Category Archives: Asperger’s

MA Legislature Passes Autism Omnibus Bill

The Massachusetts Legislature recently passed the Autism Omnibus Bill.  Massachusetts Advocates for Children, which provided vital advocacy in support of the Bill, has summarized the key provisions as follows:

  • A requirement that MassHealth cover medically necessary treatments for children with ASD who are under 21 years old – including ABA therapies as well as dedicated and non-dedicated AAC devices;
  • Extension of Department of Developmental Services (DDS) eligibility to many persons with Autism, Prader Willi Syndrome and Smith-Magenis syndrome;
  • The creation of an Autism Endorsement for special education teachers to enable them to voluntarily gain in-depth knowledge about the complexities of educating students with ASD;
  • The creation of tax-free saving accounts (called “Achieving a Better Life Experience” or ABLE) to help families cover anticipated disability-related expenses for individuals with ASD and other physical and developmental disabilities;
  • Requiring DMH and DDS to develop and implement a plan to provide services to individuals who have both a mental illness and a developmental disabilities; and
  • Establishing the Autism Commission as a permanent entity.

Mass Advocates Web Site Summary

 

Mass Advocates has also published:

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

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Medway SEPAC to Host “What the Dracut Decision Taught Us About the Importance of Social Skills and Language Pragmatics in an IEP”

The Medway SEPAC will be hosting what should be a very interesting and informative presentation entitled “What the Dracut decision taught us about the Importance of Social Skills and Language Pragmatics in an IEP.”  It will take place on January 22, 2013 at 7:00 PM at Medway High School, 88 Summer Street Medway, Ma 02053.  The presentation will be free and open to the public.  If you plan to attend, you should RSVP to medwayspedpac@gmail.com.  Discussions will be led by Elsa Abele MS CCC/SLP & clinical Assistant Professor at Boston University & Professor at the Center For Autism Disorders at Antioch University.  The presentation will also feature two lawyers from the Disability Law Center of Massachusetts who worked on this case, Janine A. Solomon and Pamela J. Coveney.  The Dracut case is a very important BSEA decision in Massachusetts, particularly for those students on the Autism Spectrum.  If you would like to read a good summary of this case, you can access it here.  The complete BSEA decision can be found here.

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

AANE Support Group Regarding Connecticut Tragedy

The Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE) has announced the formation of support groups for those with Asperger’s and/or their families who would like support regarding the tragedy in Connecticut.  AANE, in conjunction with Aspire (formerly YouthCare) will facilitate six groups run by staff from Aspire, AANE, as well as with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) expert clinicians. These groups will provide a private setting to discuss the tragedy, the link the media has made between the shooter and AS, and the impact on those with AS and their families. One of the support groups will be for parents of children with Asperger’s, and will discuss how and whether to talk to children with Asperger’s about this event. You are invited to attend the appropriate group.Here is a listing of the Groups and when they will meet

Wednesday 10:30 – 12:00, at AANE, 51 Water Street, Watertown, MA
1. Parents of children and young teens (under 16)
2. Parents, adult sibling, grandparents and other family members of older teens (16+) and adults
3. Adults with AS. Spouses and partners welcome.

Thursday night 7:30 – 9:00 at AANE, 51 Water Street, Watertown, MA
1. Parents of children and young teens (under 16)
2. Parents, adult sibling, grandparents and other family members of older teens (16+) and adults
3. Adults with AS. Spouses and partners welcome.

Please RSVP to AANE by email. (info@aane.org). Let them know which day and which group you will be attending.

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

Attended Presentation at Harvard on Understanding and Teaching Behaviorally Challenging Students

I attended a very interesting presentation this evening at Harvard University by Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA and Nancy Rappaport, M.D. They recently co-authored a book entitled, “The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students.”

The authors started out with some very interesting statistics.  For example, according to the authors, only 20% of children with emotional and behavioral disorders ages 14 – 21 receive high school diplomas; 48% dropout of grades 9 – 12.  They then stated that there are six essential concepts for understanding behavior:

  1. Misbehavior is a symptom of an underlying cause…
  2. Behavior is communication
  3. Behavior has a function
  4. Behavior occurs in patterns
  5. The only behavior teachers can control is their own
  6. Behavior can be changed.

