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Guest Blog: Face Value Comics: the World's First Featured Comic Book Hero with Autism

June 27th, 2014

By Dave Kot, Founder, Face Value Comics

Kids want and need heroes like themselves. We may not have superpowers, yet comic books allow us to daydream. Readers can imagine themselves as someone special without limits on their potential. Sadly, most comic books not only ignore autism, but marginalize or inaccurately portray this sensory processing challenge. Examples by current industry leaders depict autism as a mental illness weakness (1), as something to be cured (2), or openly admit how their script writers couldn’t write an autistic character (3). At least I can respect the last comment, because the creative team recognizes their own shortcomings and won’t risk embarrassment.

Face Value Comics stands in this gap. We created the world’s first featured comic book hero with autism! Our founder and script writer is autistic, a PhD student (psychology), and former clinician working with many young people on the autism spectrum.

This sounds like a good start. Comic books can be powerful tools, though. Prominent research shows how children may lack reading proficiency, but kids still love comics (4). Regardless of diverse backgrounds and experiences, people want to believe in heroes.

Studying facial expressions, we literally freeze a character’s emotional state on a static page. Readers can see scientific taxonomies of “happiness,” anger,” and other universally-recognized expressions (5). Speech bubbles give language to the feelings. Following the story, readers build empathy because they grow to predict behavioral patterns.

Comic books allow us to connect with each other in non-threatening ways. Relatively speaking, ~$5 (6) for casual entertainment can fit some budgets. Inside a story, readers may see similarities between a school bully they know and an arch-villain’s behavior. Our character grows to understand how he and others express their feelings, and builds stronger social connections.

Our family-friendly, steam-powered, Victorian-era world has aliens and robots, and test anxieties, and pre-teen romance, and a surprise for readers: Michael, the young man with autism, grows up to become THE ZEPHYR! Finally, comic book fans can have a hero of whom they can be proud, whether or not they have autism.

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(1) http://marvel.wikia.com/Category:Mental_Illness_Weaknesses
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Manta
(3) http://andrewgleason.tumblr.com/post/84354477293/its-kind-of-hard-being-an-autistic-comic-book-fan
(4) http://www.ccl-cca.ca/CCL/Newsroom/Releases/20100721Comics.html
(5) http://www.paulekman.com/universal-facial-expressions/ (PS- I am a certified Expert in the highest level of Facial Action Coding System (FACS) through Dr. Ekman. Our main character’s last name is “Eckman” as a veiled nod of gratitude for his advancement of the science).
(6) http://www.previewsworld.com/Home/1/1/71/920?stockItemID=STK646101


Inheritance: When a Child Has a Developmental Disability

June 16th, 2014

As a child with developmental disabilities grows older, parents begin thinking about how to secure their loved one’s financial future as the care they need can be expensive. While government programs and community resources provide essential help, significant family resources are often needed as well. Planning an inheritance for a child with a developmental disability requires special considerations. Here’s why:

A direct gift or bequest may not be appropriate, for two major reasons:

  1. The individual may not be capable of managing significant assets without assistance;
  2. It may be necessary to maintain eligibility for government programs that have income and asset limits

One alternative to a direct gift is making a gift to a family member, such as a sibling, who can  be trusted to use the assets in the best interests of the individual with a disability. However, the family member must be willing and able to take on that responsibility and the gift would then become part of his or her estate, leaving it open to be lost in a divorce or claimed by creditors.

Another alternative is a special needs trust, which can help the individual with special needs maintain eligibility for government programs, while making funds available to enhance his or her quality of life. Creating a special needs trust is a complex task that should be done with the assistance of an estate planning attorney, experienced with special needs issues.

Interested in learning more about Special Needs Trusts? Click on the links below:

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Methods of Autism Advocacy: Face Value Comics

June 13th, 2014

Autism at Face Value has published the debut issue of Face Value Comics, the first comic book whose hero has autism.

