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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Right-Wing Antivaxxers

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

Last spring, a common purpose among far-right activists and the anti-vaccination movement first emerged during armed protests in numerous state capitols against coronavirus lockdown measures. That cross-pollination expanded over time.

On Jan. 6, while rioters advanced on the Capitol, numerous leading figures in the anti-vaccination movement were onstage nearby, holding their own rally to attack both the election results and Covid-19 vaccinations.

Events overshadowed their protest, but at least one outspoken activist, Dr. Simone Gold of Beverly Hills, Calif., was charged with breaching the Capitol. She called her arrest an attack on free speech. She was one of several doctors who appeared in a video last year spreading misleading claims about the coronavirus. Mr. Trump shared a version of the video, which Facebook, YouTube and Twitter removed after millions of viewers watched it.

In the months since inoculations started in December, the alliance grouping extremist organizations with the anti-vaccination movement has grown larger and more vocal, as conspiracy theories about vaccines proliferated while those about the presidential vote count receded.

With their protests continuing, far-right groups deployed many of the same talking points as the vaccination opponents. Prominent voices in both the “Stop the Steal” and the anti-vaccination movements helped to organize scattered rallies on March 20 against vaccines, masks and social distancing in American cities including Portland, Ore., and Raleigh, N.C., as well as in Australia, Canada and other countries around the world.

In April, a conference with the tagline “Learn How to Fight Back for Your Health and Freedom,” is set to bring together Trump allies like Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell along with high-profile members of the anti-vaccination effort.

Maligning the coronavirus vaccines is obviously not limited to extremist groups tied to the Capitol riot. There is deep partisanship over the vaccines generally.

One third of Republicans surveyed in a CBS News poll said that they would avoid getting vaccinated — compared with 10 percent of Democrats — and another 20 percent of Republicans said they were unsure. Other polls found similar trends.

About 100 members of the House of Representatives, roughly one-quarter, had not been vaccinated as of mid-March, according to Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader.

It is unclear where Mr. Trump will fit into the vaccine battle. The former president, who has been vaccinated, endorsed getting the shot recently, provoking some disbelief in QAnon and other chatrooms. “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me frankly,” he said in an interview with Fox News.

Across right-wing channels online, certain constant memes have emerged attacking the vaccine, like a cartoon suggesting that what started with mask mandates will end with concentration camps run by FEMA for those who refuse vaccinations.

Numerous channels link to the government website called VAERS, for Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, to energize followers. It had reported 2,216 deaths among people vaccinated for the three months before March 22, with 126 million doses administered. The Covid-19 vaccines in use, like most vaccinations, are considered overwhelmingly safe, but inevitably a small percentage of recipients suffer adverse reactions, some of them severe. The deaths have not been directly linked to the vaccinations.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Survey of Military 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.

From Blue Star Families' 2020 Military Lifestyle Survey:

While many active-duty families make choices that balance the needs of their family with their military lifestyle, these choices can be more complicated for families with a child with special needs. “Dependent children’s education” is the top military life issue among respondents who have children with special needs, and “financial issues and stress” is the top stressor they experience in their military life, compared to families without a child with special needs who ranked “time away from family” as the top issue and “isolation from family and friends” as the top stressor. Although military family respondents continue to report that “time away from family” is a top issue, military families with children who have special needs often voluntarily live apart from their service member (“geobach”) to provide stability for their children’s education. 

In fact, 23% of all active-duty family respondents reported geobaching in the last five years. Among geobaching families who had a child with a special education plan (Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan), 65% cited their “children’s education” as one of their reasons to geobach. By contrast, half (49%) of geobaching families with children not enrolled in special education reported children’s education as one of the reasons for geobaching.


