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ASAN President Ari Ne’eman on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal Tomorrow (Saturday) at 9:15 AM

30 Nov

CSPAN will be hosting a program discussing autism with Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) president Ari Ne’eman tomorrow. Below is the email I received from ASAN:

ASAN President Ari Ne’eman on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal
Tomorrow at 9:15 AM

Yesterday was a historic day for the Autistic self-advocacy movement. For the first time, we had representation at a congressional hearing on autism. Although much of yesterday’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Affairs hearing focused on the same tired old questions on causation and cure, but thanks to your efforts, we had a seat at the table to offer another perspective for the first time.

Tomorrow, we’ll have a chance to continue having our voices heard. C-SPAN’s influential morning call-in program Washington Journal has invited ASAN President Ari Ne’eman to come on the show tomorrow morning from 9:15-10 AM to discuss federal disability policy, autism acceptance and the neurodiversity movement. And we want you to be a part of it.

To participate, you can call-in, email or tweet. C-SPAN has specifically urged Autistic people to participate, and has provided a dedicated call in line to help make sure we get on the air.

Call-In Numbers:
Democrats: (202) 585-3880
Republicans: (202) 585-3881
Independents: (202) 585-3882
Autistic People: (202) 585-3883

Please follow us as we also livetweet from @autselfadvocacy with hashtag #AutismOnCSPAN.

I assume that times are Eastern Standard.

Witnesses for Congressional hearing on autism announced

28 Nov

Thursday the US House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform will hold a hearing on autism: 1 in 88 Children: A Look Into the Federal Response to Rising Rates of Autism.

The witness list has been made public on the committee’s website:

Alan Guttmacher, M.D.
Director, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
National Institutes of Health

Coleen Boyle, Ph.D.
Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Mr. Bob Wright
Autism Speaks

Mr. Scott Badesch
Autism Society

Mr. Mark Blaxill
Board Members

Mr. Bradley McGarry
Coordinator of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst
Mercyhurst University

Mr. Michael John Carley
Executive Director
Global & Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership

Mr. Ari Ne’eman
Autistic Self Advocacy Network

ASAN’s Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Autism Research Symposium Goes Live

10 Apr

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) hosted a symposium on the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Autism Research recently. They are now making it available online. See the message below:

Dear Friends:

This week, the media reported that over $1 billion has been spent over the course of the last decade on autism research funding. During a time of constant budget cuts and increasing fiscal pressures on government, this is an astonishing sum. What have we purchased for this investment? How successful has the autism research agenda been in making the American dream a reality for Autistic people and our families? Has our society discussed the ethical, legal and social consequences of how autism research findings may be used? We think these questions are worth asking, and with your help, we think it is past time to get more people involved in the discussion.

Last December, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network joined with the Harvard Law Project on Disability and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics to hold a symposium on the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) of Autism Research. Supported by a grant from the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, the ASAN ELSI Symposium served as the launching point for a robust conversation about changing the way our society approaches autism research. From our partnership with federal research funders to get self-advocates on grant review panels to growing attention to ethical issues on topics like prenatal testing, self-determination in service-provision and more, the need to introduce values into our national autism research dialogue remains stronger than ever.

Over the course of the month of April, we will be releasing captioned videos of December’s ELSI Symposium. The first is already available on our YouTube channel. You can help us get the word out by watching it alone or with your friends and colleagues, sharing it on facebook and twitter, and starting to talk about these things in your own community. The time has come for our voices to be heard.

Nothing About Us, Without Us!
Ari Ne’eman
Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Joint ASAN-Autism Society Statement on DSM 5

31 Jan

Below is a joint statement by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the Autism Society of America on the DSM-5.

Dear Friend,

As two national organizations committed to working to empower the autism and Autistic communities today and into the future, the Autism Society of America and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network issue the following joint statement regarding the definition of Autism Spectrum Disorder within the DSM-5:

The autism spectrum is broad and diverse, including individuals with a wide range of functional needs, strengths and challenges. The DSM-5’s criteria for the new, unified autism spectrum disorder diagnosis must be able to reflect that diversity and range of experience.

Over the course of the last 60 years, the definition of autism has evolved and expanded to reflect growing scientific and societal understanding of the condition. That expansion has resulted in improved societal understanding of the experiences of individuals on the autism spectrum and their family members. It has also led to the development of innovative service-provision, treatment and support strategies whose continued existence is imperative to improving the life experiences of individuals and families. As the DSM-5’s final release approaches and the autism and Autistic communities prepare for a unified diagnosis of ASD encompassing the broad range of different autism experiences, it is important for us to keep a few basic priorities in mind.

