Following up on a story we reported on in May, Yvonne Freaney, a UK mother who killed her 11-year-old son with severe autism, has been allowed to walk free by Justice Wyn Williams this past week. This comes after initially being cleared of murder and convicted of a lesser charge of manslaughter. In his ruling, Williams claimed that Freaney had been "punished enough" and released her on a supervised order.
As part of her release, Freaney will be required to live in a residence approved by the courts and is not allowed to have unsupervised contact with any
child under eighteen years of age.
Freaney strangled and killed her son, Glen, back in May of 2010 with a coat belt because she “was frightened about who would look after him" after she was gone. Upon killing her son, Freaney attempted to take her own life by cutting her wrists, but was unsuccessful. She was described as a
sad, defeated woman who suffered from physical abuse at the hands of her husband, Mark, as well as a psychological disorder.
Although this case is tragic on many levels, one thing is clear — Freaney is now a free woman because of a sympathetic judge and jury, despite the fact that she murdered a child.
Some have speculated that had her child not been severely autistic, she would have been convicted of murder. If true, then this is a blatant example of the devaluation of human life related to someone with special needs and Justice Williams should be ashamed of himself.
In learning of all the details of this story, it was truly sad and tragic for all involved. However, sympathy should never trump justice and clearly, this is what happened.
In addition to telling Freaney that she had been "punished enough," Judge Williams also said:
“The only sensible and credible explanation is that your state of mind was truly abnormal….You cared for [Glen] with the best of your ability, day in and day out. He was very demanding but you never let that deflect from putting his best interests above those of your own.”
That is just a stunning statement in light of what happened.
Based on Williams’ comments and actions, he obviously deems the killing of a child acceptable behavior for parents who are overwhelmed while caring for a child with autism. What a terrible precedent and what a terrible injustice for Glen.
A collaboration between the Temple Grandin
School and the University of Colorado’s Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences department is using radio interviews as a way of teaching better communication skills to individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS).
“The Perspectives” program capitalizes on the fact that learning to interview helps AS students become interested in what other people are thinking and appreciate their perspective. In the course of the three week experience, students work in small groups to arrive at topics and develop questions. The interviews are recorded, affording students the opportunity to review their work to see if they stayed truly connected to the topic and the interviewee. The process helps the AS individual learn the give-and-take process of engaging others, with the goal of developing the flexibility necessary to achieve meaningful conversations.
My personal experience is that this kind of creative approach is much more successful at delivering results than ordinary lecturing about the rules of conversation. My fifteen-year-old-son suffered severe stuttering despite having been in speech therapy since age four. Within the past year, he
has cured himself without trying after he became interested in posting video blogs online. Wanting to come across well, he recorded them over and over again until they were stutter-free. Simultaneously, he became interested in rap, particularly fast rapping. He wrote his own fast raps and worked on them until he could delivery them to perfection. Now it’s hard to remember he ever even stuttered.
As another example, my son’s biggest meltdown trigger at school was being cut off in mid-sentence and not being about to finish his thought. Because of his interest in drama, I suggested to his speech therapist that she role play different scenarios where this actually occurs so that he could creatively arrive at a different response than his autonomic meltdown. She was nervous about it, but it turned out to be a smashing success.
Whenever possible, identify what excites your child and use it to provide creativity and inspiration to the learning of crucial skill sets. For my son, it achieved what years of speech therapy and expensive social skills classes could not. For others, "The Perspective" program is opening up a whole new approach to communication for students on the autism spectrum.
A truly disheartening story
has emerged from Queens, New York where Bellerose residents are saying “not in my backyard” to an Astoria nonprofit’s plan to set up a group home for
young adults with autism in their neighborhood. Apparently, another group home exists in
the community, so the neighborhood contends that the proposal constitutes oversaturation. They further hint that the affluent community of Forest Hills hosts a fraction of the group homes that their borough does and
that it’s unfair.
The worst part of this story is that residents call the group home “a foolish and dangerous
proposal," particularly objecting to the fact that the proposed site for the home is next to a ball field.
