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Will a new IACC be seated soon?

22 Mar

The United States has a committee enacted by law called the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee or IACC. The IACC describes itself on its web page as:

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) is a Federal advisory committee that coordinates all efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) concerning autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Through its inclusion of both Federal and public members, the IACC helps to ensure that a wide range of ideas and perspectives are represented and discussed in a public forum.

The IACC mission is to:

Provide advice to the Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding Federal activities related to autism spectrum disorder.

Facilitate the exchange of information on and coordination of ASD activities among the member agencies and organizations.

Increase public understanding of the member agencies’ activities, programs, policies, and research by providing a public forum for discussions related to ASD research and services.
IACC meetings are open to the public and include presentations and discussions on a variety of topics, including activities and projects of the IACC, recent advances in science and autism policy issues. A portion of each meeting is reserved for public comment. A summary of each meeting is posted on the meetings & events page.

The thing is, the IACC hasn’t had a meeting since last September, and that wasn’t even a full committee meeting. They haven’t met because the committee was dissolved since the law that created that generation of the IACC ended. A new law was passed and enacted before the previous law hit its sunset date, and so the activities of the IACC will continue through 2019. A nomination process was opened to reconstitute the committee last fall.

Consider the events surrounding the formation of the recently ended IACC (the third committee if you are keeping count). We (I was a member) were formed at the end of March 2012 after a hiatus following the sunset of the 2nd committee in September of 2011. While the press release is dated the end of March, my recollection is that the announcement came April 1st.

So, here we are, nearing the end of March following the sunset of the previous committee in September of last year.

Nothing says that they have to follow the same pattern, but it would be reasonable to expect a new committee to be announced soon. As in April 1st, the start of Autism Acceptance Month (aka Autism Awareness Month). Expect a lot of press releases around April 1 and 2 (World Autism Awareness Day) for various autism related activities, mostly centering around the “awareness” month.

This said, I suspect the speculation will soon turn to who will be on the new (4th) Committee. It’s very safe and very appropriate to say that organizations which fund a lot of research will have representation on the Committee. Thus, someone from Simons Foundation (the largest private funder of autism related research), Autism Speaks and Autism Science Foundation. Someone forwarded me a link stating that the representative from SafeMinds was not seeking reappointment, but that doesn’t mean another member of SafeMinds couldn’t be appointed.

While the Autism Society of America doesn’t fund much research, they are a large member organization and someone from ASA has been on the IACC for at least the past two incarnations.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, ASAN, had a member on each of the last two committees. My understanding is that the ASAN representative to the last committee (Scott Robertson) landed a position in government which posed a conflict and he had to resign the last IACC. He was not replaced with a self advocate, ASAN member or not. So, I would not be surprised if there is not an ASAN member on the next committee. I also wouldn’t be surprised if an ASAN member is on the next committee. (How’s that for hedging my bets)

The law which calls for the IACC requires self-advocate representation. Scott Robertson, Noah Britton and John Elder Robison were on the previous committee and all were excellent. Noah did a great deal of work in writing subsections of the IACC strategic plan. John is likely the most vocal of any member on the Committee (aside from Tom Insel, the chair) and is pretty much willing to take on any topic, and able to speak to it well.

It was recently pointed out to me that the self-advocates so far have all been Caucasian males. While I appreciate the contributions of John, Scott and Noah, I would greatly appreciate seeing more diversity in this area.

I won’t go through all the rest of the public members, but I will bring up a few. David Mandell is a researcher I’ve had a great deal of respect for since pretty much I started reading autism research. He has a great deal of expertise on services, which is an area that will be of heightened importance for the next Committee. In the area of services, Paul Shattuck would be an excellent new addition. Both Paul and David ask questions few others ask–focusing attention on populations that just don’t get the attention that they should. Either or both would be an asset to the next Committee.

Geri Dawson was on the previous IACC, starting as a member of Autism Speaks. She is incredibly knowledgeable about autism research, especially what is current (and in the pipeline).

