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Ari Ne’eman appointed to National Council on Disability

22 Jun

Ari Ne’eman has been appointed to the National Council on Disability. This will make him the first autistic member of the Council. Mr. Ne’eman is the Founding President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN).

I have been checking the Senate Calendar periodically to monitor the status of his nomination, which was on hold. When I found his name was no longer on the calendar, I did a quick google search and round Senate Confirms Controversial Autism Self-Advocate To National Disability Council. Disability Scoop notes that Mr. Ne’eman’s appointment was unanimously approved by the Senate.

Earlier this year, Mr. Ne’eman was appointed to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.

Finding common ground at the IACC

1 May

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) met Friday. New members were introduced, including Ari Ne’eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

The autism communities are far from unanimous in goals and methods. Given the makeup of the IACC, consisting as it does of governmental agencies plus public members of organizations that have been highly critical of each other, one might wonder if it anything could get accomplished.

But, in the end, most groups have more than a single goal. And, if you remember back to your set theory lessons, that leads to intersections–overlap–common ground.

I was reminded of this watching the IACC meeting. I could only watch bits and pieces during the day. One standout part of the morning came when Jim Moody of the National Autism Association gave a public comment talking about issues of safety, elopement, drownings–preventable deaths of autistics young and old.

Towards the end of the meeting I listened to a number of people refer back to this presentation. Amongst these commenters was Ari Ne’eman. Mr. Ne’eman obviously took the idea seriously and was calling for serious consideration of how this could be implemented into the Strategic Plan, calling for input from the services subcommittee.

I know the idea of safety are not new to Mr. Ne’eman. I contacted him recently when I was preparing a piece, Search and Rescue and autistics.

The members of the IACC span a wide diversity of ideas and viewpoints. Diversity, that’s a good thing.

But, working together for the common good: that’s common ground. Ideas that span diverse organizations and viewpoints. That is a very good thing.

Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee welcomes new members

30 Apr

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) is a U.S. government committee which oversees autism research activities of the various U.S. agencies. The committee is made up of a representatives of those agencies plus members of the public.

The current public members are:

Lee Grossman
President and CEO
Autism Society

Yvette M. Janvier, M.D.
Medical Director
Children’s Specialized Hospital

Christine M. McKee, J.D.

Lyn Redwood, R.N., M.S.N.
Co-Founder and Vice President
Coalition for SafeMinds

Stephen M. Shore, Ed.D.
Executive Director
Autism Spectrum Consulting

Alison Tepper Singer, M.B.A.
President
Autism Science Foundation

Here is the announcement for the new members

Secretary Sebelius Announces New Members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today the appointment of five new members to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), a federal advisory committee created in an effort to accelerate progress in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research and services.

The committee is composed of a diverse group of federal officials from HHS agencies and the Department of Education, as well as public members that include people with ASD, parents of people with ASD, and leaders of national ASD advocacy and research organizations.

In January 2009, the IACC released its first strategic plan for autism research. The IACC released a second edition of its strategic plan in January 2010.

“Today I am pleased to announce new members of the IACC, who will bring additional points of view and expertise to the committee,” Secretary Sebelius said. “I look forward to hearing from the committee members on important matters that affect people with autism and their families as we continue our efforts to address this urgent public health challenge.”

ASDs are a group of developmental disabilities that cause major social, communication and behavioral challenges with symptoms that present before age 3. ASDs affect each person in different ways and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an average of 1 in every 110 children in the United States has some form of ASD.

For more information on the IACC, visit http://www.iacc.hhs.gov/

New Members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee

Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D.
As chief science officer for Autism Speaks, Dr. Dawson works with the scientific community and stakeholders to shape and expand the foundation’s scientific vision. She also is a licensed clinical psychologist with a research focus on early detection and intervention, early patterns of brain dysfunction and the identification of biological markers for autism genetic studies. Dr. Dawson also serves as research professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and professor emeritus of psychology at University of Washington.

Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D.
Dr. Fischbach is the scientific director for the Simons Foundation where he oversees the Autism Research Initiative. He has spent his career as a neuroscientist studying the formation and maintenance of synapses, the junctions between nerve cells which allow signals to be transmitted. Before joining the Simons Foundation, Dr. Fischbach served as the Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke from 1998 to 2001 and as the Executive Vice President of Columbia University Medical Center and Dean of the faculties of medicine from 2001 to 2006.

Ari Ne’eman
Mr. Ari Ne’eman is the founding president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, where he works to increase the representation of autistic people in public policy discussions. He is an adult on the autism spectrum and a leading advocate in the neurodiversity movement. Mr. Ne’eman has served on the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force and the New Jersey Special Education Review Commission, where he authored a minority report advocating legislative action against the use of aversives, restraint and seclusion. He is a board member of TASH, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, and is involved with the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education.

Denise D. Resnik
Denise Resnik is the co-founder and board development chair of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). She is the mother of an 18-year-old son with autism. Ms. Resnik serves on the Autism Speaks Family Services Committee and Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA) Steering Committee. She participated in the 2006 NIMH Autism Matrix Review and the IACC Scientific Workshops to develop the IACC Strategic Plan and subsequent updates.

Marjorie Solomon, Ph.D.
Assistant professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the University of California, Davis

Dr. Marjorie Solomon is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, Davis. She serves on the Faculty of the Medical Investigation of Neurological Disorders (MIND) Institute and the Autism Research Training Program where she conducts research on a social skills training intervention for high-functioning children with ASD, incorporating parents and siblings in the research. In addition to her clinical research work, Dr. Solomon studies cognition and learning in high-functioning individuals with ASD.

White House Remains Steadfast In Support Of Disability Council Nominee

30 Mar

Disability Scoop has a new article about the nomination of Ari Ne’eman to the National Council on Disability.

Mr. Ne’eman’s appointment has been on hold in the Senate, as noted in a New York Times article and on this blog (and others).

“We are still behind Mr. Ne’eman and hope for a quick confirmation,” a senior White House official told Disability Scoop on Monday.

The appointment has the support of multiple disability advocacy groups. Again, from Disability Scoop:

Nonetheless, more than a dozen disability advocacy groups including the Autism Society of America, Easter Seals, Special Olympics and the American Association of People with Disabilities have expressed support for Ne’eman’s appointment.

Ari Ne’eman’s appointment to the National Council on Disability on hold

28 Mar

In a piece in the New York Times, Nominee to Disability Council Is Lightning Rod for Dispute on Views of Autism, Amy Harmon discusses Ari Ne’eman and his nomination to the National Council on Disability (NCD).

Mr. Ne’eman’s name was submitted by the White House as part of a group of nominees to the NCD. His nomination is to succeed Robert Davila, whose term has expired. Mr. Ne’eman’s nomination was “ordered to be reported favorably” by the Senate HELP committee on March 10th and sent to the full senate. At present, the nomination is on hold.

Mr. Ne’eman is an autistic adult. If his nomination is confirmed he will be the first autistic to serve on the NCD. He is probably best known his efforts with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), which he founded. ASAN seeks to advance rights of autistcs as reflected in its mission statement:

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network seeks to advance the principles of the disability rights movement in the world of autism. Drawing on the principles of the cross-disability community on issues such as inclusive education, community living supports and others, ASAN seeks to organize the community of Autistic adults and youth to have our voices heard in the national conversation about us. In addition, ASAN seeks to advance the idea of neurological diversity, putting forward the concept that the goal of autism advocacy should not be a world without Autistic people. Instead, it should be a world in which Autistic people enjoy the same access, rights and opportunities as all other citizens. Working in fields such as public policy, media representation, research and systems change, ASAN hopes to empower Autistic people across the world to take control of their own lives and the future of our common community. Nothing About Us, Without Us!

I will repeat for emphasis: “ASAN seeks to advance the idea of neurological diversity, putting forward the concept that the goal of autism advocacy should not be a world without Autistic people. Instead, it should be a world in which Autistic people enjoy the same access, rights and opportunities as all other citizens”.

I find that a position difficult to argue with. Who wouldn’t support access, rights and opportunities for autistics?