 While some respondents noted that COVID-19- related closures provided an advantage for families who could now enroll students in a new school online after a move, for many active duty families who have children enrolled in special education (28%), these closures complicated an already challenging process of transferring special education services to a new school. These respondents reported their top challenge when transferring to a new school during COVID-19 was transferring theircIEP and/or 504 Plan. Despite the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children having been signed by all 50 states and the District of Columbia, which states that “the receiving State shall initially provide comparable services to a student with disabilities based on his/her current IndividualizedEducation Program (IEP),”3 half of active-duty family respondents with a child enrolled in special education who PCSed since March 2020 reported they had trouble transferring their child(ren)’s IEP (51%) or 504 Plan (48%) to their new school. The FY21 NDAA included language to allow service members the ability to request a continued stay at their current location when there is a “documented substantial risk of transferring medical care or educational services to a new provider or school at the specific time of permanent change of station.”While this provision would not solve the difficulty military families face in transferring their child(ren)’s IEP, it would allow them to potentially avoid having to do so at inopportune times. Moreover, the FY21 NDAA allows service members to request a second review of their new assignment if they believe the gaining location would cause undue hardship on their family. The move to virtual education during COVID-19 also impeded necessary in-person evaluations for educational services, and delayed many families from obtaining an initial IEP and/or 504 Plan for their children.

Monday, March 29, 2021

After the Cliff

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.

 Jerry Carino at The Asbury Park Press writes about the cliff.

A bold new project seeks to change that. The Monmouth Ocean Foundation for Children, a nonprofit with a track record of helping special-needs youth, is launching The Achieve Academy for Adults with Autism.

The cliff was an emerging problem long before the pandemic, as a generation of young adults with autism moved into a post-school world unequipped to help them.

“All of a sudden parents are left to fumble through a confusing maze of, ‘What do I do with my adult who is disabled?’” said Tara Beams, a Monmouth Ocean Foundation for Children board member and veteran special-needs educator. “Our goal is to get our autistic adults working. Some of them may be able to independently work at some point. Some of them may be able to work with support, maybe with an aide with them. Some may be able to work part-time but not necessarily full-time because they need other services.”

It’s doable. One shining example is No Limits Café in Middletown, which is staffed almost entirely by special-needs adults. Beams and her colleagues have contacts in various businesses, from Staples to T.J. Maxx, that will provide opportunities to those who are ready. See the video at the top of this story to see how No Limits Café works.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

An Autism-Friendly Vaccination Clinic

 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.

A Philadelphia Eagles release by Chris McPherson:
"Everyone wants to be on that road to normalcy," says Eagles Autism Foundation Executive Director Ryan Hammond.

While the increased distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine provides a light at the end of the tunnel after one of the most difficult years of our generation, there is a group of people on the sideline whose voices and needs have not been heard in the sprint to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle – the autism community.

A recent study across several hundred health care organizations in the United States concluded that individuals on the spectrum are at a substantially increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Shouldn't the vaccine alleviate those concerns? On the surface, yes, but individuals with autism are not able to wait in long lines at distribution centers or wear masks and maintain a safe social distance at a pharmacy. Even if those with autism are eligible to receive the vaccine, roadblocks are hiding that light at the end of the tunnel.

On Saturday, the Eagles Autism Foundation provided hope for those on the spectrum by hosting a vaccination clinic at Lincoln Financial Field in partnership with Divine Providence Village. More than 1,000 vaccinations were administered as the Eagles Autism Foundation provided a sensory-friendly environment featuring a visual schedule, story-based intervention, and quiet rooms for all eligible members.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Federal Autism Research Priorities

 In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the sources of autism research funding -- including the Pentagon.

Lauren Harris, Daniel Gilmore, Anne Longo have a short report at Autism titled  "Patterns of US federal autism research funding during 2017–2019."  


In 2017, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory panel consisting of autism researchers and community members, recommended that funders of autism research prioritize research projects on: (1) treatments/interventions, (2) evidence-based services, and (3) lifespan issues. We sought to describe research funding since this recommendation was made. We searched the databases of the three largest federal funders of autism research in the United States (National Institutes of Health, Department of Education, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for grants awarded during 2017–2019. We categorized grants as follows: autism screening and diagnosis, biology, risk factors, treatments and interventions, services, lifespan issues, or infrastructure and surveillance. We found that funding patterns remained largely consistent during 2017–2019. Biological research received a relative majority of funding (32.59%), followed by treatments and interventions (22.87%). While given higher funding priority by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’s recent budget recommendation, fewer funds were awarded to research areas like services (5.02%) and lifespan issues (2.51%), indicating a misalignment between funding patterns and the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee budget recommendation. These findings emphasize the need for autism research funding to align with the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee budget recommendations to best meet the needs of the autism community, particularly autistic younger, middle-aged, and older adults.

Friday, March 26, 2021

TSA Screening for Autistic Travelers

  In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  One challenge is that autism is an "invisible disability," which does not have obvious physical markers.  