These remarks reveal a shocking level of ignorance towards autism. Indeed, if you replaced the phrase “group home for child sex offenders” for “group home for individuals for
autism," you would get the same level of vitriol. A clear voice for autism needs to bring information and sanity to the discussion, so that even if the proposal is denied and the proposed group home must find a new site, the community will be left with a greater appreciation of what it means to have
autism and empathy and compassion are the appropriate responses to it. State assembly members have promised to look into the matter of oversaturation.
Who will look into the matter of rampant, unwarranted fear?
I can’t help but be reminded of the new book, "The Science of
Evil," by Simon Baron-Cohen. His contention is that individuals with autism are devoid of empathy, while
having compensating “systemizing” qualities that damage our children’s cause. Likewise, the recent spate of
crime stories featuring
individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome creates a false impression that they are risky members of the community.
In point of fact, while a large percentage of individuals with autism have encounters with police, almost none of them are the result of the individual-first committing a crime. This makes the often tragic outcome of these encounters all-the-more heartbreaking. How the press handles autism has a huge impact on
the future of those on the spectrum. and the current trends aren’t looking good.
At a time when more-and-more youngsters with autism will be growing up and aging out of services, the need for public education about autism is greater than ever.
Housing solutions for young adults with autism are among the most pressing needs. Expect an onslaught of situations like the one in Queens if more isn’t done to pave the way for our grown children to be assimilated into their
Among the tried and true therapies available for autism is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). In recent years, cognitive therapies developed in the 1950′s and 60′s evolved into cognitive behavior therapy as it is known today. CBT is based on the premise that how we think, feel and act all affect each other.
Autism luminary Dr. Tony Attwood uses CBT as the cornerstone of his practice with high-functioning individuals with autism. His CAT kit is a recent CBT tool based upon the premise that while these individuals lack innate social and emotional awareness, those skills can be successfully taught. The recommended starting age for CBT is age 8. For younger children,
Dr. Attwood recommends social stories and cartooning with blank thought bubbles to fill in how the child perceives a situation vs. what is actually happening.
CBT asks individuals with autism to become aware of him or herself, discovering their own triggers for anxiety and developing their own methods to deal with escalating emotions. Dr. Attwood suggests a thermometer drawing to track upsetting influences and a “toolbox” of go-to strategies to restore emotional equilibrium. The beauty is that it encourages the child to develop their own strategy for self-regulation, rather than having solutions imposed upon them. Because high-functioning individuals sense of logic is so keen, it is especially effective for them to learn to analyze their own feelings and those of others.
Another advantage is while many trained therapists are available to guide CBT, they are not entirely necessary. Using available resources like the CAT-kit, parents and teachers can successfully employ CBT in the home or in small groups. CBT carries no hazards or warnings and research indicates these results for individuals with autism:
• Are more likely to initiate positive social interaction with peers
• Provide more relevant solutions to social problems
• Obtain higher teacher-rated social skills scores
• Have reduced anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and self-injury
• Have reduced levels of stereotypic and self-stimulatory behavior
• Have reduced disruptive behavior
• Have decreased inappropriate vocalizations
• Learn to exhibit appropriate play skills
My personal experience of using CBT for my high-functioning son is very positive. In cooperation with his middle school teacher, my son was able to respond to stress-inducing situations with his own self-soothing activities to the point that his meltdowns went from five or more a day to none. At home when he becomes anxious, he knows just what to do — get under his weighted blanket and listen to his iPod. Being able to take care of himself has bolstered his self-esteem and confidence. We used a workbook by Dr. Attwood, the precursor to the CAT-kit and experienced life-enhancing changes for the cost of a paperback.
Awareness of CBT can also be useful in dealing with low-functioning autism. Poised to medicate her son with anti-psychotics, a mother asked Dr. Attwood what to do about her low functioning child who tore up the house every time he returned home. Dr. Atwood answered that the child’s behavior had become ritualized and indicated an excess of anxiety. He suggested disrupting the pattern by having the child engage in physical activity, then enter the house through a different door. As far as medication, he believed anti-anxiety medication would be more appropriate.