This mission statement is fully in line with the purpose of the National Council on Disability, which also promotes rights and opportunity:

The purpose of NCD is to promote policies, programs, practices, and procedures that guarantee equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities, and that empower individuals with disabilities to achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and inclusion and integration into all aspects of society.

As the parent of an autistic child with very significant disabilities, I can say without reservation we need groups working on improving the rights and access and opportunities of autistics. I believe Mr. Ne’eman and the National Council on Disability would be an excellent match.

In her piece in the Times, Ms. Harmon notes that it is unclear who put the hold on the nomination and what the reason may be. Senate rules allow for a single senator to place a hold, anonymously, for any reason (including just plain obstructionism):

Mr. Obama’s seven other nominees to the council were confirmed this month. But parliamentary procedure in the Senate allows one or more members to prevent a motion from reaching the floor for a vote by placing an anonymous hold on the action, which an official with knowledge of the proceedings said had been done in Mr. Ne’eman’s case.

The Senate has been rather obstructionist in approving many Obama administration appointments, leading the President to employ recess appointments in order to get some of his nominees into jobs. Recess appointments are not the sort of action the President takes lightly, indicating the level of obstructionism in place.

Mr. Ne’eman’s nomination to the NCD generated some discussion within the online autism communities when it was announced. For many people this centered on a question of whether Mr. Ne’eman viewed autism as a disability. Many went so far as to outright claim that he does not see autism as a disability. It would seem clear that Mr. Ne’eman views autism as a disability merely from ASAN’s mission statement which places ASAN as a disability rights organization. For those who remained unsure, Mr. Ne’eman answered this claim quite clearly in a recent piece he wrote for Disabilty Studies Quarterly:

It should be stressed: none of this is meant to deny the very real fact that autism is a disability. It is only to point out that disability is as much a social as a medical phenomenon and that the “cure” approach is not the best way forward for securing people’s quality of life.

Mr. Ne’eman and ASAN have been very active in united efforts by multiple disability groups, such as the recent request for an investigation into the methods employed by the Judge Rotenberg Center (which includes electric shocks and seclusion). One thing lacking in most autism organizations, in my view, is the recognition of our place within a larger disability community. Mr. Ne’eman’s track record of collaborations within this broader community is another sign that he would be an excellent candidate for the NCD.

The Times article concludes with:

But the split among autism advocates, suggests Lee Grossman, director of the Autism Society of America, may simply reflect the unmet needs of a growing population, for both research into potential treatments and for programs to support jobs and independent living.

“We have this community out there frustrated and bewildered and reaching out for any assistance, and that makes us battle-hardened,” Mr. Grossman said. “We need to reframe the discussion. From our perspective, it’s great to have a person on the spectrum being nominated to this committee.”

I agree with Mr. Grossman that this is a great thing to have an autistic nominated to the NCD. As I’ve already pointed out, Mr. Ne’eman’s goals fit those of the NCD quite well.

One notable piece of irony in this story is that the organizations which are critical of Mr. Ne’eman’s nomination have no positions held by autistics. The notable exception is Autism Speaks, which only recently added an adult autistic (John Elder Robinson) to an advisory position. As an additional irony, it is very likely that Mr. Ne’eman’s own advocacy efforts were partly responsible for Autism Speaks giving a position to an adult autistic.

Autism represents a “spectrum” of disabilities. All to often, Mr. Ne’eman’s efforts are framed as being part of some divide between the “high functioning” and “low functioning” ends of the spectrum.

The New York Times piece noted this in this section:

But that viewpoint [neurodiversity], critics say, represents only those on the autism spectrum who at least have basic communication skills and are able to care of themselves.

“Why people have gotten upset is, he doesn’t seem to represent, understand or have great sympathy for all the people who are truly, deeply affected in a way that he isn’t,” said Jonathan Shestack, a co-founder of the advocacy group Autism Speaks, whose mission is to help finance research to find a cure.

