Monday, February 28, 2011

California Families Fear Proposed Cuts

BRAWLEY, Calif. -- Seventy-one-year-old mother of five Maria Elena Miranda doesn’t know what will her happen to her youngest daughter, Cynthia, if the state cuts deeper into funding for programs that help her family.
Cynthia, a 31-year-old Brawley resident, is developmentally disabled, blind, has epileptic seizures, osteoporosis and is immobile due to cerebral palsy contracted at just 3 months old. She was born barely alive, her mother said.
Miranda said the free services her daughter receives from Imperial Valley Respite and other in-home services has helped her daughter live longer.
"I'm 71 years old. What am I going to do if they take these services away from us?" the concerned parent said in Spanish.
The Miranda family is just one of many Valley residents who are concerned with the proposed $750 million cuts by Gov. Jerry Brown to the general fund of the state Department of Developmental Disabilities.

Nazir's Wish of a Lifetime

ALBANY, N.Y. -- It was a warm early-summer evening, and as we walked down the sidewalk towards the house, we saw him standing on the porch with his mother, waiting.
We walked up the porch steps and a sheepish smile crossed the young boy's face and his big, sparkling brown eyes danced. He quickly turned away, shyly burying his face in Mom's shoulder. When she urged him to greet us, he turned and gave each of us a high-five and another bashful smile.
We followed them inside, and I watched as Mom hoisted him up into a piggy-back. She climbed the narrow staircase up to their apartment, carefully navigating around some scattered toys.
Once inside, we all sat down at the dining room table, and Dad joined us. We shared some brief introductions and small talk, getting to know each other a little bit. The young boy sat quietly, listening to us talk and fidgeting just a little, but he didn't say a word. I admit, I was nervous. I never had to communicate with an autistic child before that meeting. Quite simply, I had no idea what to expect. I did some research about autism before the meeting, but sitting at that dining room table across from the boy, I surely felt like I was in uncharted territory. But I will say this, although his lips spoke not a word, his big brown eyes sang a thousand, and melted my heart within minutes.

Teen Connects Everything to Music

TOOELE, Utah — Despite the faulty wiring in his brain, Kodi Lee is a genius.
Even at age 11, when his story was first publicized, he blew people away with his music.
Now, despite deficits with autism, Kodi has advanced to Stansbury High School and soon may be on his way to a specialized college of music.
For this teenager from Tooele, there are no books, no teaching. All comes naturally from a part of his brain that dishes out reams of music.

Educator's Warning of 'Tsunami' of Autism

LYNN, Mass. - Warning that a "tsunami" of autism is about to swamp public schools and community colleges, North Shore Community College President Wayne Burton plans to tell a state committee about statistics-gathering efforts aimed at combating intellectual disabilities.
In his remarks before the state Autism Commission, Burton will point out what state educators already know: Autism-related enrollment in school special-needs programs has seen a 62-percent increase for individuals ranging from preschoolers to college students between 2006 and 2010.

Virginia Budget Includes Funds to Move People From Center Into the Community

A cause for celebration in Virginia!

Millions of dollars are included in Virginia’s budget to move residents out of Central Virginia Training Center, and also to provide new places for them to live.
A $30 million fund is established, as expected, in the coming year’s budget to help speed up the state’s efforts to move residents out of its five training centers in response to a U.S Department of Justice report that severely criticized CVTC. The budget also designates $34.5 million to provide community-based services such as housing and other needs for people leaving the training centers — a category that had been one of the differences between the Senate and House of Delegates versions of the budget until Sunday.

Autism and Sex

Laura Shumaker from the San Francisco Chronicle's blog once again raises the questions that so many families struggle with.

I was at Barnes and Noble yesterday and overheard a little girl of about 4 ask her mother this question:
"If you have the egg in your tummy, how does Daddy help it hatch? Does he have to sit on you?"
Ah, the early days of "the talk". I remember them well. The questions sneak up on you when you least expect them and you need to be ready introduce the topic without falling apart.
Helping a child with autism comprehend the topic of sex is especially tricky,(at least in my experience), so much so that many parents hope it will never become "an issue".
Today, my friend Lindsey Nebeker, a young woman with autism, shares her perspective about love, sex and autism. Her story was recently featured on ABC.

Friday, February 25, 2011

J.V. Player Shoots for the Stars

OK - here is your feel-good story of the week. So inspiring. Be sure to watch the video.

