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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Bureau of Disability Rights

In The Politics of Autism, I write:

“Civil rights” usually referred to the fight against racial segregation.  In several ways, this struggle set the template for other civil rights issues, including disability rights. First, cases such as Brown v. Board of Education demonstrated that disadvantaged groups could gain protections in the courts.  Second, movement leaders found that nonviolent protests could gain public sympathy and put pressure on elected officials. Third, civil rights statutes that helped African Americans would also point to means by which the government could protect other excluded groups. 

President Biden has nominated California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.  On his way out, Becerra has made an important announcement.

 From the California Department of Justice:

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the establishment of the Bureau of Disability Rights (Bureau) within the Civil Rights Enforcement Section (Section) of the California Department of Justice. The Bureau will focus on matters that seek to ensure that the rights of persons with disabilities are advanced through specific investigations and litigation. The Bureau will also expand on the Section's work to vindicate the rights of persons with disabilities on issues including discrimination in education, healthcare, employment, access to public services, and with regard to law enforcement involvement.

“If we are going to make meaningful progress towards protecting the rights of Californians with disabilities, we must devote attorneys and resources to work specifically on these issues,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The establishment of the Bureau of Disability Rights marks an important step toward ensuring that the rights of persons with disabilities are considered in all of our work here at the California Department of Justice. I look forward to seeing all that the Bureau is able to accomplish.”

Already, Deputy Attorneys General in the Civil Rights Enforcement Section, who will be staffed to the Bureau, have secured relief for persons with disabilities through the inclusion of specific corrective measures in judgments which require reforms. These judgments, for example, advance the rights of students with disabilities, including students who are disciplined for behavior resulting from their disability, and mandate reforms of law enforcement practices relating to officer involvement with individuals experiencing mental health crises, those with disabilities, and the profiling of individuals perceived to have disabilities.

The California Department of Justice is committed to protecting the rights of Californians with disabilities. Since taking office, Attorney General Becerra has:

Monday, January 25, 2021

Antivaxxers and California Recall Efforts

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.

Anita Chabria and Paige St. John at LAT

Hardline activists from the anti-vaccination movement. Two leaders, Denise Aguilar and Tara Thornton with the Freedom Angels, organized and participated in numerous rallies at the state Capitol that promoted the recall effort. At these events, speakers denounced vaccines and health orders. The Proud Boys, who have been involved in protest violence, from street brawls in Sacramento to the incursion of the nation’s Capitol, are also often present. Aguilar has said they provided security.

...

 Heatlie said his organization cut ties with at least one of those early partners, the Freedom Angels, and is careful about connections to groups with far-right views such as science deniers. Yet, The Times found recall signature gatherers continue to frequent such events.

...

Strident language has become more common in the recall as the pandemic progresses, with the Freedom Angels one group turning up the temperature. The group first gained prominence in California opposing laws that require vaccinations for public school attendance, which they claim is an overreach of government authority. With the pandemic, two leaders of the Freedom Angels splintered off to join those opposed to COVID-19 closure and stay-at-home orders.

The splinter group also recently started an all-female militia, and advertises seminars on social media on how to target local health department officials, including staging nonviolent actions at officials’ private homes

...

Heatlie said he became concerned about the Freedom Angels in May, after an unruly Capitol rally in which 32 people, including Aguilar and Thornton, were detained by the California Highway Patrol. But despite his misgivings, Heatlie agreed to appear on a Freedom Angels webcast in June, on the day the Secretary of State’s office approved his petitions for circulation. And later in the month, Heatlie’s recall campaign called on supporters to attend a Freedom Angels rally at the Sacramento courthouse to support those who had been arrested during demonstrations.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Reviewing the Literature on Autistic Adults

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.

Patricia Howlin has an article at The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders titled " Adults with Autism: Changes in Understanding Since DSM-111."

