# Autism

Republicans hope money will bail out lazy Peter Cownie in Iowa House district 42

Some Iowa statehouse Republicans are more extreme, more ignorant, more unhinged, more dishonest, or more mean-spirited than Peter Cownie.

But few lawmakers make less effort than Cownie to demonstrate that they deserve to be in a position of power.

A television commercial in heavy rotation on Des Moines stations doesn’t name even one legislative accomplishment from Cownie’s eight years in the Iowa House, including two years leading the State Government Committee and two as Commerce Committee chair. Cownie has rarely if ever knocked doors to talk to his constituents in West Des Moines. He doesn’t show up at many local public forums. He doesn’t consistently answer e-mails. He doesn’t follow through on some of his promises.

Recent campaign disclosure forms show the Iowa GOP has spent more than $300,000 on tv ads promoting Cownie or trashing his Democratic challenger, my friend Claire Celsi. Tens of thousands more went toward direct mail to benefit Cownie’s campaign.

Why did Republicans hit the panic button?

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Iowa families get promises but no guarantee on autism insurance coverage

Iowa families hoping for guaranteed insurance coverage of autism services will have to wait at least one more year. Despite Democratic efforts to add an autism coverage mandate to the health and human services budget for fiscal year 2017, the compromise approved on the final day of this year’s legislative session excluded such language. Instead, lawmakers increased state funding for various autism-related grants and programs.

According to the lead Republican negotiator on the human services budget, families affected by autism will have insurance coverage by January 2017 without a mandate, thanks to Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s decision to sell policies through Iowa’s public insurance exchange. But those policies will not be available to Iowans living in dozens of counties, nor will they cover applied behavior analysis (ABA) interventions, which are effective but prohibitively expensive for many people with spectrum disorders.

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Iowa Democrats trying to add autism insurance coverage to budget bill

Earlier this month, Claire Celsi informed Bleeding Heartland readers about the demise of an autism insurance bill after State Representative Peter Cownie refused to bring the measure up for a vote in the Iowa House Commerce Committee, which he chairs.

As both Autism Awareness Month and the 2016 legislative session wind down, Democrats in the Iowa House and Senate have been working to add the same requirements to a must-pass budget bill. Follow me after the jump for background and where things stand in this fight.

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Peter Cownie Kills Autism Insurance Bill

Claire Celsi is the Democratic challenger to Peter Cownie in Iowa House district 42. -promoted by desmoinesdem

April is Autism month. I wish I had better news for all the parents out there who are trying to provide the best care for their children.

State Representative Peter Cownie (R-West Des Moines), Chair of the Iowa House Commerce Committee, single-handedly killed the bill that autism advocates in Iowa had worked all year to bring to a vote in the House Commerce Committee. Cownie had challenged the bill’s advocates to “find him seven Republican votes” so he could bring the bill up and pass it out of his committee for consideration by the entire House. The autism advocates (mostly parents of children who have autism) found the committee votes – both Democrat and Republican. On March 8, the Commerce Committee met, but the bill was never brought up for a vote. Cownie apparently decided that insurance companies were more important than kids. I have heard stories from some of the parents who worked very hard to convince legislators to vote for the bill and they are adamant that the bill would have passed if Cownie would have allowed it to come up for a vote in his committee.

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Note to parents: If it's not working, change it

One of my golden rules of parenting is, “If it’s not working, change it.” We need to get creative if our bedtime routine, mealtime rituals, discipline techniques or outside activities stop meeting our family’s needs. Parents who are inflexible can get locked into power struggles that don’t fix the problem.