STEELE, Mo. -- Tyler Farmer from South Pemiscot High School in Steele might be different from the rest of his teammates, but he's not treated any differently.
In fact he is becoming quite the super star everywhere he goes.
"We love having him," said South Pemiscot Head Coach James Carlisle.

Termination Hearing Begins for Longtime Connecticut Teacher with Asperger's

This is a sad story in so many ways. You definitely feel for the student, but there's also something to be said for this teacher, who clearly had a positive impact on so many students. Yet, one has to wonder, if he had the proper support of someone within the school, could this have been avoided?

BROOKFIELD, Conn. -- "This is a sad day in Brookfield," said Patrick McHale, the attorney for Brookfield Public Schools.
The termination hearing for popular Brookfield High School math Robert "Doc" Wollkind began Thursday at 10 a.m. in the education department of Town Hall, at 100 Pocono Road.
Wollkind, a teacher at the school for more than 30 years, was placed on paid administrative leave in November after he reportedly asked an overweight student in his class if he ate his homework.
Wollkind, who has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, was considered for termination in December

More Than Just Music Lessons

BOSTON -- The Boston Conservatory is renowned for its intensive training in the performing arts, but on Saturday mornings, this Fenway institution offers a unique program: providing music lessons to children and young adults with autism.
The Conservatory, a private performing arts college, united with the Autism Higher Education Foundation in 2007 to form the Boston Conservatory Program for Students on the Autism Spectrum.
This little-known program pairs each child with a single teacher, who also works with a consulting team that includes a music therapist, a speech pathologist, a special educator and professionals in the music industry who have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis.

A Coach Without a Game Plan

SHELBY, Ohio -- How do you devise a game plan from an incomplete scouting report?
How do you prepare for an opponent you know almost nothing about?
Chris Solis has devoted his professional life to avoiding situations like those -- or, more accurately, eliminating those eventualities for the athletes in his charge. Preparation is, after all, a tenet of any successful coach's philosophy. And by all accounts, Solis is a successful coach.
But Solis, who quietly turned in his resignation as Shelby's football coach last month, couldn't have readied himself for this adversary.
It's causes are unknown, and there is no cure.
His 3-year-old son, Colin, was diagnosed with autism in October.

Nearly 2,000 Rally for Support in Georgia

ATLANTA -- Cars had to detour around the Capitol on Thursday as about 2,000 people crowded in the street to demand better services and support for people with disabilities and their families.
The point is "to get them out of institutions and get them into communities," said Jerry Sapp, president of the Bleckley County chapter of The Arc, an advocacy group, and single father of a son who has cerebral palsy.
Many in the crowd carried signs reading "Unlock The Doors To Real Communities," the theme of the rally, hosted by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Dangers of Anti-Vaccine Movement

Q&A from with Dr. Paul Offit provides some perhaps much-needed perspective on this entire vaccines issue.

Childhood inoculations protect us against deadly infectious diseases like measles, whooping cough and polio. But they are also the source of near constant conflict — most recently in the Feb. 22 Supreme Court decision which ruled in favor of a vaccine manufacturer over the family of a disabled girl. In recent years, some parents have begun to refuse vaccination for their children, influenced by fringe activists who believe it causes autism, brain damage and other ailments. Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, has seen the consequences: preventable childhood deaths, community outbreaks of outdated diseases and misinformed, angry parents. In conversation with TIME and in his recent book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, Offit describes the origins of our squeamishness with inoculation and why we should fight against it.

Illustrating with Autism

LAS VEGAS -- Foothill High School senior Ben Nelson is a precocious artist who meticulously draws colorful illustrations that look like they came straight out of a Disney-Pixar movie.
The 17-year-old computer graphics student adroitly operates professional software, spending hours each day perfecting his digital artwork. Lately, Ben has been carrying his portfolio around, just in case he has to launch into an impromptu discussion about his latest project: publishing his first children's book.
"This is Red, the protagonist," he said, holding up one of his sketches. "He's a housefly. He's kind and friendly, but kind of forgetful."
Watching Ben work, it's impossible to tell that he is autistic, diagnosed with the developmental disorder that affects social and communication skills when he was 3 years old.

