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U.S. Department of Education Clarifies Schools’ Obligation to Provide Equal Opportunity to Students with Disabilities to Participate in Extracurricular Athletics

January 28th, 2013

by Giulia Frasca, Esq.

What can you do if your school district tells you that your child with autism cannot participate in an after school sport? Fortunately, new guidance may help:

On January 25, 2013, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil
Rights issued a letter offering guidance to school districts and
delineating theirs responsibilities with regard to providing appropriate
access and the opportunity for students with disabilities to participate
in extracurricular activities. Pursuant to Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act, students with disabilities have the right to an
equal opportunity to participate in their schools’ extracurricular
activities. Unfortunately, to date, many students with disabilities
have been denied the right to participate equally in extracurricular
activities. The guidance letter explains that school districts must
make reasonable modifications to existing policies, practices, or
procedures for students with intellectual, developmental, physical, or
any other type of disability so that they may participate equally in
extracurricular activities.

The guidance letter also provides examples
of how a school district may employ such modifications:

1) using visual cues along with a starter pistol for track meets so that students with hearing impairments may participate in track;

2) allowing a one hand finish at swim events for students who are missing an arm, but can otherwise swim competitively, and; 3) providing glucose testing and insulin administration for students with diabetes who want to participate in after school extracurricular activities. This guidance letter is an important step toward affording all students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education.

To read the guidance letter in its entirety go to:

For more information about special education advocacy, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


Guest Post: 2013 Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions, From MyAutismTeam Parents

January 17th, 2013

This post was featured on the blog for myautismteam.com.

With each new year, this is a time to take stock of your accomplishments, or ponder those projects that will make it to the “to-do” list in 2013.

And no New Year is complete without resolutions. Resolutions can take many forms; from the above mentioned project list to personal improvements in ourselves. At MyAutismTeam, we wanted to hear from the parents about their own resolutions. We surveyed over 35,000 parents on MyAutismTeam about their resolutions and what they are envisioning for 2013.

One of the resounding resolutions for parents this year will be to take a moment for themselves. From making an effort for laughter to making time for spouses and exercise, parents recognize that they give their best to their children when they are at their best. While simple in theory, such small acts go a long way, as a study from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders has shown that parents (mothers in particular) are prone to feeling a sense of chronic stress that is similar to that of soldiers in combat.* This stress can often translate into health issues leading to additional stress, etc.

However, parents are taking note. In an effort to avoid and reduce stress, parents are choosing to focus on the positive. Concentrating on their children’s strengths and new therapies, parents are choosing to make 2013 a time to learn. In a year when autism was front and center, parents are also taking action and vowing to be stronger advocates for their children and more engaged in their progress. The top ten resolutions from the survey are listed below.

Top 10 Resolutions for 2013 by Parents with Children on the Autism Spectrum

  1. I will develop my child’s areas of strength.
  2. I will take things one day at a time.
  3. I will be a stronger advocate for my child at his/her school or with healthcare providers.
  4. I will explore new therapies for my child.
  5. I will be part of a strong social network for emotional, social, and informational support.
  6. I will make more time for my spouse and myself.
  7. I will exercise more.
  8. I will start looking at things from my child’s perspective.
  9. I will manage my own anxieties about social situations with my child.
  10. I will be vigilant in monitoring and managing my child’s progress.

In the busy days ahead, don’t forget your resolutions to help you get through to the next. Did your resolutions make the list? If not, share them with MyAutismTeam at http://www.myautismteam.com today.

To follow MyAutismTeam on one of their social media platforms, click below:

  • Blog: http://blog.myautismteam.com

For more information on special needs planning or special needs advocacy, please visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


Guest Post: Transition Planning Can Shape a Life

January 3rd, 2013

Our latest guest blogger is  Andrew H. Hook, CELA®, CFP

Transition planning, the preparation of a young person with special needs for adulthood, should begin before the student turns 16. Many school divisions choose to begin this planning when the students enters high school, typically at the age of 14. To the extent possible, the student should work with parents, counselors and teachers to identify personal interests and goals for life after school. The student’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) should then address the independent living, social and self-advocacy skills– as well as the academics—needed to support the lifestyle to which they aspire.

High school graduation marks a major change in every young person’s life, but for an individual with special needs, the adjustment is particularly dramatic. During the school years, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) provides a federal guarantee of “free and appropriate education to prepare for employment and independent living.” Once an individual with disabilities ages out of school at 22, though, they must rely on widely divergent state programs for support. As they’re poised to begin adulthood, having a well crafted transition plan that provides an integrated approach to personal and financial affairs can make all the difference to their quality of life.

Because the choices that they face are complex and far-reaching, families should consult someone familiar with public benefits, tax law and trusts as they chart the way forward for their loved ones. A special needs attorney can be of enormous help as they analyze the legal instruments and community programs at their disposal.