Des Moines Register editorial writer Linda Fandel’s follow-up on Isabel Loeffler reminded me of how well things can work out when parents are willing to question and change what isn’t working. In the summer of 2007 I was outraged by Fandel’s feature story on how a Waukee elementary school disciplined Isabel, an eight-year-old on the autism spectrum. She repeatedly spent long stretches in a timeout room as school staff kept resetting the clock when Isabel tried but failed to meet nearly impossible demands. The inappropriate and punitive use of the timeout room didn’t improve Isabel’s behavior and certainly didn’t create a good learning environment for her. Her parents pulled her out of the school and moved to California. Fandel writes:

Officials in the Waukee school district and the Heartland Area Education Agency, which helped prepare Isabel’s individualized learning plan, insisted they had done nothing wrong. But an administrative law judge in 2007 found that the district and AEA used interventions not consistent with accepted practice. That decision was upheld on appeal. A civil suit is pending.

Isabel’s father, Doug Loeffler, recently e-mailed Fandel to say that his daughter “loves school and is very active in several community groups that provide opportunities for children with special needs to work together with children without handicaps.” He also said there is growing interest nationally how schools misuse timeout rooms and physical restraint.

Last year the Iowa Board of Education adopted stricter rules on timeout rooms and certain kinds of physical restraint. I’m glad to know this is part of a national trend, but public policy is no substitute for parents who are willing to get involved and learn what is going on in their child’s school. If the Loefflers had not asked for a videotape to find out why their daughter wasn’t responding well to discipline at school, they never would have realized how inappropriate the school’s policy was.

This thread is for any comments on education, discipline or parenting.

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Board of Education adopts stricter rules on timeouts and physical discipline

The Iowa Board of Education adopted rules this week restricting the use of timeout rooms and certain kinds of physical restraint. According to the Des Moines Register,

The rules restrict some forms of restraint, such as holding a student facedown on the floor. Educators must get permission from school administrators to confine children in timeout rooms for longer than an hour.

School officials also must attempt to contact parents and document every time they use the discipline method.

Click here to read a more detailed summary of the rules proposed this summer.

The Register reported that the new rules are “similar to guidelines approved recently in Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

The restrictions are a step in the right direction but may not go far enough to deter schools from using timeout rooms excessively. This report from last summer about the treatment of some special-needs children in Waukee Community School District elementaries was quite disturbing. It’s not just the length of time children were confined in the rooms, it’s also the frequency with which teachers resorted to this form of discipline.

This website on techniques for dealing with special-needs children notes that “repeating time-outs too frequently in too short a period of time greatly limits their effectiveness.”

Two families whose children were sent often (and for long stretches) to timeout rooms in Waukee schools have sued the school district. Those lawsuits have yet to be resolved in federal court.

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State should adopt standards on physical discipline and timeout rooms in schools

According to the Des Moines Register,

A proposal before the state Board of Education would limit how and when teachers can lock up children and would ban risky methods of restraint, including chokeholds.

Teachers also would be trained to use “positive” alternatives, such as talking through disputes with children.

These proposed rules were probably inspired by media coverage of horrendous misuses of timeout rooms in the Waukee Community School District. After news of those incidents emerged last August, I talked with an acquaintance who pulled her son out of a Waukee elementary school because of a similarly inappropriate use of timeout rooms for discipline.

The Register reports that

studies have shown teachers confine students [to timeout rooms] for the wrong reasons.

A James Madison University survey of teachers at one Minnesota school found that teachers were more likely to lock up children for minor misbehavior.

“Without any guidance and policies, they make very poor choices, and kids suffer the consequences of it,” said Joseph Ryan, a Clemson University professor who worked on the 2004 survey.

The rules to be considered by the State Board of Education would force teachers to keep records of how timeout rooms are used, and would also stipulate that educators

– Can’t hold a child face down or otherwise use force that hampers a child’s ability to breathe.

– Must provide “continuous” supervision of children in timeout rooms.

– Must get permission from an administrator to confine a child for longer than an hour.

– Can’t lock up or restrain children for “minor infractions.”

– Can lock the door of a timeout room only if they hold the lock in position, or the lock automatically releases when school alarms go off or power is cut off.

– Must use timeout rooms that are safe and suitable for children of varying sizes, ages and conditions.

I am not an expert on appropriate discipline for special-needs children, but those guidelines sound much more reasonable than what I have read about the way some schools have used the timeout rooms in the past.