Coping With Autism in N.J.'s State Budget

Last year, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pledged himself a supporter of autism services. "You have an advocate for your issues in the governor's office and I am that advocate," he told members of Autism NJ, a nonprofit that provides services for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders in New Jersey.
Christie, a rising star in the Republican party, has kept his word. Autism NJ saw its state funding slashed by $155,000 when the state's Fiscal Year 2011 budget was being debated last year. The original $655,000 contract was set at $500,000 and remains at that level in the governor's fiscal 2012 budget proposal announced Wednesday.
"The restoration of the contract in near totality -- in tough fiscal times -- is a more compelling story," writes Nicole Brossoie, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Human Services, in an e-mail.

Service Animals Multiplying Like Rabbits

Rhonda Kimmel's 11-year-old West Highland terrier, Maxx, goes with her everywhere—to the mall, restaurants and even to the bank.
What gives Maxx entree to places normally off-limits to canines and other animals is the embroidered, purple vest he sports. It says: "Therapy Dog Maxx."
Maxx is a lot of things, including well-behaved, and he is a faithful companion. What he is not, however, is a therapy dog or a service dog, and Ms. Kimmel is not disabled.
Still, Ms. Kimmel says the vest, which she purchased online, no questions asked, makes people think otherwise, so they don't object to Maxx. "They know they are not supposed to ask," Ms. Kimmel says, alluding to the federal law that protects people with service animals from inquiries about the nature of their disability.

Effort to Remove 'R' Word Rejected

Unfortunately, you can't make this type of story up. Just pathetic that in this day and age people with intellectual disabilities are still being referred to by a phrase that is so stigmatizing that most states have removed it from offices and state legislation. What's it going to take to wake folks up in Virginia?

The Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday rejected an attempt to remove the words "mental retardation" from a bill that seeks to appropriate $30 million to a special fund to move residents of the state's training centers into community-based housing.
Del. Robin Abbott, D-Newport News, asked legislators to change the phrase "mental retardation" to read "intellectual and developmental disabilities."
"These words are very damaging and hurtful and there is no excuse for them to be in our code today," Abbott said.
House members rejected Abbott's request, not because members liked the term "mental retardation," but because those words already appear in many places in the state code.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

High Court Upholds Vaccine Liability Shield

People who have a beef with vaccines they claim were designed improperly can't sidestep a federal law that protects manufacturers from lawsuits, the Supreme Court has ruled.
In a closely watched case, the high court ruled 6-2 that federal law shields vaccine makers from suits filed in state courts seeking compensation for injuries or deaths due allegedly to avoidable design problems with the vaccines. Instead, the court said, people who claim injuries need to go through a special no-fault federal vaccine court.
The decision affirms the role of the special vaccine court and blunts a threat of lawsuits claiming defective vaccines caused autism in children.

Business Helps Young Adults with Disabilities, While Pleasing Area's Dogs

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Bow Wow Bones dog treats, made with natural ingredients, pleases pets while benefiting young adults with developmental disabilities.
Chris Anders, 26, of Hampton Falls; Chelsea Brown, 22, of North Hampton; Michael Clayburgh, 21, of Portsmouth; and Kelsey Splaine, 21, of Rye, are all participants of The Friends Project, an organization that provides social and recreational opportunities. And now they have created their own small business, Bow Wow Bones.
"Our plan is to make this a big business, where the disabled young adults are involved in it," said Michael's mother, Nancy Novelline Clayburgh. "It's really a good experience for them. It's teaching them how to be responsible for portions of running a business."

Is Arizona Legislature Trying to Provide More Choices or Take Them Away?

Came across this column by Laurie Roberts of The Arizona Republic.

I will freely admit that there is little about the Arizona Legislature that I understand anymore.
I don't understand how our leaders can deny people life saving transplants to save $1.4 million yet consider expanding tax credits for private school tuition – tax credits which already suck $65 million a year out of the state’s general fund.
I don't understand why our leaders are obsessed with the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution yet care so little for Article 11 of the Arizona Constitution, which requires them to properly fund education.
And I really don't understand what they're doing to some of the most vulnerable among us – people with developmental disabilities.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Researchers Tie Brain Waves to Autism Risk

A simple checklist for behavioral signs and symptoms is all that is used by specialists to diagnose a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Although it is one of the fastest growing diagnoses among toddlers, there are no medical tests to screen for the disorder.
But a new study adds to mounting evidence that measuring brain activity during infancy could help determine whether a baby might be at higher risk of developing autism.
Researchers used electroencephalography, or an EEG, to measure the brain waves of nearly 80 babies from the time they were 6 months old until they reached age 2. Researchers found those who were already known to be at higher risk for autism -- those who had an older sibling on the spectrum -- showed a different brain wave pattern than those with no known risk for the disorder.

