Autism Society records most keynote and concurrent sessions at their annual conferences. You can see and hear those recordings by purchasing full online access, or individual recordings.
An update will also be presented on the status of two programs, AIM and SMILE that address the needs of students with sensory-impairments and autism (vision and/or hearing) and autism especially in facilitating speech and reading. News about incorporating these systems in classes in New York and Florida as well as international sites will be presented.
The main focus of this year’s meeting will be to review the ongoing issues in education and intervention for students deaf / hard of hearing (HOH) and autistic. The need for reform of IDEA Law to address 1st and 14th amendment rights has become a growing movement among several national organizations of parents and professionals of deaf children. The emphasis has been on the “Deaf Children’s Bill of Rights (DCBR)” which is slowly being ratified by individual states (eleven) and is not part of federal guidelines. The National Deaf Education Project (1998) states that “The need for and right to communication and language is fundamental to the human condition. Without communication an individual cannot become an effective and productive adult and an informed citizen in our democracy.” Judge Siegel underscores this statement adding “To deny it is to harm the human spirit. To foster communication is to reveal all the possibilities of life.” While this may sound familiar to parents and professionals working with individuals with autism, the project does not include children with additional concerns.
While the DCBR is an important first step in having the state formally acknowledge the unique needs of children who are deaf, it does not automatically resolve problems or immediately change options. The DCBR can , however be used in IEPs (Individual Education Programs) and other discussions with school districts and potentially due process hearings. While the DCBR relates to IDEA’s special considerations for student who are deaf or hard of hearing it attempts to make the law more actionable at a local level. For more detail, see The National Association for the Deaf and Hands and Voices websites. Indeed, parents and individuals with all sensory based disabilities can relate to educational and social concerns raised. But what happens if that person is deaf-autistic?
An ongoing dilemma of our national education system and the categories of Disability under IDEA Law is the need to identify a “Primary Disability term”. Deaf-Blindness is an exception that recognizes the exceptional communication needs of these individuals. Otherwise, the term “Multiple Disabilities” is an option that recognizes children cannot be accommodated in a special education program solely for one of their impairments. However and unfortunately the practice has been to focus on autism or deafness. That means children may be transferred back and forth between programs and/or receive less than appropriate and adequate learning opportunities in one. Unfortunately, some students are marginalized in both communities. A brief review of some cases will help tell the story.
President Obama awarded Kimberly McGuiness, a Georgia School for the Deaf (GSD) parent with the 2010 Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor. Ms. McGuiness worked tirelessly to have the Deaf Children’s Bill of Rights passed in her state. The McGuiness family moved out of their home state to Georgia to seek appropriate educational services for a daughter who is deaf and has autism. Her efforts were tireless and resulted in many improved options for her daughter. Her story illustrates the need for collaboration among parents and professionals to seek legislative changes across all states as well as organize and promote more appropriate and successful learning experiences that include the most basic right of access to communication ( total communication including written, signed, pictorial and oral forms).
This session will conclude with brainstorming for options for action. While small advances have been made in different programs, it is more than time for a call to the broader and more basic issues. I consider the status of some programs as environments of benign to detrimental neglect approaching educational abuse. That is, if children cannot access communication and in appropriate learning environments, the subsequent frustration with possible self injury and consequent behavioral issues should be considered not just the “student’s” problem. Many paths to increasing awareness, training, interventions and research need to be continued. One group with global objectives, the Disabilities and Child Abuse Action Network (DCAAN) will be presented with resources for families to gain more information.
The focus of this Network meeting is on advocacy in education for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and autistic. There is a call for collaboration of parents and professionals in seeking both state specific law, the Deaf Children’s Bill of Rights and revision of IDEA primary disability loopholes that shuttle children between schools for deaf and autism limiting access to communication and increasing risk for personal harm. Network membership and contact with DCAAN will be discussed.
Content Area: Life with Autism
Margaret P. Creedon, Ph.D., FAACP
Autism Research Institute