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Autism parents join class-action lawsuit against Georgia system

Autism parents join class-action lawsuit against Georgia system

Atlanta, GA — A class-action lawsuit brought in October against the State of Georgia’s special education system includes two parents of boys with autism.


The suit, filed by several advocacy groups on behalf of three parents, accuses state officials of violating federal law and the U.S. Constitution by placing children with disabilities in segregated schools and classrooms operated by the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support, or GNETS.


The suit specifically claims that by assigning a disproportionately high number of African-American children to GNETS, the state violates Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law.  It also alleges that GNETS students receive an inferior education and are often denied extracurricular activities and basic amenities like science labs and libraries.


All the students named in the lawsuit allegedly suffered academic and physical injury in GNETS.


“Q.H.,” a 9-year-old boy with autism, attention deficit disorder and developmental delays, has been physically restrained numerous times, the suit says. On at least one occasion, he received injuries requiring medical treatment.


And “C.S.,” 13, entered a GNETS program five years ago after his home school told his parents it was the boy’s only option.  In the sixth grade, the suit says, he spent much of the school year lying on a classroom floor, watching videos, and receiving no therapy for his autism.


White House rescinds special education guidance

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education has determined that 72 guidance documents relating to special education are “outdated, unnecessary or ineffective.”


In the Oct. 20 announcement, the federal department said that it had rescinded 72 guidance documents, some of which have been on record for decades. Sixty-three of them are from the Office of Special Education Programs and nine are from the Rehabilitation Services Administration.


The move is part of the current administration’s agenda item of doing away with what it sees as unnecessary regulation.  An executive order signed by President Donald Trump in February requires the federal government to “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens.”


Over the summer, the Education Department sought public comment on “regulations that may be appropriate for repeal, replacement or modification.”  Now, officials with the agency’s Office of Special Education Programs said they are working in phases to comply with the order.


Guidance documents flagged by the review touch on special education funding, least restrictive environment, private placements, employment and more.  Some were issued as recently as 2014 while others have been around since the 1980s.


Policy guidance, often issued in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter, is typically used by the Education Department to clarify how existing laws or regulations should be implemented in schools.


The rescinding of the guidance documents, however, does not necessarily mean that any public special education programs are in jeopardy.


Autism Speaks releases autism and health report

Washington, D.C. — “We now know, beyond doubt, that for many people, autism is a whole-body disorder,” begins a new report from leading advocacy group Autism Speaks.  “Its frequent co-morbidities include seizures, gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disturbances, eating and feeding challenges, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression…”


The 37-page report outlines in plain English the relationship between autism and a number of health issues—and what parents and professionals alike can do about them.


“Autism itself is not a cause of premature mortality,” the report concludes.  “Rather, it relates to many of the medical and mental health conditions in this report – most of which are treatable and/or preventable.”


Target, Tommy Hilfiger now selling more ‘adaptive clothing’

New York, NY — Two major U.S. brands are significantly expanding their offerings designed to accommodate the unique needs of people with disabilities.


Both big box retailer Target and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger announced in October that they are bringing to the market new collections of so-called adaptive clothing, or apparel specifically designed for people with various disabilities.


Target will roll out adaptive apparel for kids as part of its house brand Cat & Jack.  The 40-item collection will include T-shirts, leggings, puffer jackets, sweatshirts and bodysuits with zip-off sleeves, side and back snap-and-zip closures and hidden openings for abdominal access.


The move comes just two months after Cat & Jack began offering sensory-friendly items.  These include apparel incorporating flat seams, no bothersome tags, extra room for diapers and other modifications.


Designers for Target said they worked directly with kids who have disabilities to understand their clothing needs.


However, the items will currently only be sold online; Target is still weighing whether to carry them in its brick-and-mortar venues.


At the same time, after an “incredible response” to a children’s collection introduced last year, Tommy Hilfiger—a clothing company whose eponymous founder has close family with autism—said it is expanding its adaptive offerings to include clothing for adults.


Social status may influence autism diagnosis: study

Madison, WI — New research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison finds that the likelihood of getting diagnosed with autism remains largely tied to socioeconomics, even as autism prevalence has increased.


According to findings published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, kids from lower income neighborhoods are less likely than those from wealthier backgrounds to be diagnosed with autism.


The study reviewed data on 1.3 million 8-year-olds in 11 states that was collected between 2002 and 2010 through the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.


Researchers cross-referenced this information with data from the U.S. Census Bureau on poverty, median household income and educational attainment, among other factors.


The findings indicated that lower socioeconomic status was consistently tied to reduced odds for autism, no matter what metric was used.  That finding true even as prevalence of the developmental disorder more than doubled during the eight-year period studied.


Researchers also noted that similar studies in Sweden and France, which both have universal health care, found no association between the odds of autism and socioeconomic background.