At the age of 18, individuals are assumed to be competent adults, and absent legal action, decision-making shifts away from parents. For that reason, six to 12 months before this important birthday, families should begin to consider whether or not guardianship is a desirable option. This is a significant, nuanced decision. In some states, for instance, guardianship will automatically deny an individual the right to vote unless specifically addressed. The goal should be for the individual to retain as much autonomy as possible, but it may be advisable for the individual to grant powers of attorney to a parent if they will need assistance making decisions related to education, healthcare or finances.

Once the child is 18, parents’ income is no longer considered when applying for means-tested programs, and at this time, the individual should sign up for SSI (Supplemental Security. In many states, enrolling in SSI is a first step towards eligibility for Medicaid, through which many disability programs are made available. Parents should ensure that a special needs trust (SNT) is in place so that funds set aside for the child do not affect eligibility for important government benefits.

Choices must be made concerning employment and living arrangements. What sort of career counseling is available? Will the individual need workplace accommodations, and what assistance can they get in locating appropriate job opportunities? What Medicaid waiver programs are in place to provide community-based housing? Can the individual live independently, perhaps with scheduled visits from care providers?

Choices made on the cusp of adulthood have the potential to shape an entire life. When a child has special needs, thoughtful transition planning should begin early.


Significant Changes to the Way Certain Mental Disorders are Diagnosed in DSM-V

January 3rd, 2013

The New Year brings significant changes to the way certain mental disorders are diagnosed, in the    Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders –V (“DSM-V”).   In December,  the American Psychiatric Association announced that its board of trustees had approved the fifth edition of the association’s influential diagnostic manual.   The final version of the DSM-V will be available in May 2013.

One of the most controversial changes for the DSM-V is creating a single “autism spectrum disorder” category, with stricter requirements than the DSM-IV.   After considerable study and controversy, the American Psychiatric Association voted to approve a new, streamlined definition of autism, that technically eliminates the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).    The Work Group has proposed that autism, Asperger‘s disorder, PDD-NOS and childhood disintegrative disorder be consolidated within  the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  But the new definition notes that psychiatrists should  with take into account a person’s diagnostic history. Thus, the new definition would include anyone who’s had an Asperger’s or autism or PDD-NOS diagnosis before.   According to Commentary by the America Psychiatric Association, “The change signals how symptoms of these disorders represent  a continuum from mild to severe, rather than being distinct disorders. The new category is expected to help clinicians more accurately diagnose people with relevant symptoms and behaviors by recognizing the differences from person to person, instead of providing general  labels that tend not to be consistently applied across different clinics and centers.”

Specifically, the new definition requires:

A.    Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across contexts, not accounted for by general developmental delays, and manifest by all 3 of the following:

1.     Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity; ranging from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back and forth conversation through reduced sharing of interests, emotions, and affect and response to total lack of initiation of social interaction,

2.     Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction; ranging from poorly integrated-verbal and nonverbal communication, through abnormalities in eye contact and body-language, or deficits in understanding and use of nonverbal communication, to total lack of facial expression or gestures.
3.     Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships, appropriate to developmental level (beyond those with caregivers); ranging from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit different
social contexts through difficulties in sharing imaginative play and  in making friends to an apparent absence of interest in people.

B.    Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities as manifested by at least two of  the following:
1.     Stereotyped or repetitive speech, motor movements, or use of objects (such as simple motor stereotypes, echolalia, repetitive use of objects, or idiosyncratic phrases);
2.     Excessive adherence to routines, ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior, or excessive resistance to change; (such as motoric rituals, insistence on same route or food, repetitive questioning or extreme distress at small changes);
3.     Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (such as strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests);
4.     Hyper-or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of environment (such as apparent indifference to pain/heat/cold, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, fascination with lights or spinning objects);
C.    Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities).
D.         Symptoms together limit and impair everyday functioning.

Pediatric bipolar disorder also posed a challenge to the Work Group.   Psychiatrists are more frequently giving the diagnosis of Bipolar disorder, characterized by episodes of depression and mania, even  to children as young as 2 — along with powerful psychiatric drugs and tranquilizers.  To stop this trend, the committee created an alternative label: “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder,” or D.M.D.D., which describes extreme hostility and outbursts beyond normal tantrums.

The DSM-V new mental disorders include:

  • Hoarding; (previously considered a symptom of obsessive-compulsive behavior)
  • “Premenstrual dysphoric disorder,”
  • “Binge-eating disorder “

The changes above should not have a significant impact on school classification of students and will not result in fewer students being classified.   The 13 areas of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act remain constant and depend on the discussion and consensus of the Committee on Special Education, not on a medical diagnosis.  For autism, the changes proposed by DSM-5 are designed to better identify autism spectrum disorders and distinguish them from other conditions.   In some ways, the criteria for DSM-5 are actually broader.   For example, while DSM-IV criteria require evidence of difficulties related to autism prior to age 3, the DSM-5 definition only requires a child to show examples of unusual behavior in early childhood, whether or not they occur before age 3.

For more information, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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