One person I would like to see return is Sally Burton-Hoyle. I wrote about a presentation she gave to the IACC last year. If you watch her presentation (it’s on the teen transition and supporting autistics in college, something she knows a great deal about as that’s her job) you will see that she’s also quite on target as someone to contribute for the new services focus of the IACC. She also represents a constituency we don’t speak to enough: adults who are not self-advocates. She had an adult autistic brother. Sally Burton-Hoyle and Alison Singer were the two people I am aware of who represented non self-advocate adults (Alison has an autistic brother).

I felt strongly that the IACC should not have been disbanded but continued with additional members added to meet the new mandates (and, also, allowing for those members who wanted to be done to be replaced). The new law was in effect in time to allow for the committee to continue. The House Report (from the Energy and Commerce Committee) stated:

The Committee appreciates the diverse makeup of IACC, and would like the panel to continue to represent the diversity within the autism community and remain a place where all viewpoints can be heard. Current members include parents and legal guardians, individuals with an autism diagnosis, advocacy organizations, and medical researchers. The Committee believes that these groups should continue to be represented. After previous reauthorizations of the Combating Autism Act, IACC has been dissolved and reconstituted. The Committee believes that this is unproductive and disruptive, and would like IACC to remain active, as the changes in this bill are instituted to ensure continuity.

But that’s in a report, not the law. While I agree with the Report, it might have helped if Congress had included this language in the bill. This language together with appropriations sufficient to staff the Office of Autism Research Coordination to a level that they can support the IACC and the other duties OARC has.

There’s a lot to do for the next Committee. There is a mandate to produce a services plan. The Stategic Plan for Autism Research needs to be updated. Besides the lost time in dissolving and reconstituting the IACC, the previous Committee was experienced and could have started work immediately.

Again, I’m expecting the next Committee to be announced in about a week and a half (April 1 or 2). I had hope it wouldn’t take this long, and I have even more hope that it won’t take longer than that. There’s a lot to be done.


By Matt Carey

Over $20k in donations to Congressman Posey and now people expect another hearing

7 Feb

Remember a few years back when Representative Darrell Issa held autism hearings? One in 2012 and one in 2014. As chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he was apparently able to make that happen, even if he didn’t show up for the second hearing. It turned out that groups that promote the failed idea that vaccines caused an autism epidemic had done a fair bit of lobbying, including getting Andrew Wakefield (of all people) to meet with and dine with the one or more members of congress. And then there’s the fact that at least one activist in the vaccines-cause-autism cause had made rather significant ($40,000) donations to congressman Issa.

Even with the heavy lobbying and donations, neither Oversight hearing was quite what these groups wanted. The first only one of their advocates testified, and in the second hearing none. These lobbying groups did produce video clips of members of congress grilling members of the CDC, especially Congressman Posey reading questions and statements apparently prepared for him by these lobbyists. These video clips have been useful for these groups but, seriously, a full on congressional hearing to produce YouTube videos for the donors to the chairman? That’s the sort of wasted resources that Oversight is supposed to prevent, not create.

Last fall many of those pushing the idea of vaccine causation really wanted to use the leaks by CDC researcher William Thompson to get another congressional hearing. A hearing that would focus on vaccines (since the first two hearings held by Oversight did not). Or, to put it simply, one which could stay in their control. That didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean people have given up hope for a hearing.

It has become clear over the past year that whatever influence these lobbying groups had gained with Representative Issa, that influence had waned. The second Oversight hearing included no public representatives and Mr. Issa was not even present. Further, fundraising efforts no longer focus on Mr. Issa.

Attention has shifted to Mr. Posey, a representative from Florida. A fundraiser was held for Mr. Posey last year.

A recent story claims that a new hearing is in the works. This time in House Science Committee. Coincidentally, Mr. Posey sits on the Science Committee. Mr. Posey has been a friend to the vaccines-cause-autism groups for some time, and sat in on the Oversight hearings. Last year’s fundraiser was an interesting event for many reasons. First, Mr. Posey was in a very safe race, so he wasn’t really in need of donations to win. Second, the people putting on the fundraiser were mostly (if not all) from outside of the Congressman’s district. Third, one of the primary people organizing the fundraiser was the same person who had donated about $40,000 to Congressman Issa.