Neurodiversity certainly does not represent only “high functioning” autistics as its critics would imply. I will not speak for Mr. Ne’eman nor ASAN, but from my own perspective. First, neurodiversity is not limited to autism. Second, within autism, neurodiversity does not apply only to the “high functioning” autistics. In my opinion, the neurodiveristy “viewpoint” is one that stresses rights for all, regardless of the level of “functioning” or presence or lack of any neurological “disorders”.

There are those who try to downplay Mr. Ne’eman’s disability. Keep in mind, we are talking about a man who spent part of his education in a segregated special education program. The fact that he was able to self advocate his way out of this program is to his credit.

For the record, my perspective is that of the parent of a young child with multiple disabilities including very significant challenges due to autism. I would argue that it is precisely children like my own who most need other people to fight to protect their rights. It is from that perspective that I welcome the nomination of Mr. Ne’eman and look forward to his confirmation in the full senate.

Senate Committee approves nominations for National Council on Disability

17 Mar

I received this from Meg Evans of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) on the 12th. Sorry for the delay in posting it. Ari Ne’eman (of ASAN) has been nominated by President Obama to serve on the National Council on Disability. This nomination was approved by a Senate committee and will now go on to the full senate for a final vote.

Nominees for Disability Council, Other Federal Boards Approved by Committee

The following seven nominations for members of the National Council on Disability were approved by committee and will go on to the full senate for vote:

o) Gary Blumenthal, the executive director for the Associated of Developmental Disabilities Providers. Blumenthal previously served as director of the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation under President Clinton.

o) Chester Alonzo Finn, a special assistant with the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. Finn is blind and developmentally disabled and is president of the national board of Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered, according to the White House.

o) Sara A. Gesler, a state representative in the Oregon State House of Representatives and the youngest woman in the Oregon State Legislature. She founded the non-profit FG Syndrome Family Alliance, which serves families dealing with the rare developmental disability FG Syndrome.

o) Ari Ne’eman, the founding president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. He also serves as vice chairman of the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force.

o) Dongwoo Joseph Pak, vice president and loan officer of the Farmers & Merchants Bank and board member of Acacia Adult Day Health Care Services. He has also serviced on the Special Needs Advisory Board for the Orange County Transit Authority and on the California State Rehabilitation Council.

o) Carol Jean Reynolds, the executive director of the Disability Center for Independent Living. She is also a member of the governing board of the National Council on Independent Living. She has faced several mental health and substance abuse issues and has been in recovery for 26 years, according to the White House.

o) Fernando Torres-Gill, the associate dean for academic affairs at the UCLA School of Public Affairs. He was the first assistant secretary for aging in the Department of Health and Human Services, and is a polio survivor, according to the White House.

Disability Coalition applauds passage of Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion Legislation

5 Mar

There is a bill in congress to ban seclusion and restraints in schools. It has been passed by the House (as bill 4247)and will go on to the Senate and, hopefully, the President. Below is a press release from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN).

    Disability Coalition applauds passage of Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion Legislation

Legislation that protects students with disabilities a key item on Coalition Agenda

(Washington D.C.) — The Justice for All Action Network (JFAAN), a coalition of disability-led organizations, applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passage of HR 4247, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act. The legislation, which equips students with disabilities with federal protection from abuse in the schools, was approved in the House March 3 by a vote of 262-153.

The legislation approved today is the first of its kind. It goes far beyond previous efforts to protect students with disabilities, said Paula Durbin-Westby of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a member of the JFAAN Steering Committee.

The Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act will put significant restrictions on schools restraining children, confining them in seclusion rooms, and using aversive interventions to harm them. A Government Accountability Office study found hundreds of cases over the last two decades of alleged abuse and death from restraint and seclusion in public and private schools. The majority of students in the study were students with disabilities.

When passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, this legislation will be the first step in putting an end to the long history of students with disabilities being subjected to inappropriate and abusive restraint and seclusion, said Durbin-Westby. We urge the Senate to vote on the legislation soon in order to equip students with critically needed protections from abusive restraint and seclusion.”