Using principles of CBT, parents of low-functioning children can assume the role of ascribing motivations and solutions for them. Coupled with the benefits for those on the high and mid-ranges of the autism spectrum, cognitive behavior therapy is an excellent, but often underutilized form of treatment for individuals with autism.
In my ongoing research of autism treatments, I have been delighted to find that some of the most effective means of addressing autism involve reconnecting with the natural world, the physical body and the creative self.
Heartening results have been reported from a vast array of activities including yoga, gardening, dance, horseback riding and art therapy. Fun, engaging and non-invasive, these activities produce real improvements in the functionality and level of well-being of individuals with autism.
This is especially important to bear in mind in light of a disturbing press release I read yesterday addressing the “underserved” market of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by the pharmaceutical industry. A rush of enthusiasm to market atypical anti-psychotics for irritability in children with autism owes to these stated facts:
"Over the past 6 years, three major events have impacted the autism spectrum disorders market. In 2006, Risperdal became the first drug to receive approval from the US FDA for the symptomatic treatment of irritability in children and adolescents with ASDs. Later, in 2009, the FDA approval Abilify for the same indication. In 2008, generic risperidone launched following Risperdal’s US patent expiry."
The FDA is doing us no favors in allowing our children to be viewed as “market share” by these wolves at the door. I know of what I speak. In a moment of desperation when I was mistakenly told my son was psychotic and likely schizophreniac, he participated in a drug trial of risperidone which was one of the worst experiences of his life. Sedated to the point of paralysis, he screamed his head off around the clock. Against doctor’s orders, I cut short the seven-day trial. Irate, the psychiatrist was ready to try Lithium next. I told him to forget it and we never went back.
Respidone carries heavy weight long-term side effects such as tremendous weight gain, diabetes and uncontrollable muscle spasms. Abilify, which is vaunted to have fewer side effects, names headaches, anxiety and sleeplessness as being the most common, with dizziness, blurred vision, tremors and edema, among many others. These drugs yield big profits, but not to our children.
The harsh reality is that autism is now an industry and we parents, always yearning to help our children, are vulnerable to exploitation from a myriad of quarters. Like me, you may hear that atypical psychotropics are the answer to your child’s problems, but the only garden path you should be lead down is
the one where you till and water the earth with your child.
A series of disturbing news stories paints a grim picture of the State’s intervention in the families of individuals with autism.
Perhaps the most harrowing case emerged from The Detroit Free Press, who recently published a six-part investigation into the Wendrow family, who have a teen daughter with severe autism and a son with Asperger’s Syndrome. The parents pressed for their daughter’s school to use facilitated communication (FC), a highly controversial technique in which a facilitator aids an individual in typing their thoughts. When the Wendrow’s daughter assisted keyboarding began spelling out allegations of sexual abuse committed by her father and brother, a nightmare of epic proportions began in which the parents spent time in jail and their children were placed in separate juvenile homes and kept apart from their parents for 106 days.
Authorities acted upon an assumption of guilt even when a sexual assault test found no proof and a prosecution witness insisted their was no abuse. For her part, the aide refused to believe she was influencing the daughter’s typing, even though the child was clearly not capable of the complex language being attributed to her. The judge who finally dismissed the case described it as “a runaway train."
In another case out of Canada, Derek Hoare briefly lost sight of his nine-year-old daughter who was playing in their backyard which is surrounded by a six-foot fence. He immediately called police and a frantic search found her safe and sound over at the neighbor’s pool.
Happy ending, right? Not exactly.
Four days later, Hoare’s daughter was removed from his home by authorities, who maintained they were lightening the load of the single father of three. The daughter is being held in a psychiatric facility and can’t even see her father until a hearing determines his rights.