School Topples Hurdles to Learning

ALBERTSON, N.Y. — It is lunchtime in the cafeteria of the Henry Viscardi School in Nassau County, and two eighth graders are doing what boys their age do best: batting insults back and forth.
Two fourth graders at the Henry Viscardi School were fooling around in class recently, bearing out the adage that boys will be boys.
"Get off my case," Jalen says.
"If you had a case, I'd get off it," a classmate replies.
"You're weird," Jalen retorts. "No, you're weird."
It is a scene that could unfold on any given taco Tuesday in any school cafeteria, save for one crucial difference: Jalen has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak; his testy remarks come not from his mouth but from a machine called a DynaVox, mounted on his joystick-controlled wheelchair.
Viscardi is one of several private schools in New York that enroll severely disabled children, using technology and on-site medical care to keep its students, some of whom are incapable of speech or even movement, in the classroom.

Job Program Becomes a Model for Lowe's

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- Sometimes a plan just comes together, and at Lowe's Distribution Center the association with The Arc of Luzerne County continues to grow.
More than two years ago, Mike Kinger, general manager at Lowe’s Regional Distribution Center in Jenkins Township, contacted The Arc of Luzerne County with an opportunity to offer employment to people with disabilities.
Pam Zotynia, executive director at The Arc, loved the idea, and now the program is the model for similar programs throughout the Lowe's network of distribution centers.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Workers with Autism Can Help Firms

MINNEAPOLIS -- Temple Grandin wants more autistic people in your workplace. If they don't become part of the workforce, your company will lose out.
That was the key message from Grandin, the famous industrial designer and fellow "ASbie" (a term referring to the "autism spectrum") who designed Cargill's slaughterhouses across the United States and Canada.

A Desire to Help People in Need

QUEENSBURY, N.Y. -- Sean Hagan’s motorized wheelchair sports a blue and white bumper sticker that reads
"Team Hagan."
The 47-year-old native of South Glens Falls acquired the tag last year when he organized a group of walkers to raise money for the March of Dimes.
It's just one of the many charities Hagan, a client of the area CWI program for people with developmental disabilities, has helped. He also has rung bells for the Salvation Army; collected dog biscuits, pet collars and leashes for the SPCA; donated food to the Community Action food pantry and the Open Door Soup Kitchen; and raised money for the American Cancer Society, South High Marathon Dance, Guatemalan children and the Double H Hole in the Woods camp for children with critical illnesses

Justice Dept. Warning to Va. No Surprise

A warning from the Justice Department that Virginia faces a lawsuit if it doesn't improve the way it cares for people with intellectual disabilities triggered a flurry of activity this past week, but there shouldn't have been any measure of surprise: Lawmakers and governors have been told about the problems in the system for almost 50 years.
"Those of us who have been in the field for a long time were applauding" when the Department of Justice report came out, said Chuck Hall, executive director of the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board. "That is just the latest in a series of reports going back to 1963 that say we have to change the way we allocate funding."

Friday, February 18, 2011

They're Assets at Work and Have Autism

MAPLEWOOD, Minn. -- He's nervous and awkward with people, can't tell the difference between biting sarcasm and sincere praise, and doesn't take well to crowded rooms, loud noises or sudden interruptions.
He's just about the worst multitasker you'll ever see.
He's also one of your best employees.

Teacher Making a Difference

OK, it's the feel good story of the week. Watch this news report. Just an example when the right supports fall into place.

MILWAUKEE — For one Cedarburg woman, learning her son R.J. was autistic was disturbing, and a relief. After years of misdiagnosis, she finally learned what was behind his developmental disabilities. Now, the challenge became, who could help R.J. in the classroom? Well she found just the person.
After searching for the right person to help her son, Sue Runkel found Special Education Teacher Steven Hart