Let’s take a look again at the people listed as donors for that fundraiser:

Jennifer Larson of the Canary Party and Health Freedom
Sallie Bernard of Safeminds and Autism Speaks
JB Handley of Generation Rescue
Tony Lyons of Shy[sic] Horse Publishing
Barry Segal of Focus Autism
Mark Blaxill of the Canary Party and Health Freedom
Dr. Gary Kompothecras
Teri Costigan

I went to the Federal Elections Commission website and OpenSecrets.org and checked for donations from these individuals to Congressman Posey.

Jennifer Larson, 3 donations for $5200 total in 2014

Sallie Bernard, $1000

JB Handley, $1000

Barry Segal, $2600

Mark Blaxill $5000

Gary Kompothecras and his wife, $5200

If Terri Costigan is Theresa Costigan, then here’s another $1000

I did not find donations from Mr. Lyons

That’s about $21,000.

Of course there could be more donations other than the people advertised before the event. For example, there are also two donations from a Mary Lang, totaling $5000. There is a Mary Lang from the same city who runs an autism school and who has spoken at the AutismOne parent convention (AutismOne promotes heavily the idea that autism and vaccines are linked).

If those donations are also part of this fundraising effort, that would bring the total accounted for so far to $26,000.

If you go to the story that is claiming a hearing is in the works, it does appear to be still in the “wishful thinking” stage. The article doesn’t give any recent quotes from Mr. Thompson and quotes a staffer for Congressman Posey as stating “We’re working with the Science Committee to get a hearing”.

Representative Posey is on the Science Committee and the Subcommittee on Oversight. And people interested in a Congressional hearing organized a fundraising event for the representative in an election year where he was an almost sure win. And collected over $20,000 in that event.

Are the fundraiser and hopes for a hearing connected? Or is it just a coincidence that people flew from all over the U.S. to attend a fundraiser dinner in Florida and later push for a hearing in that same Representative’s committee? Decide for yourself. I don’t see it as coincidence.

I find a few more points worth noting. First, Generation Rescue and the Age of Autism blog put out a call for people to show support for Representative Posey. The donation link given states that:

Federal law requires us to use our best efforts to collect and report the name, mailing address, occupation and name of employer for each individual who contributions exceed $200 in an election cycle

Records available on FEC.gov and OpenSecrets.org show donations as small as $25 per individual.

I don’t see a large influx of donations in the record for Mr. Posey. I don’t see donations from, say Jenny (Jennifer) McCarthy of Generation Rescue nor Candace McDonald, executive director for GR. I don’t see donations from the bloggers at the Age of Autism. Perhaps I missed them or perhaps they were too small to be recorded. Or perhaps there just wasn’t a large turnout. There isn’t a large number of donors from out of state around the time of the Age of Autism call. Out of state donors would indicate that a nationwide call had an effect.

I also didn’t see any indication that many people showed up for the fundraiser outside of the group noted in the pre-event publicity.

The last point I find interesting is this: Congressman Posey is still not a member of the Congressional Autism Caucus. Nor have I seen him act as a strong supporter of autism related legislation.


By Matt Carey

Sally Burton-Hoyle’s IACC presentation: Teen Transition

22 Dec

One member of the previous Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (and I hope a member of the next IACC) is Sally Burton-Hoyle. Or to be more accurate, Prof. Sally-Burton Hoyle, as she teaches at Eastern Michigan University and holds the title Associate Professor. In the last full IACC meeting, Prof. Burton-Hoyle gave a presentation on the “Teen Transition”. I apologize that the closed captioning is not present in this video. One can find the video with the closed captioning at the NIH videocast website, here. Click on chapter 14 and you will go straight to her presentation.

She presents on the program to support autistics at Eastern Michigan University. The program seems like an excellent support system for autistics in college.