Face Value Comics uses the art of comic books as a method of autism advocacy. Michael, the comic’s hero, is a boy with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. He also has a secret identity as a superhero, the Zephyr. The comic features fantastical elements like steam-powered airships and the threat of an alien invasion, while Michael must also face typical middle school challenges like test anxieties and bullying.

Face Value Comics aims to creatively apply scientific research and provide support to young people with autism by countering prejudice against them and helping them feel safe in their schools and communities.

The comic book strives to include actual diagnostic symptoms of autism spectrum disorders within an entertaining story, giving young people with autism support in their experiences and helping others understand what autism can be like without stereotypes and misunderstanding.

The Face Value stories portray Michael and his friends encountering real-world problems and making mistakes that they learn from. The comics emphasize social learning as a way to deal with social developmental difficulties.

Autism at Face Value believes that readers, including children with autism, need heroes they can relate to, and people who do not have autism may need a change of perspective to truly understand and empathize with people who have the disorder. More information about Face Value Comics is available at http://autismatfacevalue.com.

Listen to our podcast with founder of Face Value Comics, Dave Kot by clicking here or click here to visit our iTunes page.

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Supreme Court Officially Substitutes Term “Intellectual Disability” for “Mentally Retardation”

June 9th, 2014

By Stacy Sadove, Esq., and Marion Walsh, Esq., Littman Krooks LLP

The highest Court in the country has officially stopped using the term “mentally retarded” to refer to individuals with intellectual disabilities.  This shift in terminology by the Court shows a significant shift in society’s progress toward treating each other with dignity.

Specifically, in the recent decision of Hall v. Florida, the Supreme Court of the United States reaffirmed the core holding of the 2002 seminal case Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304, 321 (2002).  Atkins created an Eighth Amendment categorical bar to executing persons with an intellectual disability. The case of Hall, also marked a major milestone in efforts to put an end to use of the term “mental retardation” to categorize persons with intellectual disabilities.

“Mentally retarded” represents the term used in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the DSM-IV).  In prior decisions, the United States Supreme Court has indeed used the term.  But in Hall v. Florida, the Court acknowledges for the first time that the term “mentally retarded” is no longer appropriate to use.

The Supreme Court has sent an important message to the entire country on the importance of language and respect in referring to persons with disabilities.   The Court recognized the impact that words can have one on someone. A major motivation for this change came in 2010, when Congress passed “Rosa’s Law,” which substituted “intellectual disability” for “mental retardation” in several federal laws.

In the Opinion of the Court, Justice Kennedy notes, that previous opinions of the Court have employed the term “mental retardation”, and specifically states that the opinion in Hall uses the term “intellectual disability” to describe the identical phenomenon and that the change in terminology should be used going forward. Justice Kennedy also states that the change in the term “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability” is approved and used in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, one of the basic texts used by psychiatrists and other experts; the manual is often referred to by its initials “DSM,” followed by its edition number, e.g., “DSM–5.” See American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 33 (5th ed. 2013). See also Rosa’s Law, 124 Stat. 2643 (changing entries in the U. S. Code from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability”); Schalock et. al, The Renaming of Mental Retardation: Understanding the Change to the Term Intellectual Disability, 45 Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities 116 (2007).

The term “mentally retarded” is extremely pejorative and unnecessary to use when there are other words that do not have as stigmatizing an effect on persons with intellectual disabilities. Justice Kennedy writes the Eighth Amendment’s protection of dignity reflects the nation we have been, the nation we are, and the nation we aspire to be.” Similarly, to protect such dignity, word usage should be contemplated with respect to those who suffer from intellectual disabilities. This change in terminology represents a step forward for protecting those who suffer from intellectual disabilities.

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Guest Blog: Coping with Stress: Strategies to Encourage Academic Success

June 3rd, 2014

By Casey Schmalacker, Academic Coach, New Frontiers in Learning

The academic experience is one wrought with change and obstacles that can cause high levels of stress in students. When stress is not contained, it may negatively affect learning by impairing information retention and recall. This can be especially true for students experiencing prolonged stress as a result of the rigors of the academic school year.