Mother Faces Agonizing Decision

DENVER -- This is a story about a boy named Jack. He is 10 years old.
He is in the fourth grade and, according to his mom, one of the smartest kids in the classroom, a wonderful kid.
Jack also has severe spastic cerebral palsy and dystonia, a neurological movement disorder. When not in school, he spends his days in his wheelchair or in bed. Since September, he has been attached to a ventilator and must be fed through a tube.
This is the problem. Jack now requires round-the-clock nursing care, which is how I found out about him and his mother, Stacey Linn.
When I reached her, it was late afternoon on Thursday, and she had just gotten off the phone with Jack's care representative. What would be involved, she asked, in putting Jack permanently in the hospital?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Company Provides On-the-Job Training

EASTLAKE, Ohio -- A small group of students washed and towel-dried folding chairs in the warehouse of Aladdin Rents in Eastlake on Tuesday.
They are part of an initiative from the equipment rental company to give special-needs students' job training.
Owners Mike Miller and wife Terrie wanted Aladdin Rents to become a work site for those with special needs because their oldest son Chris was born with Down syndrome.

Arkansas House Panel Supports Bill for Autism Coverage

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Speech therapist and behavior consultant Dayna Miller cried Tuesday as she told a silent group of Arkansas legislators about selling nearly everything she owned to get treatment for her autistic, 10-year-son.
Miller, who was a factory worker at the time, said her family sold possessions, took out loans and used her mother's savings. When they had used up everything they had, they learned to administer the behavioral treatment for her son Briar on their own.
Now, Briar speaks and reads clearly, plays golf and participates in a program for gifted children. Miller, 39, of Jonesboro, concluded her testimony in support of a bill that would require most health insurance plans to cover diagnosis and treatment for autism by bringing him in front of the committee.

Ethnicity Impacts Sibling Experience

Cultural factors may play a significant role in defining the outcomes of siblings of those with developmental disabilities, a new study finds, affecting whether or not siblings experience anxiety, trouble with school and other challenges.
In a study of 200 siblings ages 8 to 15 — half of whom had a brother or sister with a disability and half of whom had a typically developing sibling — researchers found that Latino siblings of those with developmental disabilities were significantly more likely than other children to internalize anxiety and other psychological issues.
What’s more, Latino children were reluctant to share negative feelings about their sibling’s disability and they exhibited a higher rate of school absences and lower academic grades, according to the study published online in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. These children also had more difficulty with coping skills and in dealing with their parents.

Virginia Braces for Major Overhaul

RICHMOND -- The cost of bringing Virginia's care for the developmentally disabled into compliance with federal laws could be steep, state lawmakers learned Wednesday.
The state's health and human resources secretary, Dr. Bill Hazel, told the House Appropriations Committee that it would take $80 million to $90 million to address the most critical, immediate issues involving Virginia's mentally disabled citizens. Those include problems identified in a recent U.S. Justice Department report on residents in state facilities such as Southeastern Virginia Training Center in Chesapeake.
It would cost more than $2 billion over 10 years to eliminate the backlog of Virginians on waiting lists for Medicaid waivers allowing them to receive care in their communities, according to a 2009 state report. One lawmaker called the cost figures "staggering."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Connecticut Lawmarkers Propose Bill to Crack Down on False Credentials

NORWALK, Conn. -- A group of bipartisan lawmakers has proposed a bill that would ratchet up the penalty for people who misrepresent their credentials to work with special needs children.
"There is no crueler hoax than to give false hope to a parent or a child who's in need," said state Rep. Larry Cafero, R-142, one of several legislators who endorsed the bill Monday during a press conference at Stepping Stones Museum for Children.

Valentines Keep Coming to Group Home

PLAINFIELD, Ill. -- Valentine’s Day is over, but love notes are still filling the mailbox at one Plainfield group home.
Greeting cards and handmade notes have been arriving by the dozens since last Thursday to a group home associated with Bethesda Lutheran Communities that serves 15 adults with developmental disabilities.

Virtual Program Aids Military Families

With her husband an active member of the U.S. Navy, Yohandra Martinez had her hands full when they moved to Davie from New York two years ago.
One of her first priorities was trying to find support services for son Brandon, now 7, who has a number of developmental disabilities. Unfamiliar with the South Florida community and with no military base nearby to direct her, Yohandra felt very much on her own.
"We didn’t have friends here that could help with information,” said Martinez, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Francisico Martinez, served two tours of duty in Iraq. “We tried to get resources from anywhere we could find them."

Virginia Found to Violate ADA

The U.S. Department of Justice has found that Virginia has been too slow to shift care of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities out of institutions and into community-based settings.
The state is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and must take steps to come into compliance with the law, Assistant Attorney General Robert Perez told Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) in a Feb. 10 letter.