Currently, 23 states have laws with weak or no protections. HR 4247 will create a minimum level of protection for schoolchildren that all states must meet or exceed. Unlike previous attempts to protect students with disabilities, this legislation applies to all students and bans the worst practices, including mechanical restraint, chemical restraint and physical restraint.

Legislation that protects people with disabilities from unwarranted restraints and seclusions is a key component of a campaign agenda developed by JFAAN. The JFAAN Joint Campaign Agenda addresses major policy issues of people with intellectual, physical, psychiatric, developmental and sensory disabilities.

Created in an effort to build a strong and unified cross-disability movement, the Justice for All Action Network is organized into a steering committee of 13 national consumer-led disability organizations and more than 20 organizational and individual members. The group was formed in the wake of the 2008 Presidential Election.

About the Justice for All Action Network

Mission: The Justice for All Action Network is a national cross-disability coalition, led by disability groups run by persons with disabilities with support from allies, committed to building a strong and unified cross-disability movement so that individuals with disabilities have the power to shape national policies, politics, media, and culture.

Working as a coalition, JFAAN is committed to accomplishing each item on the coalition’s agenda by July 2010, the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Steering Committee Members: ADAPT, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Council of the Blind, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Hearing Loss Association of America, Little People of America, National Association of the Deaf, National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer Survivor Organizations, National Council on Independent Living, National Federation of the Blind, Not Dead Yet, Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, United Spinal Association.

For more information, contact Paula Durbin-Westby, Autistic Self Advocacy Network, (540)-223-6145, pdurbinwestby@autisticadvocacy.org; Andrew Imparato, American Association of People with Disabilities, (202) 521-4301, aimparato@aapd.com.

My congressperson voted yes.

I note that Dan Burton, congressman from Illinois and vaccine critic, voted against the bill. Mr. Burton has been called “one of the foremost champions of autistic causes in Congress.” I find this nay vote very troubling. On the other hand, Congresswoman Maloney, also a vaccine critic, voted yea. The vote was very much a democrat vs. republican divide, which may explain the two congresspeople above.

ASAN Update on Restraint & Seclusion Legislation National Call-In Day

15 Jan

I just received the following email from Meg Evans of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN). ASAN is working on legislation to reduce seclusion and restraints within the schools. This alert calls for action next Thursday to call your representative (should you be a U.S. citizen) to support upcoming bills.

This is another ASAN Update for bloggers in the Autistic and disability rights communities. To increase support in Congress for the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247/S.2860), ASAN and APRAIS are asking disability rights advocates and others who favor the legislation to call members of Congress on Thursday, January 21st, and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. You can also help by reposting and distributing the announcement below.

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
mmevans@woh.rr.com

Here is the letter:

Dear Friends, Advocates and Community Members,

In one week, Congress will come back in session. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), in conjunction with the Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions and Seclusion (APRAIS), is asking you to join us in a National Call-In Day on Thursday, January 21st to tell your members of Congress to support the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (H.R. 4247/S.2860) introduced last month by Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA) and Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT). This legislation would provide students with and without disabilities vital protections against abuse in schools. We are providing details on how to contact your members of Congress — please distribute this announcement widely.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

Please call this coming Thursday and encourage your friends, family and coworkers to participate by dialing the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and asking for your Congressional representative to Co-Sponsor H.R. 4247, and your senators to Co-Sponsor S. 2860.

To find out the names of your US Senators and Representative, click here (link to www.congress.org)
Ask for the offices of your US Senators and Representative
Ask to speak to the person working on education issues
Identify yourself as a constituent and the organization that you represent (if any)

Message: ” I am calling to urge (Senator y) to cosponsor S.2860, legislation preventing harmful use of restraint and seclusion in schools.”

Message: “I am calling to urge (Representative z) to cosponsor HR 4247, legislation preventing harmful use of restraint and seclusion in schools.”

Thanks for your advocacy. Increasing congressional support for these bills will help move them through the legislative process towards enactment. Please call on January 21, 2010 and tell your friends and family to join you. If you are interested in doing more, please e-mail us at info@autisticadvocacy.org for information about how you can arrange a meeting with your representatives to explain why this bill is essential or visit www.tash.org/aprais to learn more.