London brings us the story of a judge finally ruling that a 21-year-old man with autism had been unlawfully detained and his human rights breached when a center that his father brought him to for brief respite care refused to release him after the agreed upon two-week period. The center was concerned about the way the son acted while there and committed him to a “positive behavior unit." It took a year for his devoted adoptive father to win his release.
Once a child is taken away from the home, the process for achieving his or her return is horribly long, which makes it all-the-more important to take utmost care in making initial decisions. Obviously, any child summarily torn from their family is going to be traumatized, but for the child with autism, the trauma expands exponentially. Given the condition of psychiatric units, residential centers and foster homes, these stories are even scarier. Loss of custody means loss of parental choices over treatment. In foreign environments, children are subjected to drugs and other actions the parent would never consent to.
Clearly in the Wendrow case, the starting point should’ve been a closer examination of FC. In the story of single father Derek Hoare, in-home support and a tracking bracelet would’ve been in order. And for the poor dad who lost his adult son, the son was obviously acting differently in the center than he would at home and in-home respite care would’ve been the answer.
The flip-side of these stories are the tragic tales of lack of intervention as in the case in which a woman strangled her son with autism, or the beleaguered mother of a child with both cancer and autism who withheld chemotherapy from him. Surely, a mother escaping a battering husband living with her son with autism in a motel room is the epitome of a red flag scenario, as is the single mother enduring caring for her critically ill child at home with no help and support.
I worry about the power of the State over autism families because of the zeal in which they pursue dubious cases and the increasing number of tragic outcomes from families that fall through the cracks.
A UK teen who has been implicated in a string of website hacking incidents, has Asperger’s Syndrome, his lawyer said this past week.
Ryan Cleary, 19, has been accused of taking down Britain’s Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) website and was arrested at his home this past Monday as part of a joint investigation by Scotland Yard and the FBI. Although Cleary was reported to be arrested as part of a probe into the infamous
LulzSec hacking group, they have since tweeted that he is not affiliated with their organization.
Since his arrest last week, the court was presented evidence of Cleary’s Asperger’s, a high functioning form of autism. His lawyer also claims that he
suffers from agoraphobia, a condition that triggers fear and panic-like symptoms in situations that are perceived to be difficult to escape from.
He was granted bail but remains in custody after prosecutors immediately objected. If bail is re-instated, Cleary will be banned from accessing the Internet or having any device that will allow him to go online.
While we don’t often hear of incidents involving individuals with autism committing crimes, they can and do occur. However, my concern is that the media will incessantly focus on Cleary’s condition and even attempt to connect it to his alleged crimes. Based on recent stories coming across the newswires, this already appears to be the case.
Despite some misconceptions about those with autism (particularly related to violent behavior), studies have actually proven that those on the spectrum are no more likely to commit crimes than their neurotypical counterparts (Barnhill, 2007; Griffith, 10 May 2006).
In high profile stories such as these, it’s important to refrain from jumping to conclusions and avoid the temptation of connecting the crime with a
condition. Those with autism have enough to deal with and the last thing they need is a media-generated stereotype of being computer hackers.
At a time when the heartbreak of wandering is ever present in the news, the battle for having autism service dogs in school rages on. Service dogs are known to calm anxious children, disrupt their tantrums, aid in making transitions and keep them safe from traffic and the hazards of wandering. Yet despite the existence of the national Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there is no federal law permitting autism service dogs in schools and courts are being flooded with cases of parents fighting for their child’s right to have their canine helper in class.
Opposing schools contend that other children may be scared of the service dogs or be allergic to them. But ADA law states that fears and allergies are not valid reasons for refusing an assistance or service dog. Nor can schools demand information about the dog, though they can certainly request it.
For the schools part, they cannot be required to oversee the dog and child during the school day. A child must take a public access test to prove he or she is ready to be fully responsible for a dog in public. Until such time, schools should be aware that the dog must be allowed in the school when the dog is working with the child under the supervision of the parent. Schools need to make appropriate accommodations for the child/canine team such as creating accessible space in the classroom and having outdoor trash receptacles for a child to attend to the dog’s needs.