Members of the public can submit comments on the proposed rules until 4:30 pm on July 8. The address to which those comments should be sent is after the jump.

There will also be public hearings on July 8 to discuss the rules, and details about where and when they’ll be held are after the jump.

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April is Autism Awareness Month

I’ve just read this wonderful feature in the Sunday Register about Ronald Autry and his parents, Jim Autry and former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson.

The article discusses Ronald Autry’s education and the steps he and his parents took to help him learn to live independently as an adult. It also talks about his parents’ role in creating a new program at the University of Iowa:

The REACH program – Realizing Educational and Career Hopes – is interviewing people who hope to be among the inaugural class of 25 students. It’s only the second program at a major public university in the United States; the other started last fall at UCLA.

“This is the new frontier for special education,” director Dennis C. Harper says.

Students with multiple disabilities will be integrated into the student body, live in residence halls, take classes, do laundry, manage their money.

And learn to fall and get up, just like any young adult.

This sounds like a great program, and I congratulate everyone who helped get it going. It required private fundraising as well as a commitment from the university.

The article reminded me that I haven’t blogged yet about April being Autism Awareness Month. Since becoming a mother I’ve gotten to know several moms of children with autism. It’s a spectrum disorder that manifests in many ways, and most likely has many different causes.

One thing I’ve learned from my friends and acquaintances is that early intervention is extremely important for children with autism. Parents are understandably reluctant to have their children labeled, but if tuned-in parents are genuinely concerned about their child’s development, it’s better to seek out a diagnosis as soon as possible.

Some children with autism respond very well to a special gluten-free/casein-free diet, or extra doses of vitamin B-6 with magnesium, or extensive speech and occupational therapy. I know of some families who have seen so much improvement that their children were able to eventually lose their autism diagnosis.

Not only are the treatment options more likely to work better at a younger age, but a diagnosis may be needed before parents can access some of the state and local services for children with autism.

Lots of resources for families affected by autism can be found on the websites of Autism Speaks and the Autism Research Institute.

However, it’s worth noting that some autistics are offended by the idea that autism is a “disease” that should be “cured”; they want services to support autistics without trying to make their brains function “normally.” The Autism Speaks organization has been particularly criticized by these advocates of “neurodiversity”.

Daily Kos diarist plf515 (who is writing a fantastic series on the Congressional races, by the way) has a learning disability “in the same ballpark as Asperger’s,” which is on the autism spectrum. Last year he wrote a good diary: A little bit special: Things not to say to LD people (or their parents).

I can’t resist ending this diary with plf515’s favorite joke about Asperger’s:

A guy is flying in a hot air balloon, and he’s lost.  He lowers himself over a field and calls to a guy “Can you tell me where I am and where I’m headed?”

“Sure.  You’re at 41 degrees 2 minutes and 14 seconds North, 144 degrees 4 minute and 19 seconds East; you’re at an altitude of 762 meters above sea level, and right now you’re hovering, but you were on a vector of 234 degrees at 12 meters per second”

“Amazing! Thanks!  By the way, do you have Asperger’s Syndrome?”

“I do! How did you know that?”

“Because everything you said is true, it’s much more detail than I need, and you told me in a way that’s no use to me at all.”

“Huh.  Are you a clinical psychologist?”

“I am, but how the heck did you know that??”

“You don’t know where you are.  You don’t know where you’re going.  You got where you are by blowing hot air.  You put labels on people after asking a few questions, and you’re in exactly the same spot you were 5 minutes ago, but now, somehow, it’s my fault!

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Heads must roll at the Waukee Community School District

Words cannot describe my anger as I read this front-page article from Sunday's Des Moines Register, about a family who are suing the Waukee school district over excessive time-outs the staff forced on their daughter, who has autism.

Waukee is the fastest-growing city in Iowa. I knew that the school district had some growing pains, but I had no idea its leadership was so poor as to allow this kind of conduct, let alone defend it.

Join me after the jump if you have the stomach to read about sickening treatment of special-needs kids in a public school.

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