Regards,
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the APRAIS Coalition

Act now: Autistic Child Charged with Felony

6 Jan

Below is an email I received from Meg Evans of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network on a situation involving a child who is being charged with Felony Assault for resisting restraints in his school. Worse yet is the possibility that the student could end up being sent to a mental hospital pending a competency hearing.

This is another ASAN Update for bloggers in the Autistic and disability rights communities. ASAN has created an Action Alert regarding the case of an 11-year old Autistic boy in Arkansas named Zakhqurey Price, who has been charged with felony assault after a school restraint incident. There were no serious injuries, and the incident occurred under circumstances where the use of restraint would not have been legal if recently introduced federal civil rights legislation to protect children in schools had been in effect. We are asking that you take action by contacting the school principal and superintendent to inform them of your concerns and by reposting the ASAN Action Alert set forth below.

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
mmevans@woh.rr.com

Below is the statement by Ari Ne’eman:

By Ari Ne’eman, ASAN President.

Hello,

In the past, we’ve written to you about advocacy issues relating to the rights of adults and youth on the autism spectrum. Our voices have made a difference on all manner of policy concerns and have sent a clear message that those who seek to deprive Autistic people of any age of their rights will have our community to answer to. Now we’d like to ask you to help us take action to help protect an 11-year old Autistic boy in Arkansas named Zakhqurey Price, currently being charged with felony assault after fighting back when two staff members restrained him in response to behavioral challenges. The school has ignored repeated efforts from Zakh’s grandmother over the course of the last five months to obtain needed IEP supports to improve his educational options and manage his behavioral difficulties.

According to the suspension notice, the restraint was in response to Zakh destroying school property – something beyond the scope of what would be allowed under recently introduced federal civil rights legislation around restraint and seclusion in schools. Disability advocates, including ASAN, are fighting to pass this crucial legislation that would broaden the protections available to students like Zakh as well as those with other disabilities and with no disability at all. We have asked for your help in passing this important legislation, and together we can succeed in bringing proposed civil rights protections into law – but not in time to help Zakh. That is why we need you to take action now. Find out how below:

School Principal:
Pam Siebenmorgan (One of the charging parties in Zakh’s felony hearing – polite but firm calls and e-mails encouraging her to drop the charges would be helpful)
Phone: 479-646-0834
E-mail: psiebenm@fortsmithschools.org

School Superintendent:
Dr. Benny Gooden (The Superintendent runs the entire school district – polite but firm calls and e-mails communicating how this situation is damaging Fort Smith Public Schools’ reputation would be helpful as well)
E-mail: bgooden@fortsmithschools.org
School Board Office: 1-479-785-2501 Ext. 1201

We recommend that you both e-mail and call if you can. If necessary, e-mail is the preferable option. If you would like your e-mails to be passed along to Zakh’s grandmother, please bcc: info@autisticadvocacy.org. Please stress the importance of Fort Smith Public Schools taking the following steps:

-Drop the charges against Zakhqurey Price

-Work with his grandmother to put in place an IEP that will fulfill Zakh’s right for a Free and Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment

-Improve training for school personnel to prevent future such incidents and to ensure that students on the autism spectrum as well as with other disabilities are included, supported and educated in Fort Smith Public Schools.

If Zakh is declared incompetent as part of the hearing scheduled for January 12th, state law requires that he be placed into a mental hospital for at least 30 days. His grandmother fears that, due to the negative repercussions of being taken out of the community and being forced into an institutional setting, Zakh may lose skills in such an environment and not be returned to her indefinitely. That is why we need you to act now. Please distribute and repost this action alert. Thank you for your time and your advocacy, and as always, Nothing About Us, Without Us!

I usually avoid posting names and phone numbers like this. All to often blogs post such information in an attempt to intimidate. Take to heart Mr. Ne’eman’s call to be polite but firm when you call.

Five-percent of nothing

25 Dec

To paraphrase Mark Twain, a phony statistic will travel half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on – and even further when the phony statistic is hitched to the wagon of vaccine denialism.