One of the key principles of the medical profession has always been, “First, do no harm.” As such, it is essential that the DSM-5’s criteria are structured in such a way as to ensure that those who have or would have qualified for a diagnosis under the DSM-IV maintain access to an ASD diagnosis. Contrary to assertions that ASD is over diagnosed, evidence suggests that the opposite is the case – namely, that racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, adults and individuals from rural and low-income communities face challenges in accessing diagnosis, even where they clearly fit criteria under the DSM-IV. Furthermore, additional effort is needed to ensure that the criteria for ASD in the DSM-5 are culturally competent and accessible to under-represented groups. Addressing the needs of marginalized communities has been a consistent problem with the DSM-IV.

Individuals receive a diagnosis for a wide variety of reasons. Evidence from research and practice supports the idea that enhancing access to diagnosis can result in substantial improvements in quality of life and more competent forms of service-provision and mental health treatment. This is particularly true for individuals receiving diagnosis later in life, who may have managed to discover coping strategies and other adaptive mechanisms which serve to mask traits of ASD prior to a diagnosis. Frequently, individuals who are diagnosed in adolescence or adulthood report that receiving a diagnosis results in improvements in the provision of existing services and mental health treatment, a conceptual framework that helps explain past experiences, greater self-understanding and informal support as well as an awareness of additional, previously unknown service options.

Some have criticized the idea of maintaining the existing, broad autism spectrum, stating that doing so takes limited resources away from those most in need. We contend that this is a misleading argument – no publicly funded resource is accessible to autistic adults and children solely on the basis of a diagnosis. Furthermore, while the fact that an individual has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder does not in and of itself provide access to any type of service-provision or funding, a diagnosis can be a useful contributing factor in assisting those who meet other functional eligibility criteria in accessing necessary supports, reasonable accommodations and legal protections. As such, we encourage the DSM-5 Neurodevelopmental Disorders Working Group to interpret the definition of autism spectrum disorder broadly, so as to ensure that all of those who can benefit from an ASD diagnosis have the ability to do so.

The Autism Society and Autistic Self Advocacy Network encourage other organizations and groups to join with us in forming a national coalition aimed at working on issues related to definition of the autism spectrum within the DSM-5. Community engagement and representation within the DSM-5 process itself is a critical component of ensuring accurate, scientific and research-validated diagnostic criteria. Furthermore, our community must work both before and after the finalization of the DSM-5 to conduct effective outreach and training on how to appropriately identify and diagnose all those on the autism spectrum, regardless of age, background or status in other under-represented groups.

Ari Ne’eman
President of
Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Scott Badesch
President of
Autism Society

Happy Holidays from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

22 Dec

Below is an email I received from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Their end-of-year letter:

As we approach the end of the year, many of you will be getting ready to spend the holiday season with your families. As you do, we hope you’ll take a moment to remember all that we’ve accomplished together this year.

From our Navigating College handbook to our Symposium with Harvard Law School on Ethical, Legal and Social Issues in Autism Research, this has been an exciting year for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. We celebrated our fifth anniversary, engaged in advocacy on critical issues like stopping the Judge Rotenberg Center’s abuse of children, fighting for more public support on critical topics like transition supports, true community integration, stopping restraint and seclusion and more.

In addition, our programming has helped build a stronger voice for the Autistic community in many sectors of American life. In our Keeping the Promise report, we partnered with other national self-advocacy groups to help define community living resulting in a document now being used by advocates and policymakers nationwide. Through our participation in the Academic Autistic Spectrum Partnership in Research and Education (AASPIRE), we are breaking new ground by ensuring the participation of Autistic voices in the research process. What’s more, 2012 promises to bring even more progress.

In 2012, our new internship program with Freddie Mac will result in new job opportunities for Autistic adults. Our forthcoming Autism Campus Inclusion initiative will help train the next generation of Autistic leaders and build a network of Autistic-run organizations on college campuses across the country. Not to mention our continued advocacy and activism to ensure that wherever autism is being discussed, we have a voice at the table – together.

Will you help support our work to keep the self-advocate voice front and center in 2012? Please consider an end of year donation to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. With your help, the momentum we have begun this year can continue and build real and lasting change for our shared community. All donations are tax-deductible.