Long Wait Lists, Fragmented Services Facing Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

Nearly 50 years after the federal government established a national infrastructure for developmental disability services, life for those with such conditions is markedly improved, according to a government report released Tuesday, but many hurdles remain.
Developmental disability services vary wildly from state to state, are plagued by long waiting lists and such services tend to be complicated and fragmented, according to the report from the National Council on Disability, which examined the impact of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, or the DD Act, in a year-long study.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Students Blossom in Special Dance Class

OREM, Utah -- "Dance is one of my favorite things to do," said the 14-year-old, with a huge grin on her face.
But even after three years of dance, Kelley is still working on the simplest moves. Moves that, for almost anyone else, seem simple. Kelley suffers from cerebral palsy, a neuromuscular disorder that affects a person's ability to move.
But for one day every week between August and May a group of eight dance together in the special needs dance class offered by The Dance Club in Orem. They are each at their own level because of their own abilities. They range in age from 6 to 28 years old and suffer from Down syndrome to cerebral palsy to autism. There have even been a couple who've come in wheelchairs.

Struggling with End of Life Care

HORSHAM, Pa. -- Abigail Sandler has fought for clearer rules on who calls the shots when a group-home resident becomes deathly ill ever since her mentally disabled sister got sick in 2006 in Horsham, setting off a conflict between the home's administrators and her family.
Sandler says her sister Aimee's group home, Lynch Homes, balked at the decision of Aimee's uncle, her legal guardian, not to insert a feeding tube. Aimee had stopped eating, and two doctors said she was terminally ill.
The case was a messy one - Aimee actually had an undiagnosed, treatable problem - but Sandler says it raised questions of who has the legal upper hand if families disagree with care providers, who often have sought all-out medical care for their intellectually disabled charges.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Making After-School Activities Inclusive

Washington Times' Jean Winegardner's perspective seems to be on the mark. Even if children with special needs are included in some activities, their families still struggle to "fit in" the school community.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — It can be difficult, as a special education family, to feel like a part of the school community.
Sometimes, if your child is in a self-contained environment, you don't get much of a chance to mix with many of the parents at the school. Even if your child is in a mainstream classroom, as mine is, there are still many factors at play that can keep you isolated.
Much socializing takes place at after-school activities—math night, science fairs, school concerts. These are the extra-curricular events that make a school community, that take school from being a place where kids go to learn to a place where families socialize. Even if you and your kids are accepted, these can still be extremely difficult to take part in as a special education family.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

N.J. Lawmakers OK Bill Giving Legislature Power to Block Closings of Institutions

TRENTON, N.J. — In a rebuke to the Christie administration’s proposal to close the Garrett W. Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital in Glen Gardner, an Assembly committee Thursday voted to give the Legislature the authority to block the demise of any state institution serving disabled patients.
The Assembly Human Services Committee voted 6-2 with one abstention to approve a bill (A2880) requiring state Human Services officials to provide information allowing lawmakers "to review and consider the reasons for the decision and its impact on residents and employees of the facility," if there are more than 100 full-time workers. If the Legislature disagrees with any proposed closing, it could void the governor’s decision.
Committee Chairwoman and bill sponsor Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) said the intent is to force the administration to share the information it uses to make decisions about facilities and the vulnerable people who live in them.
"Every person suffering from mental illness or a developmental disability has a unique set of circumstances. We cannot employ a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to providing the services they need," Huttle said.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Parents File Civil Rights Complaint Over Proposed Cuts in Special Education Services

STAMFORD, Conn. -- When she thinks about the cuts proposed to special education, Robin Portanova thinks about her son -- a 15-year-old on the autism spectrum who attends Stamford High School and relies on its services.
"My goal is for Anthony to become a contributing member of society," said Portanova, president of Stamford Education 4 Autism, and the parent leading a civil rights complaint against the public school system.
In the $232 million budget that Superintendent Joshua P. Starr has recommended for the 2011-'12 school year, reductions would include 12 special education teachers, nine employees from the pupil personnel services department and one special education administrator.

Making an Impact On and Off the Court

LEXINGTON, SC - It was a simple basket during a Lexington High School girls junior varsity game two weeks ago, but for the young lady who took the shot, it's worth way more than two points.
When Taylor Abston went to her father and told him she wanted to try out for basketball, he was a little hesitant. Like most fathers, he is protective. But Taylor not only made the team, she is making an impact.