Abstract:

Over the past four decades there have been significant advances in our understanding of autism, yet services for autistic adults continue to lag far behind those for children, and prospects for employment and independent living remain poor. Adult outcomes also vary widely and while cognitive and language abilities are important prognostic indicators, the influence of social, emotional, familial and many other factors remains uncertain. For this special issue marking the 40th anniversary of DSM-III, the present paper describes the changing perspectives of autism in adulthood that have occurred over this period, explores individual and wider environmental factors related to outcome, and suggests ways in which services need to be changed to improve the future for adults living with autism.

In the four decades since the publication of DSM-III (American Psychiatric Association [APA] 1980) there have been many changes in our understanding of autism. We now know much more about how reliably to diagnose the condition; underlying genetic and neuropsychological processes are far better understood, and the quality of intervention research- at least with respect to young children- has greatly improved. Nevertheless, very many autistic adults, and their families, continue to face significant difficulties in their daily lives. To mark the 40th anniversary of DSM-III, the following article focuses principally on research conducted over the intervening period that has changed our understanding of autism in adulthood. Variables related to prognosis, challenges experienced in adulthood, and interventions that may help to reduce these are explored. The paper concludes with recommendations for improving quality of life for autistic adults and those living with or caring for them.

From the article:

It needs to be acknowledged that the quality of research on interventions for adults is far inferior to that for autistic children, especially very young children. Thus, although there is some evidence of potentially effective interventions to improve adult social functioning and mental health, the variability and complexity of the treatments involved means that we still know very little about the specific components of services or therapies that are crucial for success. Evidence of methodologically sound and ecologically valid interventions and services is limited, and far greater funding and dedicated research is required to redress the current imbalance between child and adult research and access to effective interventions.


 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Program for Autistic Students at the University of Idaho


At the Moscow-Pulman Daily News, Lex Van Horn reports on a program for autistic students at the University of Idaho:
Raven Scholars Project supports students as they transition from the distractions of typical high-school classrooms to learning in a more supportive setting.

“There is that place where I can go and everybody knows I’m on the autism spectrum,” Program Coordinator Leslie Gwartney said. “I don’t have to explain myself. I don’t have to worry about if I’m stimming (self-stimulation behavior) or if I’m having a bad day or if I want to talk about my special interest. People are going to understand.”
...

The UI Raven Scholars Program, one of several UI programs supporting these students, helps 30 students with ASD, diagnosed or undiagnosed, per semester, Gwartney said. Students regularly talk with her about their academic work, time management, self-care and social skills. These meetings are meant to become shorter and less frequent because Raven Scholars is a program helping high-school students transition into college life.

The change to online learning because of COVID-19 has challenged students with ASD. Some instructors have expected students to fill in gaps, but ambiguous assignments can be challenging for students with ASD, Gwartney said. Assignments that place equal weight on small portions of work instead of heavily weighting a final project can also be difficult. Students may feel like it’s busywork and avoid it.

Other students have struggled more with transitioning their social lives online. Normally, students have access to the Raven Room, a large, open space where students can work, eat, relax or chat with each other. Puzzles, board games and books are organized on shelves around the room while sensory tools and fidget toys lay on a counter near the common table. Two large windows oversee neighboring halls and their courtyards.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Antivaxxers at the Insurrection

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.

It should not be a surprise that they took part in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Ellie Rushing and Anna Orso at The Philadelphia Inquirer:

A South Jersey mom who is prominent in anti-vaccine and right-wing activist circles was among a crowd of people barreling into a line of police and attempting to breach the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, video from the day shows.

Stephanie Hazelton, of Medford, who also identifies herself as Ayla Wolf, can be seen among the mob trying to push through the building’s West Terrace entrance. Video shows Hazelton emerging from the entrance to direct more people to help break through the doors.

“More people, we gotta keep going,” Hazelton said as she waved the crowd toward the entrance.

“Men, we need more men,” she said repeatedly, coughing and wiping her eyes while holding up her pink phone to record herself. “Let’s go.”