I was particularly interested in their discussion about Anxiety and Asperger’s Syndrome.  Not surprisingly, anxiety interferes with verbal working memory and impedes academic performance.  Minahan and Rappaport stated that children who were the most anxious at the start of the first grade were almost 8 times more likely to be in the lowest quarter of reading achievement, and almost 2 1/2 times more likely to be in the lowest quarter of math achievement by the spring of the first grade. Regarding Asperger’s Syndrome, the authors estimate that 80% of children with Asperger’s syndrome also experienced intense anxiety.

The authors believe that traditional behavior intervention plans do not adequately deal with anxiety management or teach the skills that are needed to behave properly.  Unstructured times and transitions are just a couple of difficult areas that can be decedents for problem behaviors. This is something that I have seen among my own clients, as well – unstructured times and transition periods are when children with Aspergers Syndrome seem to be the most susceptible to having behavioral challenges.  Minahan and Rappaport presented a few suggestions for teachers to use to assist students with self-regulation and self-monitoring.  For example, they talked about using a regulation scale such as an emotional thermometer, performing self calming practice in a relevant place, and developing and using a calming box.

The authors described transition periods in terms of 4 components: stopping the activity, making the cognitive shift to next activity, starting the next activity, and the inherent lack of structure during transitions.  Regarding stopping an activity, they talked about the importance of finding an appropriate stopping point so that students are not caught off guard and surprised by a transition.  They also suggested using visual schedules and photographs to help students make the cognitive shift to the next activity, and also to use countdowns (e.g. “5 more minutes…”).  The pair also discussed the importance of structuring downtime.

There was far more that was discussed this evening that I expect to find useful as I work with parents on IEP’s.  For more information about the authors, you can visit their websites at www.JessicaMinahan.com and www.NancyRappaport.com.  The book is available for purchase on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Behanvior-Code-Practical-Understanding-Challenging/dp/1612501362, or at the Harvard Education Press: http://www.hepg.org/hep/book/161/TheBehaviorCode

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

Free Guide for Parents of Children with Autism

The National Autism Center has made a guide on autism available for free.  It is intended to assist parents of children with autism.  It is available for download here: A Parent’s Guide to Evidence-Based Practice and Autism.
The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

Hudson SEPAC to host ‘Asperger’s Syndrome vs. Autism vs. PDD-NOS’ workshop

The following information was published by Community Advocate.  You can find the original article at:  http://tinyurl.com/7ncytpb

Hudson– The Hudson Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) is hosting a workshop by Dr. Amy Shogren on autism spectrum disorders, “Asperger’s Syndrome vs. Autism vs. PDD-NOS.” The workshop will be held Tuesday, Feb. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m., in Room A-134 at Hudson High School.

Particpants will learn how the features of each of these diagnoses vary, as well as how children diagnosed with these developmental disabilities differ in their communicative competency, social functioning, behavioral presentation, and academic trajectory, and what interventions are important to address the challenges associated with these disabilities? The seminar will assist parents and school personnel in understanding these diagnostic categories and how to intervene at home and at school.

The workshop is free, and parents and teachers are encouraged to attend. To RSVP or for more information, call 978-212-9651 or visit www.hudsonsepac.com. Hudson High School is located at 69 Brigham St.

The Law Office of James M. Baron represents students and parents in special education and other school-related legal matters.  Please visit http://www.lawbaron.com, or call 781-209-1166 for more information.

Worries About Bullying Insufficient to Prove Lack of FAPE

An interesting case in Pennsylvania, which made it all the way up to the US District Court there, stands for the proposition that fears about bullying are insufficient to prove that there was a lack of FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education).  The plaintiffs in this case (J.  E. et al. v. Boyertown Area School District, 10 – 2958 (E.D. Pa., 2011)), made a unilateral placement of the student at a private school that they believed would provide the child with a FAPE.  The student had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  They claimed that the placement proposed by the school district would subject their child to bullying.  The student had previously been subjected to bullying at a previous school district placement, but not at the placement that was then being proposed by the school district.  The parents were simply fearful of potential bullying at the school district’s proposed placement.  The court determined that a fear of bullying is not sufficient to prove a lack of FAPE.  “The Hearing Officer concluded that the AS program could appropriately deal with any bullying that occurred and that this concern was only prospective. There is no reason for the Court to find otherwise. J.E. may face bullying, but a fair appropriate public education does not require that the District be able to prove that a student will not face future bullying at a placement, as this is impossible.”