Students with learning differences may experience a variety of stressors that can disrupt a successful academic experience. For example, students with ADHD may struggle with impulsivity, leading to poor decision-making and heightened stress. Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders may have trouble making social connections, leaving students feeling isolated and with increased anxiety. Even though students may experience higher levels of stress, their ability to learn should not be determined by this. Success in school can be affected by a student’s ability to cope with higher levels of stress. It is important to examine the various types of stress, the resources necessary for proper coping skills, and the actual processes for coping.

Stress can be categorized into past, present, and future stressors. Because of the ability to affect outcomes, present stress is the most important stress on which to concentrate. Past stress, such as a poor grade on an exam or a poor experience in a social setting, is no longer in one’s control, and, as the saying goes, “What is done is done.” Future stress has several variables surrounding it that is out of one’s control. By focusing on future stress, the unknown and unexpected can cause even more anxiety and stress. Unlike past and future stressors, present stress can be identified and managed in the moment. This sense of control is called a stressor’s amenability to change. Understanding the various types of stress allows students, parents, and teachers to provide the best advice on helping students to manage stressors.

Identifying stress is only the first step in the coping process. In order to fully manage stress, individuals need to utilize coping processes. These processes first require a foundation of coping resources.

There are four main categories of coping resources:

1) Optimism,

2) Control or Mastery,

3) Self Esteem, and

4) Social Support.

Students with various learning differences may lack in these four resources, which in turn may account for their higher levels of stress. Optimism is explained as an individual’s view that “Good things rather than bad things will happen to the self” (Taylor, Stanton, 2007, p.380). Personal Control over a situation is the view that an individual can affect and influence outcomes. Having a High Self Esteem is another coping resource that leads to “lower autonomic and cortisol stress responses,” or less intense episodes of stress. Educators and families many times understand the importance of high self-esteem, but understanding its importance as a foundation for coping with stress is essential. Social Support is understood as, “The perception or experience that one is loved and cared for by others, esteemed and valued, and part of a social network of mutual assistance and obligations” (Taylor, Stanton, 2007, p.381). By having a social support network, individuals may experience less intense and shorter lasting episodes of anxiety.

Students with learning differences can lack in one, some, or even all of the above coping resources. There are varied forms of treatment that can be used to help bolster some of these resources in students, but one area that can be directly supported by families and educators is a strong social support system.

Coping Processes can be understood as the implementation of the coping resources to overcome potential stressors in life. These processes are broken down based upon their focus. The three main categories of coping processes are:

1) Emotion Focused,

2) Problem Focused, and

3) Avoidance/Approach Oriented.

Emotion Focused coping concentrates on “Palliating event-related distress,” or altering the emotional response to various stressors. This process focuses on accepting stress for what it is and developing more productive means for responding to this stress. Problem Focused coping looks to resolve the stressful situation. This process looks to overcome the stress so as to remove its source. Finally, the third process is a range of options that can include the previous two processes. Avoidance/Approach Oriented coping is a variety of techniques that either look to deal with the stress head on or attempt to find means to avoiding the stress. Examples of approach-oriented coping include: Problem solving, seeking social support, or the creation of outlets for emotional expression. Avoidance techniques are means to avoiding stressors to prevent the negative reaction.

These processes have a variety of uses in different situations. Understanding the various aspects of stress, the methods and means of coping, and how that coping actually occurs, allows individuals to begin the process of developing systems to overcome these stressors. This can encourage students to reach their fullest potential without stress and anxiety becoming an academic obstacle.


Taylor, S., & Stanton, A. (2007). Coping resources, coping processes, and mental health. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 3, 377-401.

New Frontiers in Learning (www.nfil.net) is a high school and college support program for students with varied learning differences. New Frontiers provides coaching and tutoring services to students in the Westchester, Long Island, and New York City areas, allowing students to apply for and attend colleges based on their plan of study or personal campus preferences. For more information, please contact Samantha Feinman, Program Director, at (646)558-0085 or sfeinman@nfil.net.

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