All to often, we in the autism communities seem to present our advocacy groups as primarily divided between adult self-advocates and parents of young kids with a very different set of challenges. And by this point in the article I suspect many people have put Prof. Burton-Hoyle in the category of “advocating for adult self-advocates”. And that would be a mistake. OK, sure, she is doing great work advocating for adults in college, but she is also the sister of an adult autistic who was not a self advocate. An adult who passed away early. And Prof. Burton-Hoyle brought that breadth of experience to the table at the IACC. And in my opinion that breadth of experience and breadth of advocacy is much needed on the IACC. There is a place for advocates with a more narrow focus, but with so few seats and such a varied autism community we need people on the IACC who will advocate for multiple sub-communities within the broader autism community.


By Matt Carey

Dan Aykroyd, still autistic after all these years

5 Dec

With all the recent hullabaloo about how celebrities being autistic somehow harms the autism community (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check news sources for Jerry Seinfeld and autism), one counter example seems to be ignored: Dan Aykroyd.  Mr. Aykroyd is perhaps most famous for his movie Ghost Busters, but his credits are many (including my favorite, Elwood Blues of the Blues Brothers).  He’s a successful entertainer, and a diagnosed autistic.

Begs the question, why no backlash against him?

One can only speculate, so speculate I will.  First, Mr. Aykroyd’s “coming out” didn’t make such a public splash.  In my mind, that’s the most likely explanation for a lack of backlash.  People could see his statement as more of a threat.  Also, with more publicity, people know that their responses will be more widely read.  A second reason for the difference in response is that Mr. Aykroyd handled the topic much better than did Mr. Seinfeld.   Consider these two news stories:

In 2013 he was interviewed by the Daily Mail.  In ‘I have Asperger’s – one of my symptoms included being obsessed with ghosts’, Mr. Aykroyd responded to the question of what is his “worst illness” thus:

I was diagnosed with Tourette’s at 12. I had physical tics, nervousness and made grunting noises and it affected how outgoing I was. I had therapy which really worked and by 14 my symptoms eased. I also have Asperger’s but I can manage it. It wasn’t diagnosed until the early Eighties when my wife persuaded me to see a doctor. One of my symptoms included my obsession with ghosts and law enforcement — I carry around a police badge with me, for example. I became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the idea of my film Ghostbusters was born.

Dan Aykroyd: ‘My Harley-Davidson is a form of psychiatric therapy. You get on that and you don’t need a shrink’

My very mild Asperger’s has helped me creatively. I sometimes hear a voice and think: “That could be a character I could do.” Of course there are many different grades, right up to the autism spectrum, and I am nowhere near that. But I sympathise with children who have it.

Let’s do the compare and contrast with Mr. Aykroyd and Mr. Seinfeld.

1) Mr. Aykroyd has a diagnosis.  About 3 decades ago he was diagnosed.  Of course, back then Asperger syndrome wasn’t an “official diagnosis”.  But, of course Asperger’s work on autism goes back as far as Hans Kanner’s work.  Mr. Seinfeld doesn’t have (nor did he claim to have) a diagnosis.

2) Mr. Aykroyd was also diagnosed with Tourette syndrome.  At age 12.  So, having a neurlogical diagnosis early on gives more credence to his later-in-life autism (Asperger) diagnosis.

3) Mr. Aykroyd has acknowledged that his challenges are much less than most autistics. This is a big point.  Temple Grandin does the same thing, by the way.  As do pretty much every self-advocate I’ve ever encountered in real life or online.

So, yeah, Mr. Aykroyd and Mr. Seinfeld approached their public discussions of autism very differently.  And, as a result have received very different responses.

Leaving aside the lack of any “rage spirals” involved in Mr. Aykroyd’s revelation, what about the basic fact that he’s been essentially ignored?  Here we have an autistic, with comorbid Tourette syndrome, who is successful.  Who credits his autism as contributing to his success.

Why is he ignored?  Perhaps that question is asked and answered.  He’s successful and he credits his autism with contributing to his success.  That doesn’t fit into the narrative.  While Mr. Aykroyd is NLMK (not like my kid), he could be a hero for some in the autism community.  Why can’t we have autistic heroes?  Autistic people whom autistics and non-autistics can look up to and say, “Dang, s/he did well”?