Ari Ne’eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network

PS. If you are unable or uncomfortable making donations online, donations can be sent to

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
PO Box 66122 NW
Washington, DC 20035

Letter to Massachusetts DDS Commissioner Urging Elimination of Electric Shock, Other Aversives

19 Jul

The National Council on Disability (NCD) has sent a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services Commissioner on electric shocks and other aversives. Massachusetts is the home of the Judge Rotenberg Center which uses electric shocks as a main part of their program.

July 18, 2011

Elin Howe, Commissioner
Department of Developmental Services
500 Harrison Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts 02118


The National Council on Disability (NCD) is an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other Federal agencies regarding laws, policies, practices, and procedures affecting people with disabilities. NCD strongly opposes the use of aversive treatments and accordingly submits these comments.

NCD has a longstanding history of opposing aversive treatments.[ii] As stated in NCD’s 1995 Report Improving the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Making Schools Work for All of America’s Children,

While it is possible to understand the desperation of these parents, to share their exasperation with ineffective programs and treatments, and to sympathize with them in their frustration to locate appropriate programs, there are limits to what society can permit in the name of treatment. There are those in our society who would advocate for severe physical punishment or even the mutilation of prisoners convicted of what everyone would agree are heinous crimes. Yet these prisoners are afforded protection under the law from this treatment, even though there are those who would claim that such treatment would “teach them a lesson.” Students with severe behavioral disabilities are not criminals, and yet present law allows them to be subjected to procedures which cannot be used on the most hardened criminals, or, in some cases, even on animals.[iii]

NCD applauds the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS) for taking steps toward drastically restricting use of aversive punishment, and we urge complete elimination of such methods. The use of electric shock is not a legitimate method of treatment for any person. Such measures – whose use against non-disabled individuals is already recognized as illegal and immoral – are contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act. We urge the Department of Developmental Services to protect both future students and current ones from the use of contingent electric shock and all other such aversive techniques.

In light of the effect on children and youth and with disabilities nationwide, NCD is gravely concerned by the use of aversive treatments at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), in Canton, Massachusetts — the only known school in the United States to provide such treatment. We are aware that students from an estimated 17 other states and the District of Columbia attend JRC and are therefore potential recipients of such aversive treatments.[iv] As such, NCD views this as a significant issue of national importance.

The treatment being provided at JRC is contrary to federal policy and the findings of mental health research. The 2003 President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health stated that restraint will be used only as safety interventions of last resort, not as treatment interventions.[v] Similarly, the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse (HHS) and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) has found that seclusion and restraints are detrimental to the recovery of persons with mental illnesses.[vi]

The practices of JRC are equally contrary to the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act) which states in part:

“…The Federal Government and the States both have an obligation to ensure that public funds are provided only to institutional programs, residential programs, and other community programs, including educational programs in which individuals with developmental disabilities participate, that… meet minimum standards relating to- provision of care that is free of abuse, neglect, sexual and financial exploitation, and violations of legal and human rights and that subjects individuals with developmental disabilities to no greater risk of harm than others in the general population… and prohibition of the use of such restraint and seclusion as a punishment or as a substitute for a habilitation program…” (emphasis added).[vii]

The objectionable practices at JRC have not only attracted national attention but have also been scrutinized internationally. According to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, “. . . the term torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted . . . for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”[viii]

In April 2010, Disability Rights International (formerly Mental Disability Rights International) issued an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture concerning the practices at JRC.[ix] Subsequently, in June 2010, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture stated that the practices of the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts equate to torture and urged the US government to appeal.[x] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is now investigating these, and other, allegations.[xi]

The regulations proposed by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) send a strong message that aversive treatment should not be readily provided, but they must go further. It is critical that the DDS address the concerns identified here and supplement its regulations accordingly.

Thank you for considering our comments and recommendations. NCD stands ready to assist you in ways that our collaboration can best benefit students with disabilities and their families while promoting safe learning environments for all students across America. We are available to discuss these matters at your earliest convenience. Please contact me through NCD’s offices at (202) 272-2004.


Ari Ne’eman
Policy and Program Evaluation Committee Chair
National Council on Disability

[i] With thanks to NCD Council Member Marylyn Howe and NCD Staff Robyn Powell for their invaluable support and assistance in research and drafting.