Michael Wittner at Patch:

A Beverly Hills skincare salon owner and a prominent anti-vaxxer physician and her spokesman appeared at the U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday to face charges of participating in the violent takeover of the U.S. Capitol.

Gina Bisignano, 52, was arrested Tuesday morning, and Simone Gold, 55, and John Strand, 37, were taken into custody Monday, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

The defendants, all of whom reside in Beverly Hills, appeared Tuesday afternoon before a Los Angeles magistrate judge, who granted each of them bond on charges filed in the District of Columbia.

Bisignano, owner of Gina's Eyelashes and Skincare in Beverly Hills, was ordered released on a $170,000 bond and is subject to home detention. A preliminary hearing was set in her case on Feb. 4 in Los Angeles. She was charged Tuesday with civil disorder, destruction of government property; aiding and abetting; obstruction of an official proceeding; restricted building or grounds; violent entry or disorderly conduct, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gold, a physician and attorney who has criticized the coronavirus vaccination as ineffective and touted hydroxychloroquine as treatment for COVID-19, was released on a $15,000 bond and is also subject to home detention. Her next court appearance is a virtual hearing with the District of Columbia on Thursday. She was charged Tuesday with restricted building or grounds; violent entry and disorderly conduct.

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

From ACLU's To-Do List for President Biden

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

From the American Civil Liberties Union:

  • Now more than ever, the administration needs to make sure that states and school districts continue to meet their obligation to provide appropriate educational services and assessments to students with disabilities. This includes helping them make up for instructional time and services lost during distance learning and school closures due to COVID-19. To support students with disabilities who have been left behind during the pandemic, the administration must make targeted Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding a priority for the next congressional COVID-19 relief package. The Department of Education must also provide robust guidance that highlights best practices that school districts have adopted during the pandemic and ensures students with disabilities are not unnecessarily pushed into alternative schools during the pandemic.
  • The administration also must stop the unnecessary and harmful restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities in schools by executive action and supporting appropriate legislation. Mechanical or physical restraints harm children and inflict lasting psychological trauma, yet their use still happens far too often in schools. Action is needed now to end these draconian practices and ensure that our schools are places where children feel safe to learn.
  • The overuse of police, known as school resource officers, in our nation’s schools disproportionately harms students of color with disabilities, criminalizes normal childhood behavior, and funnels students into the school-to-prison pipeline. The administration must take executive action and pursue legislative opportunities to eliminate federal funding that puts police in schools and reinvest those funds to hire school counselors, psychologists, and other supportive mental health personnel for our students. The administration must also investigate school districts where the data show disproportionate rates of law enforcement referrals and arrests for students with disabilities, and hold those school districts accountable.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Rep Jess

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 Wisconsin.


Megan Magensky at WHP-TV:

 A newly elected Pennsylvania state representative is one of only a handful of openly autistic politicians in the country, and she’s ready to go to work for her community.

State Representative Jessica Benham (D-14th District) is basically the opposite of what you think about when you think politician.

She’s young, autistic and a member of the LGBTQ community. She says she’s ready to fight for everyone.

 Meghan Holohan at Today:

Growing up, Jessica Benham never saw people with autism in politics. In fact, she rarely even heard of women having autism. When the 29-year-old disability activist was sworn into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last week, she became one of only a handful of politicians with autism across the United States and as a bisexual woman, one of a few LGBTQ women in politics.

“I never thought that running for office was going to be what I did. It wasn’t in the Jessica Benham plan,” she told TODAY. “I really felt the call from my community to step up for them."

 

Antivax Bailout

In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.


Elizabeth Dwoskin and  Aaron Gregg at WP:
Five prominent anti-vaccine organizations that have been known to spread misleading information about the coronavirus received more than $850,000 in loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, raising questions about why the government is giving money to groups actively opposing its agenda and seeking to undermine public health during a critical period.

The groups that received the loans are the National Vaccine Information Center, Mercola Health Resources, the Informed Consent Action Network, the Children’s Health Defense and the Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, an advocacy group based in the United Kingdom that fights misinformation and conducted the research using public documents. The group relied on data released in early December by the Small Business Administration in response to a lawsuit from The Washington Post and other news organizations.

