I’m generally an optimistic person. But I always like to be aware of the potential downside of things — particularly when it concerns laws and regulations related to people on the autism spectrum. Which brings me to a law that went into effect this month in Virginia. As of July 1, Virginia drivers with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome or others on the autism spectrum can volunteer to have an autism code embedded on their driver’s license. Ditto for non-drivers who carry a state identification card.
The new law has raised concern among some drivers and disability advocates who worry about the potential for discrimination from law enforcement in the future.
The idea is that if stopped by law enforcement, displaying the card with the autism designation might keep police from misunderstanding any unusual behavior the person might display. My fear, however, is that a law meant for good could easily be used for ill. There’s no evidence that adults on the spectrum are better or worse drivers than the rest of the driving population — nor that they have more or less accidents. But the new law has raised concern among some drivers on the autism spectrum — as well as disability advocates — who are worried that they might face discrimination from law enforcement in the future if their licenses bear such a designation.
Fortunately JP’s Law, as it is sometimes called, is voluntary. It is up to the individual driver to opt-in. Pam Mines says her 9-year-old son with autism was the catalyst for her pushing Virginia lawmakers to adopt an optional autism code that could appear on state identification cards and driver’s licenses. For Mines, it was a pre-emptive strike in case her son ever encountered law enforcement and could not articulate his disability.
Asperger Syndrome is on the rise. At least that’s the implication of the latest research that finds autism is nearly twice as common as previously reported. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 1 in 88 children in the U.S. have autism — approximately one million children and teens. That’s up from 1 in 110 children in a 2006 study. Why the increase? The answer is inconclusive. It could be that better screening and diagnosis accounts for the findings. But there could also be overdiagnosis at play. What is clear, though, is that little progress has been made in the treatment for AS and autism and much more education and assistance is needed.
It’s no longer “Unfinished Business” for one of the most engaging race teams in the history of the show. Undone by the samba and bikinis, Zev Glassenberg made TV history as the first contestant with Asperger Syndrome to take on the always grueling yet fantastically adventurous race around the world. The team challenge is replete with trials, chores, roadblocks and puzzles that test the mettle of the mightiest and bring some of the smartest to tears. Yet friends Justin Kanew and Zev cheerfully stuck out each leg of the race determined to make good on a second chance to win a million dollars — and avoid the mistakes of last season that torpedoed their earlier efforts. Zev deserves special recognition for shining a positive light on Asperger’s and helping the world grow in its understanding of it..
The debate over the safety of the MMR vaccine won’t likely be quieted by this latest news. The British medical journal BMJ today is calling the 1998 Lancet paper that implied a link between the MMR vaccine and autism “an elaborate fraud.” The mumps, measles and rubella vaccine has long been suspected by some to play a role in the childhood development of autism. But BMJ editor-in-chief Dr. Fiona Godlee says the “scare was based not on bad science but on a deliberate fraud” and that such “clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare.” Last year, Lancet retracted the study linking MMR to autism, citing faulty scientific research by Andrew Wakefield. BMJ is publishing a three-part investigative series this week to get to the heart of the scare.
This week (July 26) marks an auspicious occasion: The 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While it’s a moment for reflection on the changes the law has wrought, it’s also an opportunity for supporters to push harder for greater inclusion in the workforce of people with disabilities. The numbers have barely budged since this historic legislation was passed two decades ago, according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the
Kessler Foundation and the National Organization on Disability. There’s a huge disparity between working-age people with disabilities who say they are employed (21%) vs. the 59% of people without disabilities who are working.
People with disabilities are part of the fabric of American society, notes Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary, Office of Disability Employment Policy for the U.S. Department of Labor. In a recent blog post, she urges “friends and colleagues (to) look for ways to support the younger people with disabilities who are beginning their adult and work lives. Young folks – seek out mentors and role models in the multiple communities of which you’re a part, because disability is not our only source of identity.”
When a dog has to go, it has to go. But until recently, there were few “pet relief areas” at the nation’s major airports for service dogs traveling with fliers with disabilities. That’s changing big time, according to USA TODAY. Add Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Chicago and Phoenix to the growing list of airports providing doggie bathrooms for four-legged fliers. The Department of Transportation began requiring airports to offer pet relief areas as part of changes made to the Air Carrier Access Act, which spells out travel rights for people with disabilities.
Nothing on the football field or in the rarefield atmosphere of Hollywood prepared former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete and his actress/wife Holly Robinson Peete for parenting a child with autism. Peete writes about his difficulty coming to grips with his son’s diagnosis in a new book Not My Boy! In a recent interview with National Public Radio’s Michel Martin, Peete says: “We have our own goals for our children, especially sons. I wasn’t able to connect with my son, who was my firstborn son, who had my name. I was in denial about what he had, what the doctor was telling us. It was a dark time for us.” You can read more of the interview with Michel Martin here.
One of the hottest new degree programs is the master’s in disability studies. A year ago, City University of New York’s School of Professional Studies became the first to offer a standalone master’s in the subject, its website says. But dozens of universities across the country, including Georgetown and Syracuse, offer similar degrees. Why the explosive growth in such programs now? Need, pure and simple. Georgetown estimates that more than 18 percent of the U.S. population has some type of disability. According to the university’s website: “Disability studies programs provide students with the tools to understand disability; to educate and increase awareness among various audiences about the experiences of individuals with disabilities, as well as their families and support systems; and ultimately to contribute to social change.” However, not all programs are created equal and there’s very little information to date on the relative quality of each program. Anyone interested in pursuing this graduate degree should choose carefully and stick with universities with strong reputations for quality.
If you thought the debate was over on whether vaccines are a culprit in the rise of autism, think again. PBS and its show Frontline tackles the subject anew at 9 p.m. ET tonight. The controversy continues. On one hand are medical professionals, scientists and researchers who wave their evidence that there is no connection between autism and the mumps-measles-rubella vaccine. On the other hands are parents and autism groups who insist there is a link. According to PBS’ website: “In communities like Ashland, Oregon, up to one-third of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids at all. And some advocacy groups, like Generation Rescue, argue that vaccines are no longer a public health miracle but a scourge; they view vaccines as responsible for alarming rises in certain disorders, including ADHD and autism.” The controversy has raged for years in medical journals, in the news media and now online. I doubt much new will surface tonight. But for anyone interested in the topic, “The Vaccine War” is must-see TV.