Grandin Urges More Hands-On Learning

GREELEY, Colo. - Temple Grandin says the problem with education today is there is too much focus on socialization skills and not enough on hands-on learning.
Grandin, 63, said she would have never become the woman she is today had it not been for a mother who surrounded her with intervention and a science teacher who mentored her to do more.
Grandin, one of the best-known adults living with autism and the subject of an HBO movie documenting her life, spoke to more than 100 students, faculty and staff of Aims Community College on Monday on sensory-based thinking and how to deal with autism.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Study: Critical Autism Therapies Cut Off Following High School

ST. LOUIS -- Many teenagers with autism stop receiving speech therapy and other needed mental and physical health care services once they leave high school, according to a new study. Graduating seniors lose access to the services they obtained through their school-based special education programs.
The loss is problematic because the need for those programs doesn't go away, said study researcher Paul Shattuck, of Washington University in St. Louis.
"Difficulty with language and communicating is one of the core, hallmark characteristics of autism," Shattuck said. "Being able to communicate with other people effectively is a fundamental ability that you need if you want to succeed in college or in a job or be independent as a young adult."

Minnesota's Fraying Safety Net

OK, I'm feeling everyone's pain this morning. These stories are happening everywhere. States need to cut back, but people's lives are at stake. We all need to advocate more than before and educate officials about the impact of looming budget cuts.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For decades, Minnesota has relied on people like Joyce Hagen to deliver care to its most vulnerable residents.
A social worker with Lutheran Social Service, Hagen oversees 26 group homes that support developmentally disabled adults in the Twin Cities. Her staff not only dispenses medication, cooks and take residents to the doctor, but tight budgets are now forcing them to clip coupons and look for other savings. One group home manager has gone to the extreme of concocting homemade laundry detergent, which costs just a penny and a half per load.
"I'm worried," Hagen said recently. "I don't know where else to cut."
More than a million needy Minnesotans rely on the state's taxpayer-supported safety net, most of them low-income seniors, disabled persons and children who need health care and other services. But the crushing combination of a bad economy and the growing needs of an aging population are stretching the system like never before.

Agencies Cuts Fall Short in Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- At the Rhode Island Department of Human Services, the list of cost-cutting ideas for the coming year includes an efficiency audit, better background checks on Medicaid applicants and a slight staff reduction.
All told, these steps and more than a dozen others would reduce state spending by more than $17 million. Those savings would amount to just a fraction, less than one-seventh, of what the state Budget Office has asked Human Services to cut.
Also falling short in their cost-saving efforts are the Department of Children Youth and Families and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.
The message from state social-service departments, which consume more than a third of the state’s tax dollars, is clear: There are some savings to be had, but not the 15 percent requested by the state Budget Office.

New Mexico Program to Gauge Level of Care

New Mexico's Department of Health hopes to sign a $524,000 contract for a pilot project that officials say could lead to a more accurate diagnoses of people enrolled in a small, but costly program for the mentally disabled.
Over the next six months, if the contract is signed, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities will use a diagnostic tool it developed to discern the level of care needed for 500 individuals enrolled in what is known as the developmental disabilities waiver program, or DD waiver, for short. The tool also is known as the Supports Intensity Scale, state officials said.

Monday, February 7, 2011

For Child with Autism, Doctor's Office Can Be a Terrifying Place

The teacher got a frantic telephone call after school one day. All she could hear was screaming.
Then she heard "Hope's" voice.
"Can you hear him? It is Marshall. He won't stop yelling?"
The teacher asked, "Where are you?" Hope answered, "We're at the medical plaza. I am in the waiting area and I don't know what to do?"
"Why are you there? Marshall seemed fine today," the teacher said.
"He needed a check-up," the distraught mother explained.
"Try to reschedule his appointment and I will go there with you tomorrow," the teacher advised.
The teacher wondered why Marshall was screaming. When she went to the medical plaza the next day, she saw the waiting room.

Adding Family Dog to Autism Team

ST. LOUIS -- Trained therapy dogs can make a big difference in the lives of some children with autism.
But they're also expensive.
That's why a local doctor is recommending some families look no further than their family dog for help.
Higgins the therapy dog is already a big help in Dr. Rolanda Maxim's autism clinic at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital.
Young patients anxious about having their height and weight measured can watch Higgins do it first.
"In the company of a dog, a child will become more relaxed, more interactive, more social, less anxious," says Dr. Rolanda Maxim, an autism specialist at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.