Several of the Facebook pages of these organizations have been penalized by the social network, including being prohibited from buying advertising, for pushing misinformation about the coronavirus.

NYT reports that Mercola Consulting services also got a loan

Monday, January 18, 2021

COVID Impact on Autistic People and Caregivers

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges get far more intense during disasters.  And coronavirus is proving to be the biggest disaster of all. Providing education, social services, and therapies is proving to be very difficult.

At The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, L. Casey White and Colleagues have a brief report titled:  "Impact of COVID-19 on Individuals with ASD and Their Caregivers: A Perspective from the SPARK Cohort."

Abstract:

The impact of the 2019 coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) in the United States is unprecedented, with unknown implications for the autism community. We surveyed 3502 parents/caregivers of individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) enrolled in Simons Powering Autism Research for Knowledge (SPARK) and found that most individuals with ASD experienced significant, ongoing disruptions to therapies. While some services were adapted to telehealth format, most participants were not receiving such services at follow-up, and those who were reported minimal benefit. Children under age five had the most severely disrupted services and lowest reported benefit of telehealth adaptation. Caregivers also reported worsening ASD symptoms and moderate family distress. Strategies to support the ASD community should be immediately developed and implemented.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Antivaxxers Threaten Violence

In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.

Lara Korte and Hannah Wiley at The Sacramento Bee:

State lawmakers attended what was supposed to be a routine Capitol budget hearing last week assessing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s spending plans for next year. But when the time came for public comment, things took a dark turn.

“If you want to vaccinate everyone in California, you guys are not thinking,” one speaker, who did not identify herself, said. “And there’s one more note: 17 million guns were purchased in the United States ... what do you think they’re going to do with that?”

The following speaker, who also did not identify herself, made the message clear:

“Keep threatening us. Keep taking our s--- away. Keep telling us we can’t do anything about it and see how much longer we’re going to sit here and wait to give public comment,” she said. “We didn’t buy guns for nothing.”

At Capital Public Radio, Nicole Nixon quotes Senator Richard Pan:

We have strong security in the Capitol. I think the question we have to ask ourselves is that when it comes to speech, we want to allow people to express whatever opinions they want to express, but when they actually engage in actual threats, we have to take them seriously. You should be able to express your opinion, explain why, but the threats to people's lives? That should not be considered acceptable.


 


Saturday, January 16, 2021

Nine Minutes and Six Seconds in Metrairie


Allyson Waller at NYT:
The parents of an autistic teenager who died last year after an encounter with sheriff’s deputies in Jefferson Parish, La., filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday, claiming that deputies who were trying to restrain him had sat on him for a total of more than nine minutes, leading to his death.

The suit, filed in United States District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, came a year after the death of the teenager, Eric Parsa, who had severe autism. Eric, 16, died on Jan. 19, 2020, after being held down, sat on and handcuffed by deputies in a shopping center parking lot after he had an autism-related meltdown, an outburst resulting from emotional or sensory overload, according to lawyers representing his parents, Daren Parsa and Donna Lou.

In the lawsuit, Dr. Parsa and Dr. Lou charge that the authorities exhibited negligence and used excessive force while also violating their son’s civil rights and his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Never did we ever think that our 16-year-old son with special needs would die in front of our eyes at this age and in the hands of law enforcement,” Dr. Lou said at a news conference on Thursday with her husband and their lawyers. “Unfortunately, it is our reality of a nightmare.”

From the complaint:

1. This case involves the tragic death of a 16-year-old severely autistic child, (E.P.), while in the custody and care of deputies with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO) in the parking lot of the Westgate Shopping Center in Metairie, La. on January 19, 2020.

