Federal Guidance Regarding Speech-Language Services for Students with Autism

The Office of Special Education Programs of the United States Department of Education (“OSEP”) issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” letter on July 6, 2015 regarding speech-language services and evaluations for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Continue reading

Parents are awarded an out of district placement after proving that the district’s program for a child with Autism and Intellectual Disability does not provide FAPE

A Brookline family has just prevailed in a decision issued by the BSEA’s newest hearing officer, Amy Reichbach, finding that the district’s program did not provide a FAPE and ordering Brookline to place the student at the RCS Learning Center in Natick.  In Re: Jacqueline, BSEA #1408578.  Attorney Dan Heffernan of our firm represented the family in this close, complex, and hard-fought case.  The decision highlights many of the types of issues that frequently arise where districts struggle to address the severe and multifaceted needs of children who require intense, systematic, consistent, and comprehensive services and need to be with peers who will provide for mutual learning and progress.  Districts do their best to meet such needs in most cases, but the lack of a sufficient cohort of students with comparable needs and the incompatibility of the normal structure of a regular school setting – generally open and flexible, expecting growing independence from all students – often make it difficult for a severely involved child to make meaningful progress.  Continue reading

Fellowship Opportunity for Young Adults on the Autism Spectrum

Here is a great fellowship opportunity for individuals on the Autism Spectrum who are between 18 and 26 years old:

Massachusetts Advocates for Children invites young adults 18-26 on the Autism Spectrum to apply for an innovative Young Adult Leaders Fellowship which provides opportunities to learn the professional skills needed to advocate on behalf of other youth with disabilities.  The Fellowship is a partnership between Massachusetts Advocates for Children and the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston.  The Young Adult Leaders Fellowship consists of one year part-time advocacy training under the supervision of the Autism Project Advocate and senior attorney.  A small stipend is provided. 

Please see the fellowship application for more information.

Open Enrollment for the Children’s Autism Waiver Program

For parents of kids on the Autism Spectrum who are younger than nine years old, the Children’s Autism Waiver Program can be a great way to access additional services. Applications must be postmarked between October 7, 2013 and October 18, 2013.  Please see the attached notice or call the Autism Support Center in your area for more information.

Update on DSM-5: IEP Eligibility for Students with Autism or Social Communication Disorders

We posted a comment at the end of May noting that the new DSM-5 definitions substituting “Autism Spectrum Disorder” for a number of autism-related disorders such as Asperger Syndrome do not affect the broader definitions of disabilities under IDEA or Massachusetts special education law. We urged parents and advocates to challenge any school districts that attempt to use the DSM-5 as a basis on which to deny an IEP to a child with a disability falling under this type of impairment. Continue reading

DSM-5 and Special Education

As has been widely publicized and discussed, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has recently issued a revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a book sometimes termed a “bible” for mental health professionals. The manual might better be called a dictionary, as it aims to provide a vocabulary established by general (though not unanimous) agreement among mental health professionals so that they can productively discuss how best to help people who exhibit disabling emotional and/or intellectual conditions. The diagnostic labels and the lists of elements for each that appear in the manual are the product of votes taken at general conclaves held, often decades apart, by the APA after recommendations are made by committees assigned to explore current research and experience around specified types of emotional and/or intellectual dysfunction. As its authors would be the first to admit, the DSM’s resulting diagnostic categories and constituent elements are far from perfect and, while intended as a tool to help clinicians, should be used with skepticism and with a heavy dose of direct and personal clinical judgment.

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