A release from Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI):

Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05), Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Caucus, has secured a commitment from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct new training and implement new procedures to better serve individuals with disabilities.

Several states, including Michigan, Texas and Arkansas, have recently passed legislation allowing individuals with autism, hearing loss, or other disabilities to choose to have a “communication impediment designation” on their driver’s licenses. This designation is meant to alert law enforcement officers to potential communication barriers, if an individual is pulled over or otherwise interacts with an officer.

In December 2020, Kildee, along with 11 Members of Congress, sent a letter urging the TSA to require training to ensure that their agents can recognize and incorporate “communication impediment designations” on state identification cards into travel screening procedures. In a February 2021 response letter from the TSA, the agency committed to utilizing state-level communication impediment designations as another tool to continuously improve the travel screening process for individuals with disabilities.

“We are updating applicable trainings to ensure that all TSOs [Transportation Security Officers] are aware of communication impediment designations and expect to deliver the updated training to the TSOs as early as May 2021,” the letter read.

Currently, TSA offers accommodations to individuals with disabilities, such as Passenger Support Specialists, who act as advocates to help individuals with disabilities through the travel screening process. However, more can be done to ensure a safe and smooth travel screening process for individuals with disabilities.

This effort comes after Congressman Kildee met with Xavier DeGroat from the Xavier DeGroat Foundation. The Xavier DeGroat Foundation was instrumental in the passage of Michigan’s state communication impediment designation law. The letter is endorsed by the Xavier DeGroat Foundation and the Association on Higher Education and Disability

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Disinformation Dozen

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

The Center for Countering Digital Hate has a new report titled "The Disinformation Dozen;Why platforms must act on twelve leading online anti-vaxxers."

From the executive summary:

1. The Disinformation Dozen are twelve anti-vaxxers who play leading roles in spreading digital misinformation about Covid vaccines. They were selected because they have large numbers of followers, produce high volumes of anti-vaccine content or have seen rapid growth of their social media accounts in the last two months.

2. Analysis of a sample of anti-vaccine content that was shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter a total of 812,000 times between 1 February and 16 March 2021 shows that 65 percent of anti-vaccine content is attributable to the Disinformation Dozen.

3. Despite repeatedly violating Facebook, Instagram and Twitter’s terms of service agreements, nine of the Disinformation Dozen remain on all three platforms, while just three have been comprehensively removed from just one platform.

They are:

1. Joseph Mercola

2. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

3. Ty and Charlene Bollinger

4. Sherri Tenpenny

5. Rizza Islam

6. Rashid Buttar

7. Erin Elizabeth

8. Sayer Ji

9. Kelly Brogan

10. Christiane Northrup

11. Ben Tapper

12. Kevin Jenkins


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Students with Disabilties, Before and After the Pandemic

 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.

 Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project has a report titled "Disabling Inequity: The Urgent Need for Race-Conscious Resource Remedies" by Daniel J. Losen, Paul Martinez & Grace Hae Rim Shin. From the executive summary:

Among the most critical pre-pandemic inequities that have not received sufficient attention is the fact that many districts are not meeting their legal and moral obligation to educate students with disabilities, which must include providing needed mental health services, behavioral supports and educationally sound interventions by well qualified staff. This report begins by revealing serious preexisting conditions of inadequate support that are likely to be exacerbated by the current pandemic. We also summarize the pandemic’s disparate impact, which is resulting in greater losses of instructional time amidst increasing experiences of trauma. This report argues that post-pandemic we will need to do much more than return to the pre-pandemic efforts in order to avoid serious and continuing hardship to students, and especially to students of color with disabilities. This includes, but is not limited to, additional steps to ensure that all students with disabilities who need supports and services to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) have those needs met, and that they are not excluded because of behaviors caused by their disability.

California is an example of pandemic problems. Richard Cano and Elizabeth Aguilera at CalMatters:

California’s decentralized approach to school reopenings this year has meant widely uneven opportunities for in-person services for special-needs students. As early as last summer, some public schools began offering in-person instruction or support to students with Individualized Education Plans — a plan every special education student has that outlines goals and includes special services they require as a guidepost for everyone who works with them.

Though the state’s reopening rules and a recent legislative deal prioritize in-person learning for special-needs students, many of the state’s large, urban school systems such as West Contra Costa and Los Angeles remain in distance learning.