2. E.P. was the only child of Donna Lou and Daren Parsa, both of whom were present when he died before their eyes. He was held down in a prone position, on his stomach, handcuffed, shackled, arms and legs held down, head, shoulder and neck encircled by the arm of a deputy, with JPSO deputies applying their own body weight as a restraint, while he was suffering from an acute sensory episode or “outburst” related to and caused by his severe autism.

3. The JPSO deputies knew that E.P. was obese. They knew that he was autistic and a “special needs child.” They knew he had been involved in recent physical exertion. They knew E.P. was in a crisis situation and that the family needed help. They knew he was unarmed. Yet they persisted in dangerously and forcefully restraining E.P. without appropriately monitoring his condition, until they killed him.

            ... 

221. In total, E.P. had been held in a face-down, prone position, under the body weight and physical pressure of deputies sitting on his back for a total of nine minutes and six seconds.

Friday, January 15, 2021

More "Disturbing Reports"

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges get far more intense during disasters.  And coronavirus is proving to be the biggest disaster of all. Providing education is proving to be very difficult.


Stephanie Wang at Chalkbeat:
The department has also opened up investigations into Los Angeles Unified, Seattle Public Schools, and Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools, according to letters obtained by Chalkbeat. The four investigations — each announced in letters dated Tuesday of this week — all cite “disturbing reports involving the District’s provision of educational services to children with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Los Angeles Unified appreciates the concerns of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and we will cooperate in its investigation,” a spokesperson for Los Angeles Unified said in a statement. “Until it is safe and appropriate to resume in-person services, we’ll continue to do our best to help those most in need with individual and small-group support in an online setting.”

A spokesperson for Fairfax County schools said the district had just received notice yesterday of the investigation and could not offer an immediate response. A spokesperson said Seattle Public Schools planned to fully cooperate with the investigation, according to the Seattle Times.

At KCBS/KCAL, Kristine Lazar provides one disturbing report:

Though the state allows school districts to apply for waivers allowing TK-second grader and special needs students back in the classroom, LAUSD has not applied for one.

Katherine Collins, mom to a 7-year-old boy with autism, said she started the process for his individualized education program, or IEP, just four days before the shutdown last March.

She said when school started back up in August, the district was no longer responsive until she said she sent a strongly worded email.

“When someone finally called me, it was the [special education] coordinator, but he’s in charge of three schools,” she said. “How’s that going to get everyone’s needs met?”

She said she worries about the kids with families who do not know the law or do not have the time to hound the school district.

“The majority of people that LAUSD serves do not have my privilege,” she said.

 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

"Disturbing Reports" -- OCR Probes Pandemic Special Ed in WA and IN

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families. Those challenges get far more intense during disasters.  And coronavirus is proving to be the biggest disaster of all. Providing education is proving to be very difficult.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating Seattle Public Schools after hearing “disturbing reports” about how the district handled special education during the pandemic.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Superintendent Denise Juneau, department officials cite concerns that some students with disabilities went without specialized instruction — and some teachers weren’t allowed to provide it.

“According to one local news report last spring, the District told its special education teachers ‘not to deliver specially designed instruction,’ and disallowed them from ‘adapt[ing] lessons to each child’s needs,’” wrote Kimberly M. Richey, the Education Department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights. “OCR [Office of Civil Rights] is concerned that the District has failed to provide a ‘free appropriate public education’ to each qualified student with a disability as required by federal law and denied students with disabilities equal access to education.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating Seattle Public Schools after hearing “disturbing reports” about how the district handled special education during the pandemic.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Superintendent Denise Juneau, department officials cite concerns that some students with disabilities went without specialized instruction — and some teachers weren’t allowed to provide it.

“According to one local news report last spring, the District told its special education teachers ‘not to deliver specially designed instruction,’ and disallowed them from ‘adapt[ing] lessons to each child’s needs,’” wrote Kimberly M. Richey, the Education Department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights. “OCR [Office of Civil Rights] is concerned that the District has failed to provide a ‘free appropriate public education’ to each qualified student with a disability as required by federal law and denied students with disabilities equal access to education.”