[ii] National Council on Disability, From Privileges to Rights: People Labeled with Psychiatric Disabilities Speak for Themselves (2002), available at; National Council on Disability, Improving the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Making Schools Work for All of America’s Children (1995), available at

[iii] Id.

[iv] CNN, New York Education Officials Ban Shock Therapy (2006), available at

[v] Mental Disability Rights International, Torture Not Treatment: Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint in the United States on Children and Adults with Disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center (2010), 12, available at

[vi] Id.

[vii] 42 U.S.C. § 15009(a)(3)(B)(i-iii) (2000).

[viii] UN General Assembly, Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 1(1), 10 December 1984, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1465, p. 85, available at

[ix] Mental Disability Rights International, Torture Not Treatment: Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint in the United States on Children and Adults with Disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center (2010), 12, available at

[x] ABC News/Nightline, UN Calls Treatment at Mass. School ‘Torture’ (2010), available at

[xi] US Department of Justice, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez Speaks at the National Council on Independent Living Annual Conference (2010), available at

ASAN: Tell Congress “No” to Three More Years of the Same On Autism Policy

29 May

The Combating Autism Re-authorization Act (CARA) has been started in the U.S. legislature. The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) has issued a position statement on the bill:

Today, Senators Menendez and Enzi will be introducing legislation extending the Combating Autism Act for three more years. The Combating Autism Act was passed in 2005 without the involvement or consultation of a single Autistic person, let alone the broader self-advocate community. Without legislative action by Congress, the Act would expire on September 30th of this year. While we respect the Senators’ good intentions, the Menendez-Enzi legislation would freeze in place the current flawed CAA programs, which fail to make any provision for services, do not incorporate anything about adults on the autism spectrum and exclude self-advocates. As a result, ASAN opposes any long term re-authorization of CAA without badly needed investments in services and vital program reforms to ensure self-advocates are involved at every level. We’re urging you to call your Senators and tell them to OPPOSE the Menendez-Enzi re-authorization legislation as too long an extension without any of the needed reforms. You can reach them through the Capital Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 by giving your state and asking to be put through to your Senator. Making the call and urging their opposition is important even if you don’t feel comfortable having a longer conversation, but if you want to provide additional reasons to oppose this extension we have provided several below:

A three year extension of the existing Combating Autism Act means a three year delay before Congress takes any meaningful action on services for Autistic people across the lifespan. It means three years before any new supports for adults on the autism spectrum are introduced and three years before any of the problems with the status quo are fixed. We can’t afford to wait that long.

CAA’s existing programs enable a severe bias in the autism research agenda against services and adult issues. According to the recently released IACC Research Portfolio, less than one percent of autism research dollars spent in 2009 went to research relating to adults while only three percent went to research about improving services, supports and education! This inequity calls out for change.

CAA’s existing structure excludes the very people who should be at the center of the autism conversation: Autistic people ourselves. By locking in place for another three years a bill that was passed without the involvement of self-advocates, Congress would be sending a message that the needs and perspectives of Autistic adults don’t matter.

Any long term extension of CAA must involve additional investments in services, greater inclusion of self-advocates in every program and more respectful language shifting from “combating autism” to supporting Autistic people. Call Congress today at (202) 224-3121! Remember to call twice in order to reach both of your Senators. If for accessibility reasons, you need to e-mail your Senators instead you can find their e-mails on the Senate website at this link.

We need your help to remind Congress they can’t ignore the voices of the Autistic community. As always, Nothing About Us, Without Us!


The Autistic Self Advocacy Network

First Autistic Presidential Appointee Speaks Out

7 Oct

Wired Magazine has an interview with Ari Ne’eman, Exclusive: First Autistic Presidential Appointee Speaks Out. Mr. Ne’eman has been appointed by the Obama administration to to positions: a seat on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and a seat on the National Council on Disability (NCD).

The author of the Wired piece, Steve Silberman, also blogs at PLoS. His piece there is No More Pity: The First Openly Autistic White House Appointee Speaks Out.

The Wired piece does touch on the opposition to Mr. Ne’eman’s appointment. I am grateful that this an other side issues are also met with a real discussion of what Mr. Ne’eman’s views are. I wish there even more of that discussion. Here is a small sample:

Very few of us wake up in the morning and think, “Have they developed a proper mouse model for autism yet?” Instead, autistic people and their parents worry about finding the educational and support services that they need.