For more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron, visit http://www.lawbaron.com.

Who Can Diagnosis Autism Spectrum Disorder?

During my presentation on Special Education Law and Asperger’s Syndrome at yesterday’s AANE conference, a very interesting question arose.  An attendee asked who can diagnosis a disability.  That question seems simple enough, but the answer is not so simple.

The reason he asked the question was that his IEP Team told him that the school system is not able to diagnose a disability – they claimed that it is up to the parents to get that diagnosis privately.  I see this often at Team meetings.  In general, it is not true.  The evaluation that the school system performs will likely include a psychological evaluation, an educational evaluation, input from parents and teachers, and possibly a medical evaluation by a physician (at school expense!).

The school system is perfectly capable of diagnosing a learning disability.  On the other hand, it is in no position to diagnosis a physical ailment that only a physician can diagnose.  Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is in between.  According to IDEA, “Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.”  34 C.F.R. 308(c)(1)(i). A developmental disability is generally defined as a mental or physical impairment identified prior to age 18.  A qualified psychologist – and one would assume that a school psychologist is qualified – should be able to diagnose autism.

What’s even more interesting, and beneficial to parents when the school is refusing to diagnose autism, is 34 C.F.R. 308(c)(1)(iii): “A child who manifests the characteristics of autism after age three could be identified as having autism if the criteria in paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section are satisfied.” So, even if the child has not been formally diagnosed with autism – regardless of who should have done the diagnosis – if the child “manifests the characteristics of autism,” the Team could then identify the child as having autism, and treat him or her as such.

I would be very interested to get feedback from readers of this blog regarding your own experiences.  Please take 30 seconds to respond to this poll:

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

Asperger’s Association Conference

I had a wonderful time today speaking at the Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE) conference in Marlboro.  The subject of my presentation was Special Education Law and Asperger’s.  I covered the basics of IEP’s and 504’s, and then discussed how those apply to students with Asperger’s syndrome.  We also talked about the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and how they can be applied to students with disabilities, particularly those with Asperger’s Syndrome and others who have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), to build an argument for appropriate services from the school system.  The audience was quite large, very engaging, and asked excellent questions.  I will try to provide more details about the content in upcoming blogs.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.

Federal Judge Saris Affirms that Dracut Denied FAPE to Asperger’s Student – Precedent Setting Case in Massachusetts

The long-awaited decision on the appeal of the Dracut case has just come down.  The following is from an email I received this morning from Massachusetts Advocates for Children:

Judge Patti Saris, US District Court, MA, has just decided the LEA’s appeal of two transition decisions in favor of a special education student with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Both administrative decisions, along with the federal Judge’s Memorandum and Order, appear on the Massachusetts Disability Law Center’s website, http://www.dlc-ma.org

The Judge affirmed the Hearing Officer’s finding that Dracut Public Schools (“Dracut”) had denied the student FAPE.  It had not performed timely assessments, as IDEA requires, inevitably leading to a failure to provide appropriate, measurable goals related to the student’s needs.  Of particular interest was the Judge’s observation that the student’s pragmatic language deficits were key to his postsecondary academic, social and vocational success and her characterization of Dracut’s failure to address those deficits as “egregious.”

The Judge did not affirm several of the Hearing Officer’s proposed remedies, however.  The HO had extended the student’s special education eligibility, for example, while simultaneously directing that he receive his diploma.  The Hearing Officer also ordered the LEA to hire and compensate two of the testifying experts to collaborate on creating and implementing a Transition Service Plan.  The Judge ruled that this exceeded the HO’s equitable authority and further remanded the matter for additional consideration of the necessary compensatory services.

Please visit my web site for more information about the Law Office of James M. Baron: http://www.lawbaron.com.