The answer is we can have autistic heroes.  We can acknowledge successful autistics.   Because there is no one face of autism.  Autism can be Dan Aykroyd and be people who need extraordinary support so they don’t end up sedated or restrained in an emergency room.  Sometimes we talk about those who meet a more standard definition of successful. Sometime we talk about those with more extraordinary challenges.  And sometimes we talk about the entire spectrum in a single conversation.  That’s what it means to be part of such a varied community.

By Matt Carey

Disneyland and the Disability Access Service Card

2 Dec

When Disney announced that they were going to change how they handled services for disabled guests, I and many others were concerned. The old system was very informal and worked well, in my opinion.  It was just a piece of paper and you showed it to people at the line and they would help you by either putting you in a separate disability line or let you go to the exit and get in line there.  It made it possible to enjoy the park without waiting in long lines where the disabled person and, possibly, others in the line would have a much less than optimal experience.  While it didn’t guarantee short lines, in practice that’s they way it often worked.  So people who just can’t take Disneyland for long periods of time could get a “full day” in a few hours.  With Disney costing $90 for kids, $96 for those 10 and older, it’s a big deal if you can only be there for a few hours and most of that time is spent in line.  I could seriously see getting on one, maybe two major rides and that’s it.

But, sadly, informal systems can be gamed easily.  And that’s what happened.  See Rich Manhattan moms hire handicapped tour guides so kids can cut lines at Disney World for an example.  Or just read the title.

Shannon Rosa wrote about the new system over at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism as One Autistic Teen’s Disneyland Success Story.   She and Leo visited Disneyland a few weeks ago (Nov. 2014).  Also, there’s Disney DAS from a diary of a mom describing their trip in May to Walt Disney World.

Shannon mentioned in her article that they were about to change the disability access service again.  And by the time I went with my family, changes had taken place.

I’ll go into more detail below, but the main point in how the disability pass works is this: for rides where they have a fast-pass entrance, the ticket for the disabled person is the disability pass.  That ticket works much like a fast-pass.

So, here’s the “more detail” part:

Step 1: go to City Hall on Main Street (it’s too your left as you enter the park).  Bring your entire party and all the tickets.  I stood in line and called my family when I got to the front (that whole, not doing well with lines, thing).

Step 2: At City Hall they will take the picture(s) of the disabled person(s).  They will scan all the tickets.  You need to specify which ticket(s) belong to the disabled person(s).  They ask you to write that person’s name on the ticket. That ticket has to be used for most rides where he/she wants disability access.

You will also be given a white piece of paper with the terms and conditions for disability access.  You will be asked to sign a copy of these terms and conditions.  Keep your copy–it’s your disability pass for rides without the fastpass like access.

Step 3: They will explain the process to you while they scan your tickets so you can get more accurate and up-to-date information than I’m giving here.

Step 4: The Disney cast member who is helping you will ask which ride you want to go on first.  Tell them that and they will scan your tickets and tell you when you can go on that ride.  For example, we said, “It’s a small world”. It was 10:30am.  We were told that any time after 11am we could go to the disability line.

Step 5: Enjoy the park, other rides, shopping, music, resting, etc. until your time.  Any time after your appointed time, you can go to the disability access line for that ride.  Tickets are scanned and you are allowed in line. For It’s a Small World, there is a separate disability access line.  For other rides, say, Star Tours, one goes to the fastpass person.  That person will scan your ticket and then you are in the regular line.  The Star Tours person gave us a plastic laminated pass that we took with us to the next person in line.  I’m not sure what purpose that serves.

Step 6: Once done with a ride, you can get in another “virtual” line with your pass.  There are three kiosks in Disneyland for this.  One in the Main Street central plaza.  One is in Fantasy Land between Dumbo and the Storybook Land ride.  The third is in Tomorrow Land between Star Tours and the gift shop at the exit of Star Tours.  The person at the kiosk will scan your tickets and tell you what time you can get in the disability access line.

Alternatively, one can go to the fastpass person at the line for the ride you want to get on and ask to be put on the virtual line for that ride (and that ride only).  When I went to some rides I was asked “do you want to get in line or are you already registered”.  So, you don’t have to go to one of the three disability kiosks each time.  I got some mixed messages about that, though.  One person told me that I couldn’t be added.