As a parent, I appreciated this question and answer: What advice would you give to neurotypical people who want to become effective allies of the autistic community?

Ne’eman: At the political level, watch where your money is going. There are a lot of well-meaning people who think they’re helping us by donating to Autism Speaks or other groups looking for a cure. It would be better for people to get involved in their local communities and ask tough questions like, “Is my school inclusive? Is my workplace willing to hire autistic people and other people with disabilities?”

Given Mr. Ne’eman’s recent appointments, I felt this was probably the key question of the interview: What do you hope to accomplish in Washington?

Ne’eman: All across the country, we have hundreds of thousands of people on waiting lists for access to community services. People with disabilities don’t have the support we need to live independently, be employed, and participate in civic life. Instead, because of a bias in the way Medicaid is structured, many of us are segregated in institutions, which offer a much lower quality of life to disabled people at the same time that it works out to be much more expensive. It’s easier to get states to pay for an institution than to get them to allow people to access services in their homes. Making community services more accessible would be a huge game changer for all kinds of people with disabilities.

Passing one particular piece of legislation — the Community Choice Act — would accomplish that. The Community Choice Act would make it so that states would be required to pay for supports and services at home or in the community, but it would actually save money, because institutional placements are very expensive. There’s no reason not to do this.

Ari Ne’eman’s previous work with the National Council on Disability

23 Jun

Ari Ne’eman has been appointed as a full member of the National Council on Disability. With that announcement came some criticism of the appointment, including comments on this blog indicating that Mr. Ne’eman’s doesn’t have the experience necessary to serve.

Given that, I thought I would share a couple of things I found on the NCD’s website. I was searching for an announcement of the Senate confirmation of his appointment. What I found was a surprise to me: Mr. Ne’eman has been working with the NCD since 2007 in the Youth Advisory Council.

This recent announcement acknowledges some of Mr. Ne’eman’s work bringing together a coalition of disability organizations:

Advisory Committee Member Achievement

NCD’s Youth Advisory Committee policy workgroup leader, Ari Ne’eman (NJ), received recent accolades for his successful leadership of advocacy work that mobilized the broader disability community on an international scale. In his thank-you note to the 22 disability rights organizations and countless individuals whose combined efforts resulted in withdrawal of an ad campaign depicting people with disabilities in a negative way, Ari noted “this is a victory for inclusion, for respect and for the strength and unity of people with disabilities across the world” (

Mr. Ne’eman was a leader of the NCD’s Youth Advisory Council policy workgroup starting in 2007.

With its charter renewed until October 2009, NCD’s YAC met on November 15, 2007, after welcoming seven new members, new officers (Amy Doherty-chair; Carly Fahey -vice chair; Matt Cavedon -Secretary), procedural workgroup leaders (Ari Ne’eman-Policy; Daman Wandke-Outreach and Networking), and mentors (Stephanie Orlando and Miranda Pelikan). The committee reported topics and issues of interest such as aversives and restraints, healthcare accessibility, expanding ways of gathering youth and young adult perspectives, and planning to make a new proposal to NCD about disability history awareness-raising. We welcome aboard in FY2008 Jesutine Breidenbach (MN), Brett Cunningham (OK), Paul Fogle (PA), Eddie Rea (CA), Nicole Schneider (FL), Nathan Turner (OH), and Bryan Ward (DE). YAC meets again on January 17, 2008, at 4:00 p.m. EST. Please e-mail your questions about YAC to Dr. Gerrie Hawkins

Maybe it is time to give Mr. Ne’eman credit for years of service and welcome him to the NCD?

ASAN Update on NCD Confirmation

23 Jun

I received this email update this morning. I wrote a brief piece about the appointment yesterday.

This is another ASAN Update for bloggers in the Autistic and disability rights communities. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network would like to thank President Obama and the U.S. Senate for the nomination and confirmation of ASAN President Ari Ne’eman to serve as a member of the National Council on Disability (NCD). He will be the first Autistic person to serve as a member of NCD. An independent federal agency, NCD makes recommendations to the President and Congress on issues of importance to Americans with disabilities. To learn more about NCD, go to

An article about the confirmation can be found on Disability Scoop:

As always, we encourage you to contact us with your comments, and please let us know if you would prefer to receive these announcements at a different address or to be removed from the list.

Best regards,

Meg Evans, Director of Community Liaison
Autistic Self Advocacy Network