A Humble Human Rights Champion

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Joe Belge struggles to talk about last month's death of Sargent Shriver, founder of the Peace Corps and a champion of the developmentally disabled. "Very sad to see the guy go," Joe said Sunday, before his eyes filled with tears and he dropped his face into his hands.
As a 10-year-old in 1970, Joe joined Shriver in dedicating a Wilbur Avenue building that is now headquarters for ARC of Onondaga. Still, that's not the only reason for the grief. Joe's parents, Bob and Betty Belge, say their son reacts with sorrow to the mention of anyone's passing.
"He may be the only person I've ever met who's totally empathetic," said Bob Belge.

Proposed Health Care Cuts in Texas Loom

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Sen. Robert Duncan spent much of last week hearing testimony from patients, parents and others who will be affected by the billions in proposed cuts to the Health and Human Services portion of the 2012-13 state budget.
The hearings and public testimony began a week ago today. Members of the Senate Finance Committee heard hours of testimony from the parents of children with developmental disabilities, nursing homes and patients with physical and intellectual disabilities who receive financial assistance from the state.
"I think the testimony was very compelling and convincing that these programs are essential and important, and we need to figure out a way to maintain those programs and provide these services," Duncan said.

Friday, February 4, 2011

World Traveler with a Message

KENNEWICK, Wash. — A local man with developmental disabilities recently added to his list of accomplishments after traveling internationally. Larry Seifert says he is proof people with disabilities can do the same things anyone else can do, and his repeated stories of getting a college degree, employment and now traveling.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Virginia House Passes Autism Insurance Bill

The Virginia's Republican-led House gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would require insurers to include coverage for autism, all but guaranteeing passage by the General Assembly after an 11-year struggle.
Although the House bill passed with benefits that had been sharply limited compared to earlier proposals in recent years, advocates were thrilled.
"This bill is a huge step in the right direction for the state of Virginia," said Pat DiBari, president of the Virginia Autism Project, a nonprofit that grew out of a Loudoun County summit on autism that was held in August 2008.

Texans Oppose Proposed Budget

AUSTIN -- Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden on Wednesday suggested a new use for Gov. Rick Perry's business-deal-closing Enterprise Fund: supporting a San Antonio charity that finds jobs for homeless people.
Ogden, R-Bryan, made the suggestion on the same day a parade of witnesses testified before his committee about the devastation to vulnerable Texans that would come from relying solely on budget cuts to meet a massive revenue shortfall.
Some Democratic committee members urged the witnesses — from parents of children with disabilities to advocates for services including home health care and nursing homes - to form an "army" of outraged Texans to change the tone of the budget discussion.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Medicaid Funding Targeted in N.Y. State Budget

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Debbie Bonomo gets 15 hours of home health care every day. She lives alone in her house and uses a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. Medicaid pays for the service.
"Without that service, I’m not able to get up in the morning. I'm not able to get dressed, go to the bathroom, get out of the house, go to work," she said.
Medicaid is expected to take a big hit in Governor Andrew Cuomo's budget that will be unveiled on Tuesday. The governor wants to shave $2 billion from the $53 billion program that serves the poor and disabled.

Providing Support to Fathers of Children with Special Needs

NAPPERVILLE, Ill. -- For the first half of his son’s life, Matt Latourette concentrated mostly on the little guy’s survival.
Son Aiden was born Dec. 1, 2003, with a chromosome abnormality and heart defects that required seven surgeries just to keep him alive.
It was only after the medical crisis was behind him — after Aiden turned 3 — that Latourette began the inevitable grieving when a father realizes his firstborn child would never have a normal life. Nor would he and his wife Jennifer.

Proposed Cuts Assailed in Massachusetts

BOSTON -- Warning that a proposed 27 percent cut by Governor Deval Patrick would decimate programs for newborns and young children with disabilities, advocates for early intervention programs shored up support from prominent lawmakers yesterday.
"The governor’s decision to cut [early intervention] to its lowest level in over 10 years is deeply disturbing," said Senate majority leader Frederick Berry. "In all my years in politics I’ve never seen such a shortsighted decision."
Early intervention services include occupational, physical, and speech therapy for children from birth to 3 years old with developmental delays.