Not all rides have disability access lines or fastpass.  For example, the train. At the train we asked a cast member what to do and were told to just wait at the exit.  When the train came to the station, we showed another cast member our white pass (remember those terms and conditions discussed above?) and got on the train.  Basically, this is how the old disability access pass worked.

Disney has a web page on disability access and strategies: Services for Guests with Disabilities.  There’s a pdf on the Disability Access Service (DAS) there, and I’ve copied it here: dlr-disability-access-service_2014-11-19.

I bring this up because here’s a key paragraph in that document:

DAS, with its virtual wait, will accommodate many of our Guests with disabilities. We recognize, however, that our Guests with disabilities have varying needs, and we will continue to work individually with our Guests to provide assistance.
In unique situations, our Guest Relations staff will discuss special accommodations for persons who are concerned DAS doesn’t meet their needs (e.g., those whose disability limits the duration of their visit to the park or limits their choice of attractions).

All accommodations will be made in person, on site at Guest Relations. We are unable to provide accommodations in advance of a Guest visit.

This tells me they’ve been paying attention to people like myself who have complained that it isn’t just the lines for each ride that matter.  For some of us, our time in the park is very limited.  And at $100/ticket ($90/kids under 10), it’s a big deal to go to Disneyland.  Even with accommodations, my kid was melting down in the last line and we were not at the park for very long.

Next time I’m printing out that pdf (or whatever they have at the time) and bringing it along.

By Matt Carey

Final Reminder: 2014 IACC Call for Nominations Closes Friday, November 14, 2014!

13 Nov

The email below was just sent by the Office of Autism Research Coordination to remind the communities that the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee is being reformed–nominations are still open but only until tomorrow.

In other words: if you want to be considered, or if you want to nominate someone else for consideration, now is the time to get those nominations in.

From OARC:

Final Reminder: 2014 IACC Call for Nominations Closes Friday, November 14, 2014!

Only one more day to send in submissions!

The Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is seeking nominations of individuals to serve as non-federal public members on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory committee established in accordance with the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-416, PDF – 49 KB) and reauthorized by the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-157, PDF – 211 KB).  The Committee, composed of federal officials and public stakeholders, provides recommendations and advice to the Secretary of HHS regarding issues related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including ASD research and services activities.

The Office of the Secretary of HHS has directed the Office of Autism Research Coordination to assist the Department in conducting an open and transparent nomination process. Nominations of new public members are encouraged, and current members may also be re-nominated to continue to serve. Self-nominations and nominations of other individuals are both permitted. Final selections and appointments of public members will be made by the Secretary. The period of service will be from the time of appointment through September 30, 2019.

The call for nominations opened on October 1, 2014 and will close at the end of the day (11:59 p.m.) on November 14, 2014. Please ensure e-mails or standard mail/Fedex are sent and date and time stamped by the given deadline.

Please click on the links below for information about the committee, and the requirements and instructions for submitting a nomination.

IACC Co-occurring conditions workshop: Lewin Group presentation on co-occurring conditions in autistic children in the U.S.

4 Nov

Anjali Jain of the Lewin group presented on data they have collected from medical records about the prevalence of co-occurring conditions found in autistic children in the U.S.. This presentation was made to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee in Sept. 2014. (the original video is here, and the Lewin Group talk started at about timestamp 17:50.  The original has closed captioning).

Some of the most common co-occurring conditions are anxiety and depression. In fact, mental health conditions are found in about 70% of autistics. Similarly, neurological conditions and neurodevelopmental disorders are found in about 70% of autistics. By comparison, GI+nutritional disorders (which include areas like allergies), which get a great deal of attention, are found in about 20% of the autistic population. While large, this is much less common than the 70% rates found for mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Another interesting finding was that autistic children are seen more often for treatment of infectious diseases. If the risk for serious problems from infectious diseases is higher in autistic children, this makes the decision of many autism parents to stop vaccinating their children even more problematic.

The full video (with closed captioning) can be found here:

http://videocast.nih.gov/launch.asp?18636


By Matt Carey

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