle that appeared to be never-ending,” Shannon DeBlock said. “We rely on these school districts and educators to help our kids become independent as much as they can be, and to be contributing members of society. When schools do this, the impact is so huge. It could affect the rest of their lives.”