Three-quarters of 300 Los Angeles Unified parents said their kids had regressed or lost skills, according to a Speak Up survey last fall. Though California’s largest school district has intermittently allowed in-person services for special-needs students, only about 1% of the district’s students benefited from it as it was based on educators and families volunteering to come back.

Those findings echo the concerns experts had when the pandemic started. Many students with disabilities require specialized care that one can’t reasonably be expected from parents, Connie Kasari, a human development professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, told CalMatters last March.

“It’s one thing to put a child who can understand in front of a computer screen to do their lesson, do their homework, and quite another thing when the child doesn’t understand that,” Kasari said. “What is that child going to do? It could be that they’re just not getting any kind of education at all.”


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

HCBS Access Act

The Politics of Autism includes an extensive discussion of insurance and  Medicaid services for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilitiesHome and Community-Based Services (HCBS) are particularly important.

From the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network:

A one-pager about the The Home and Community-Based Services Access Act can be found as a PDF here.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), The Arc of the United States, The Center for Public Representation, the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), and the Epilepsy Foundation commend Senators Brown, Hassan, and Casey and Representative Dingell, for the introduction of the HCBS Access Act (HAA), a bill that adds Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) as a mandatory Medicaid service. The HAA would build on the promises of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision and provide the Federal Medicaid resources necessary for states to fulfill those promises, so that no people with disabilities or older adults are forced to live segregated from their communities.

Over the past year, COVID-19 has laid bare the real-life danger of congregate settings for people with disabilities and older adults, as infection and death rates in these settings have been catastrophic. At least 100,000 residents have died in nursing facilities and other institutions for people with disabilities. For disability advocates, this horrific news was not a surprise. Despite the deadly risks of congregate settings and the preferences of people with disabilities and aging adults to live in their own homes and communities with their friends and families, hundreds of thousands of people are on waiting lists for HCBS across the country. Medicaid has always had an institutional bias that requires states to cover congregate settings while leaving coverage of home and community-based services (HCBS) optional.

The HAA will change this. By making HCBS a mandatory Medicaid service, people with disabilities will have access to the services they need to live in their communities, without having to wait years and years for these crucial supports. The HAA will also give older adults, often forced into nursing facilities because of a lack of home care, access to the HCBS they need to age in place, something that the vast majority of aging adults want. The more than 850,000 people with disabilities and older adults currently on waiting lists would be eligible for services. In addition to supporting people where they desire to live, more wholeheartedly ending the institutional bias is cost-effective. The average cost to serve a person with a disability in a publicly-funded institution in one of the 36 states that still has them is $294,300 per person, per year while the average cost of a person served with Medicaid HCBS is $49,854 per person per year.

The HAA also provides a funding boost for HCBS. It supports states to build the infrastructure and capacity needed to serve people coming off of waiting lists, better support those already receiving services, and transition people with disabilities and older adults who want to live in the community out of dangerous congregate settings. This financial investment is absolutely crucial, especially as the pandemic-created recession slashes state budgets, putting broad swaths of services at risk. The HAA would help states and support state funded services.

The bill would also address the race and gender disparities that currently exist in accessing Medicaid HCBS and prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of Black, Indigenous and other people of color with disabilities and older adults. And the HAA would finally begin to address the HCBS workforce crisis, the essential and frontline workforce that provides services to people with disabilities and older adults is made up of mostly women—and women of color, in particular. The HAA would ensure that these workers receive a living wage.

As the country works to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the HCBS Access Act should be at the center of that recovery to ensure that people with disabilities can receive care and supports in their homes and communities.

Monday, March 22, 2021

IACC on Ice During COVID-19

Ali McPherson at WHYY-FM in Philadelphia:
Over the last year, advocates and researchers have provided support and guidance for people in the autistic community, from recommending that people with disabilities receive high priority for the COVID-19 vaccine because of underlying health conditions, to researching the devastating impact of the pandemic on those on the spectrum. But a committee whose role is to gather input from the public on the needs of the autism community has been noticeably absent during this time.

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee provides advice and recommendations to the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services about how federal agencies can best serve the needs of those with autism. The IACC, which typically meets at least three times a year, has not had a full meeting since July 2019.