Arika Herron at the Indianapolis Star:

 The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating the Indiana Department of Education over what it called, in a letter sent Tuesday to Education Secretary Katie Jenner, “disturbing reports” that the state denied students with disabilities equal access to education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under federal law, schools are required to provide a "free appropriate public education" to each qualified student with a disability.

In its letter, OCR said it was concerned that Indiana had failed to do so and was “particularly troubled” by reports that parents of disabled students in Indiana schools have filed multiple complaints with IDOE alleging that students were forced by local school districts into “one size fits all” remote learning programs, instead of individualized programs designed to meet the need laid out in their Individualized Education Plans or 504 Plans. Qualifying students with disabilities are guaranteed services, spelled out in their IEP or 504 Plan, to meet their unique needs and ensure they have equal access to a free public education.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Five Star Fiasco: Italy and Vaccines

In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Jason Horowitz at NYT:
Over a decade ago, an activist in Italy’s Five Star Movement wrote to the nascent party’s leaders to tell them that his law firm, after years of seeking “damages from vaccination,” had convinced a judge that a vaccine was a potential source of autism.

“We’re dealing with a historic legal precedent,” he wrote emphatically.

Today that lawyer, Alfonso Bonafede, is the Italian justice minister, and his populist Five Star Movement leads the government.

The Five Star’s long history of sowing doubt about vaccines may have made its job that much harder as it seeks to convince Italians that a mass inoculation program is necessary to beat back a pandemic that has killed nearly two million people worldwide and shuttered entire economies.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Lot of Work to Do on Autism 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.

 Michael Bernick at Forbes:

1. Autism employment initiatives with major employers continue to grow in number, but combined they impact a very small percentage of the autism adult population: Over the past five years, more and more autism employment initiatives have been launched by major employers. The most high profile autism employment initiative, “Autism at Work” has grown to 20 of the largest companies in the United States, with the original firms (SAP, Microsoft, EY) joined by JPMorgan Chase, VMWare, Salesforce and others. Still combined, the Autism at Work hires total fewer than 800 adults by the end of 2020. Another 80 or so major employers have autism hiring initiatives outside of Autism at Work, but together they employ fewer than 1500 workers.

...

2. Universities, major nonprofits and foundations have lagged behind the private sector in autism hiring, even though, with their missions, they should be at the lead: Universities have been notably absent as participants in autism employment initiatives. So too have private foundations and large nonprofits been absent. This is so even though these institutions often have greater flexibility and more relaxed work environments than other private sector firms, and even though they often congratulate themselves on their diversity and social goals.

...

3. “Autism talent advantage” has become a central concept in autism employment, but going forward it needs to be defined far more broadly than the tech skills possessed by a few: Autism talent advantage is a common phrase among advocates, usually associated with technical skills, memory skills, or some forms of savant skills. But the past few years have shown that the technical skills are present in only a small segment of the adult autism population, and the memory and savant skills are not easily fit into the job market. As we are able to look deeper, though, we find other skills and characteristics that are truer job advantages. Dr. Lawrence Fung of Stanford has compiled a strengths-based model of neurodiversity that identifies such strengths as persistence, detail orientation, loyalty, appreciation of the job, honesty. Strengths will differ for each worker, and it is up to job coaches to market the individual skills.

4. We’re learning that “autism friendly workplace” should mean far more than lighting or sound modifications: “Autism friendly workplace” is included in most of the manuals on autism employment, referencing lighting, sound modifications, and quiet spaces. But we’re finding that these physical improvements rarely go to the core obstacles for successful employment. The true “autism friendly” workplace will be one with a culture that balances business needs with forms of greater patience and flexibility.

5. We’re learning the importance of addressing comorbidities that have neurological ties to autism: Perhaps most importantly, going forward we need to confront the powerful mental health comorbidities that undermine employment. Such comorbidities as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder have neurological ties to autism. They bring impediments to job success that are far more serious than failure to make eye contact or understand social cues.