Perhaps the worst argument made against autism therapy dogs is that they are merely pets or not truly service animals and that the school is capable of meeting the child’s needs already. A federal judge recently overruled the barring of a service dog from a Florida school, a clear vindication of the rights of children with severe autism under ADA law. And as for the school already meeting the child’s needs, there are very few schools following best practices for autism and none that walk the child safely to and from school each day.
In a very recent breakthrough on this issue, the Alabama state legislature has passed a bill allowing all types of service dogs, including autism therapy dogs, in schools across the state. Furthermore, aides assisting students with autism can now be trained to work with the child and the service dog as a team.
Hopefully, other states will follow suit or an inspired lawmaker will take up this issue nationally. At a time when schools are seeing devastating budget cuts and the autism cases are spiraling upward, it only makes sense. As more schools allow autism service dogs, their fears will be allayed and the honoring of the rights of children with autism will prove beneficial to all
For individuals with autism, the world of interpersonal relationships can be strange and harrowing.
Uncomfortable on teams, the camaraderie of sports often eludes them. A simple thing such as recess at school is fraught with peril. Because it’s difficult for them to find solace in the company of others, children on the
autism spectrum often turn to creating collections as a source of emotional comfort. The collections are often centered around their special
interests and each item holds a memory dear to them of when and where they got it. While their obsessive attachment to objects can create a disharmonious environment, Dr. Tony Attwood points out that it is not the classical, rampant hoarding of often worthless items that can lead to hazardous living circumstances.
If your home is being overwhelmed by your child’s things, Dr. Attwood suggests a tender, restrained approach. Think of asking your child to get rid of his stuff like someone asking you to burn your family photo album. The best strategy is to cull out what you
can and keep a specific area for collected items. You might convince your child to rotate his or her collections in the spirit of maintaining their own personal museum, thereby cataloguing and retiring what could be stress-inducing clutter.
Hoarding is another interesting case in which individuals with autism engage in an activity for slightly different reasons than their neurotypical counterparts do. It calls to mind autism eating disorders that arise out of sensory issues or the embracing of the science of diet as a special interest.
Behavior problems in the classroom are more-often-than-not an expression of overwhelming anxiety as opposed to conduct disorder.
It’s important to view these problems through the prism of autism, because it always reveals deeper truths and sounder solutions.
In less-than-earth shattering news, a recent study done by the University of Cambridge, with The Science of Evil author, Simon Baron-Cohen as one of the researchers, finds that areas heavily involved with the information technology industry have a higher incidence of school children with autism. The authors conclude that autism-related genes express themselves as a talent for system-oriented thinking and may persist in the gene pool because they are linked to “adaptive, advantageous traits."
How much time and money were spent on this study to confirm the obvious? Anyone in touch with the world of autism knows that children on the spectrum gravitate towards technology, as evidenced by the iPad revolution and the multitude of apps available for those with special needs.
Pardon my impatience, but I live in Seattle, land of Microsoft. The suburban area around Microsoft has an extraordinarily high concentration of children with autism, a correlation around here that people take for granted.
Of course, individuals with autism tend to systematize. Even people with autism who aren’t overtly involved with technology see the overarching order in their world. Talk to Temple Grandin about her radical vision of slaughterhouse systems, or talk to one of my sons about where heavy metal fits into the schemata of all known music.
Six years ago, I heard Dr. Tony Attwood postulate that people with high functioning autism are on the cutting edge of a new evolution and it is incumbent upon the world to to appreciate them in that light.
I just wish researchers would not devote precious time and resources to scientifically proving things that are already common knowledge, then presenting their findings with a global drum roll.
Why don’t we investigate the issues that will actually make a meaningful impact and help improve the quality of life for our children with autism?
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Recent studies at Vanderbilt University and the University of Rochester reveal a startling discovery about autism. In testing a common theory about autism that overwhelming sensory stimulation inhibits other brain functions, researchers decided to study how kids with autism process moving images. They found that children with autism detect simple movement […]