“I think that it is only in the last month that anybody sort of lifted their head up and said, Hey, wait a second, what happened to this group? And why isn’t it meeting?” said David Mandell, a psychiatric epidemiologist and mental health services researcher who is a former member of the IACC. “This is an advisory body with no decision-making authority and no meaningful budget to make change.”

According to Susan Daniels, director of the National Institute of Mental Health’s Office of Autism Research Coordination, the reason for the hiatus is because the new members are currently in the process of being appointed by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Beccera, who was confirmed by the Senate Thursday.


Mandell said the committee did a lot of groundbreaking work in the past and could have played an important role in bringing certain issues to the forefront this time around.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Access by County to Board Certified Behavior Analysts

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the day-to-day challenges facing autistic people and their families.  In many states -- particularly those with large rural populations -- one problem is a shortage of high-quality behavior therapists.

At Autism, Marissa E Yingling, Matthew H Ruther, Erick M Dubuque, and Davis S. Mandell have an article titled, "County-level variation in geographic access to Board Certified Behavior Analysts among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States."

The lay abstract:

This study looked at whether access to Board Certified Behavior Analysts for children with autism spectrum disorder is different between U.S. counties. The study included all U.S. counties and county equivalents in 48 states and D.C. (N = 3108). Between March and May 2019, we combined data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection, Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s certificant registry, and U.S. Census. We assigned Board Certified Behavior Analysts to counties based on their address, matched children in school districts to counties, and determined how many children with autism spectrum disorder there were in a county compared with how many Board Certified Behavior Analysts there were in a county. The results show uneven numbers of Board Certified Behavior Analysts between U.S. counties. More than half of all counties had no Board Certified Behavior Analysts. National maps illustrate clusters of high and low accessibility to Board Certified Behavior Analysts. To improve access to Board Certified Behavior Analysts in underserved areas, we must identify what contributes to the differences in access.

From the article:

Several factors likely influence the uneven distribution of BCBAs at the county level. It appears that rural counties are likely to have lower access than urban counties. Although 42.2% of all counties in the contiguous U.S. are rural, 64.2% of all counties with no BCBAs are rural and 79.0% of all counties with no BCBAs and no neighboring counties with a BCBA are rural (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014). Considering that historically the accessibility of health care services has been less for rural areas than urban areas (Florence et al., 2012), this is not surprising. To explore additional factors that might be associated with the presence (or lack) of BCBAs, we compared those counties in high-ratio clusters with those counties in low-ratio clusters. All else being equal, higher accessibility counties are wealthier and have smaller uninsured populations; however, there were no measurable racial or ethnic differences between high- and low-accessibility counties. These results add to an already mixed body of literature regarding the association between access to behavioral intervention and the sociodemographic and economic context in which children live, providing justification for further exploration. For instance, although counties with greater BCBA accessibility (lower enrollment to BCBA ratios) did not differ from those with less BCBA accessibility in terms of racial composition, high ASD prevalence counties had larger non-Hispanic White population shares, and smaller non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic population shares may underestimate the prevalence of ASD in these counties and impact ASD/BCBA ratios. In other words, if children who live in counties with larger non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic population shares are less likely to have a primary educational disability of ASD (Morgan et al., 2017), then lower geographic accessibility as measured in n this study by ASD/BCBA ratios may go undetected

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Autism in Court

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between justice system and autistic people.

Liz Evans Scolforo  at TheYork Dispatch:

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty thought of himself as a forward-thinking judge when, some time ago, a juvenile came before him in a Philadelphia courtroom.

"The juvenile was nonresponsive. I asked him to look me in the eye and he wouldn't," Dougherty told The York Dispatch. "I was finding his behaviors as being incorrigible and borderline delinquent."

It was Dougherty's job that day as a Philadelphia court judge to determine the disposition of the young man's case, he said, and thankfully the juvenile's mother was a strong advocate for her son.

She explained that her son wasn't being defiant — he had autism and couldn't respond in the way the judge expected him to, he recalled.

"I had viewed myself as a forward-thinking judge and was pretty much humiliated and embarrassed," the justice said.

Now, as a justice on Pennsylvania's highest court, Dougherty wants to see change throughout the commonwealth that allows courts to better understand and serve those on the autism spectrum, he said, whether they be defendants, victims, witnesses, jurors or other participants.