A case in point: last June, blogger Amy Lutz  launched a broadside against neurodiversity with the following alleged quote:

Dr. (Lee) Wachtel estimates that “less than five percent” of diagnosed autistics have the linguistic and cognitive skills to participate in this movement. “Most are not going to grow up to be Temple Grandin,” she adds, referring to the famous autistic author and doctorate in animal science. On the contrary, Dr. Wachtel believes the average autistic will never go to college or live independently, and instead will struggle his entire life with the communication and social deficits that define the disorder…

Wachtel is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Center. Lutz didn’t explain what it means to “participate” in neurodiversity, nor did she reflect on the fact that most kids don’t grow up to be Temple Grandin anyway. “This article by Lutz … has the appearance of journalism, and quotes a doctor in support of Lutz’s contention that neurodiversity is a bad thing, overall,” notes autism blogger Kim at CounteringAgeOfAutism, who tracked down the source of Wachtel’s alleged quote. “It doesn’t help that Lutz doesn’t seems to understand what neurodiversity is.”

Lutz’s post raised a few eyebrows. Commenter Jen Niebler wrote ND is not about “marginalizing the ‘real autistics’ – it’s about listening to all autistics and how they wish to be treated.” LBRB founder Kevin Leitch commented “A total misrepresentation of the ND viewpoint who (as I am one, and parent to a severely autistic child I am very aware of this) consider autism a disability AND a difference. Did the author talk to anyone from the ND community before writing this?”

Eventually Wachtel’s quote faded into the ether, only to be resurrected six months later in a comment at about.com, where blogger Lisa Jo Rudy worried that Ari Ne’eman’s recent nomination to the Council on Disability might not sit well with the anti-vaccine crowd. Commenter LoopyLoo wrote:

I’m frustrated and worried. High-functioning, highly verbal people with autism have just about zero in common with my severely impaired, non-verbal child. I’m glad that things have worked out so well for him, but in the general population of people with autism only about five percent will ever be able to participate in a movement like neuro-diversity. Acceptance of/for people who aren’t NT is a fine and lovely goal, but I’d rather have a cure.

When asked to source the “five percent” figure, LoopyLoo pointed to Wachtel. But a query to KK’s media relations office tells the rest of the story:

Regarding Dr. Wachtel’s quote, her comments were pulled from a conversation that she had with a parent. She wasn’t aware that they would appear on a large web site as was the result. Her comments were also made relative to the severely impaired patient population that she sees. The majority of these patients can be described as she did in her comments, but the full context of the discussion would include mention of the fact that advances are happening in the field of early intervention which may change outcomes for toddlers who are being newly diagnosed today at age two or earlier. Also – she does not have a citation or reference for the “less than 5 percent” reference. Again – it was a casual comment made to a parent, and within the context of her patient population.

In a follow up email, KK characterized Wachtel’s words as “casual comments made relative to Dr. Wachtel’s daily frame of reference – her severely affected patient population.” In other words, the five percent figure does not refer to all autism spectrum disorders.

The blogger, Amy Lutz, confirms the quote came from her private conversation with Wachtel, and she stands by it. “I asked Dr. Wachtel to approximate, based on her seven years of work in autism treatment and research, the percentage of diagnosed autistics who could actively participate in a political movement – because, as we all agree, there is (sic) no data in the scientific literature to answer this question,” said Lutz in an email. “Her answer, five percent, is, as I explicitly stated in my essay, an ‘estimate.'”

In a perfect world, a throwaway quote by a careless writer wouldn’t matter. But in our wired, interconnected world, poorly sourced quotes are sustenance for ideologues.

The premise here – that only the highest functioning autistics can “participate” in neurodiveristy –   would be news to many of the pro-ND bloggers who are significantly disabled, notes autism blogger Sullivan. “The fact of the matter is that everyone (autistic/non-autistic, all levels of disability) benefit from neurodiversity.”

As anti-vaccine activists and other line up to oppose Ari Ne’eman’s nomination, we are sure to see more inaccurate and self-serving definitions of neurodiveristy. And it’s a safe bet that the “five-percent” quote will surface yet again.