Along with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, he has embarked on an online virtual listening tour about criminal justice reform when dealing with those on the autism spectrum.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Headline News

In The Politics of Autism, I write:

If the science were not confusing enough, its coverage in the mass media has added another layer of murk. News reports hype tentative findings and weak correlations as “breakthroughs” in the quest for autism answers. When the research yields mixed results, the media headlines can be comically inconsistent. Consider how various publications covered a 2013 study on the impact of in vitro fertilization:
[i] John J. Pitney, Jr., “IVF, Autism, and Headlines,” Autism Policy and Politics, July 2, 2013. Online:; “Autism and IVF: More Contradictory Headlines,” Autism Policy and Politics, July 3, 2013. Online:

Oliver Darcy at CNN:

News organizations are at risk of "creating false connections and misinformation" when they write headlines that suggest a link between vaccinations and deaths or other health problems where one does not necessarily exist, according to a new study published by the non-partisan non-profit organization Advance Democracy.
The findings, which were provided to CNN Business, show that headlines that, while sometimes factually accurate, are posted with "little to no context" are spread online and "weaponized" by anti-vaccination groups on Facebook where they amass thousands of interactions. Three articles from local news sites gained more than 800,000 interactions on Facebook, the study found.
One of these local news headlines, for example, read, "Health care worker dies after second dose of COVID vaccine, investigations underway."
"[Anti-vaccination activists] are using these headlines to confirm the false information they believe about the dangers of vaccines, which is just scientifically wrong," Daniel J. Jones, the president of Advance Democracy, told CNN Business.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Jill Biden, Autism, and the Military

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.

Abbie Shull at The News Tribune (Tacoma, WA) reports that Dr. Jill Biden visited Joint Base Lewis-McChord on March 9., touting a relaunch of a military family outreach program she started during the Obama administration.
Biden toured the Children's Museum on JBLM with Gov. Jay Inslee and I Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Randy George. The museum is a joint effort between the base and Children's Museum of Tacoma and is set to formally open April 24.

The director of learning experiences at the museum, Alyssa Tongue, showed Biden the new water feature and a sensory exhibit and "calm room" designed for children on the autism spectrum.


Biden's visit is part of an ongoing effort to relaunch Joining Forces, a program she started with former first lady Michelle Obama during the Obama administration. Biden said Joining Forces focused on employment, education and wellness programs for military families, and she hopes to continue those efforts while listening to the evolving needs of the families.


Biden also met with representatives from the JBLM Center for Autism Resources and Education Services (CARES) program which supports families who have children or dependents on the spectrum. JBLM CARES is the only program of its kind in the Department of Defense, which has made the base home to the largest population of military dependents with autism.

62nd Airlift Wing Lt. Col. Rebecca Christi is a developmental behavioral pediatric fellow at Madigan Army Medical Center and the mother of two children with autism. Christi told Biden how JBLM's resources have made it easier for her children to receive specialized education that was unavailable at her previous duty stations.

Christi said she was glad Biden seems ready to focus on the needs of families with special needs children.

"We need to focus on sustaining the model that JBLM has provided," Christi said. "Getting appropriate classroom placement for my son has been essential."

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Autism, COVID, and the European Union

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss international perspectivesComparative public policy on autism services and research needs far more study.

Jordi Cañas, a Spanish member of the European Union Parliament, writes at Parliament:
During the first months of Spain’s strict COVID-19 lockdown, some news shocked me. People on the autism spectrum, and those accompanying them, were being harassed whenever they left their homes, with people believing they were breaking stay-at-home and mask-wearing rules. The Ministry of Health had - quite rightfully and given the needs of people on the autism spectrum - allowed them to do so, but this did not stop the attacks.

This situation worried me, not only because of the negative emotional impact on people on the autism spectrum but also because it showed the general population’s level of unfamiliarity with the disorder. To raise awareness of the situation, people on the autism spectrum began wearing blue T-shirts and bandanas or high-vis vests.

This stigmatising practice should not have been necessary, and shows again how little understanding of autism there is in our society, how important World Autism Awareness Day still is, and how vital associations and their work remain.

A survey conducted by Autism Europe in 2020 showed that 73 percent of respondents felt that the needs of autistic people and their families had not been adequately addressed in relation to the lockdown measures. Moreover, the inconsistency and lack of clarity on the rules and restrictions made it difficult for people on the autism spectrum to access information, and receive the essential support they needed, triggering fear and anxiety in many of them.

Monday, March 15, 2021

RFK Jr. Strikes Again

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

Saranac Hale Spencer and Angelo Fichera at

Several vaccine falsehoods and misrepresentations have been strung together in a video aimed at discouraging Black people from getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

The hourlong video, called “Medical Racism: The New Apartheid,” is hosted by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccination organization, Children’s Health Defense. It includes mostly rehashed claims about vaccine safety framed to exploit distrust of the medical establishment in Black communities.


The video misrepresents a 2004 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that did not find an association between autism and measles, mumps and rubella vaccines.

The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at the age of children living in the Atlanta area when they received their first MMR vaccine and whether there was a correlation between the timing of the vaccine and a diagnosis of autism. If vaccines were contributing to autism, then one might expect to see more autism cases in kids who received the vaccine earlier, as we wrote about a similar claim.

The study did not find that vaccines were causing autism.

But Kennedy’s organization falsely claims that the “study discovered that African-American boys who receive the MMR vaccine ‘on-time’ by the age of 3 are 3.36 times more likely to be diagnosed with severe autism as Black boys who waited until they were older.”

That’s not what the study found. That’s what a purported reanalysis of the data claimed to find a decade later.

Brian Hooker — who has a degree in chemical engineering, not medicine, and has contributed articles to the Children’s Health Defense website — wrote the reanalysis for the journal Translational Neurodegeneration. But the paper was retracted just over a month after it was published.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Disability Policy in the Biden White House

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the presidential policy on disability.  Trump despised people with disabilities. President Biden is different.

Abigail Abrams at Time:
[I]n a historic first, the White House has also named a disability policy director to sit on its Domestic Policy Council and ensure the government is prioritizing Americans with disabilities—including those with lingering disabilities caused by COVID-19.

“We have a lot of people that are going to be starting to identify as people with disabilities in light of COVID,” Kimberly Knackstedt, the new disability policy director, tells TIME on March 11 in her first interview since joining the White House.

Knackstedt has a long history with the disability community. She most recently served as senior disability policy advisor on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. But she started her career as a special education teacher, where she saw the systemic barriers children face to accessing education. She then went on to get a PhD in special education and policy before working on Capitol Hill. Now, she is in charge of tackling those structural barriers and ensuring equity for disabled people from arguably the most powerful disability rights position in the country.

“One of my key goals is making sure that we are putting people with disabilities at the beginning of our policy development, not as the afterthought, which I think has happened so often,” Knackstedt says.

In previous administrations, staffers who focused on disability issues fell under the offices of personnel or public engagement, and functioned more as liaisons between the disability community and the federal government. Now, the White House director of disability policy is part of the Domestic Policy Council, the body that drives much of the Administration’s domestic agenda. The council, led by Susan Rice, has been given a larger role and more staff than in the past and Knackstedt will work alongside experts on climate, health, education, racial justice and Native affairs to shape policy that impacts all parts of Americans’ lives.

At the University of Kansas, Dr. Kneckstedt wrote her dissertation on seclusion and restraint in schools.  The abstract:

Seclusion and restraint are aversive behavioral practices used in schools for control and punishment. The practices were first used in psychiatric hospitals as a means of control over patients. Eventually, the practices began being used in schools alongside other aversive and exclusionary discipline practices, including corporal punishment, suspension, and expulsion. Limited research has explored the connection between policies governing the use of seclusion and restraint and practices in schools. Grounded in organizational theory, this study analyzes the impact of policies on seclusion and restraint practice in 18 states through a multi-phase analysis. The first phase of the analysis explored trends in practices across the U.S. related to discipline, seclusion and restraint, and inclusion of students with disabilities using geo-mapping. After identifying the 18 states for further review, the second phase used a quantitative analysis to identify predictors of seclusion and restraint in each state and with pooled data of all the selected states. The final phase reviewed policies from each of the 18 states on seclusion and restraint to identify similarities and differences. The findings suggest that seclusion and restraint practices will not disappear from the repertoire of teachers simply through policies and mandatory prevention. However, gradual steps must be taken to connect stakeholders and shift from a culture of discipline and control to prevention and inclusion. Policy and research must be utilized as levers to make this change possible