Autism & the Law

Lawsuit seeks info about ‘seclusion rooms’ in Columbus schools

By Timothy A. Adams, Esq.
EBCALA Board Member

The Ohio Legal Rights Service filed suit against the Columbus City Schools seeking access to records of students with disabilities who have been subjected to restraint or placed in seclusion rooms by school staff. The lawsuit alleges that in November 2011 an 18 year-old student with autism was locked in a seclusion room, urinated on the floor and contracted a staph infection.

Currently, there are no federal laws or regulations regarding a school district’s use of restraints and seclusion rooms; which are sometimes called “Scream Rooms” or “Quiet Rooms” for students with disabilities. Even though Senate Bill 2020 – Keeping All Students Safe Act was introduced to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in December 2011, Congressional attention to this incredibly crucial problem affecting the safety and welfare of our children has taken a back seat to politics, and as a result special education students around the country, such as this 18 year-old Columbus student, continue to be at risk of serious injury or even death.

Tax Time for Autism Families

By Kim Mack Rosenberg, Esq.
EBCALA Board Member

It is that time of the year again, the mid-April tax deadline is looming. However, before filing their annual returns, families of children with autism should take the time to learn about potential deductions available for common – and not so common – expenses. Families of children with autism and other special needs often face tremendous medical care expenses beyond those covered by insurance. The good news is that many of those expenses – such as supplements, therapies, special food – may be deductible. Click here to listen to a presentation and view a powerpoint by Kim Mack Rosenberg (EBCALA Board Member, President of the NAA – NY Metro Chapter and autism mom) and Mark Berger (CPA and father of a child with special needs). The two discuss issues of deductible expense issues as well as the practical issues involved with keeping track of the paperwork to substantiate your deductions. Every family’s tax issues are unique so please consult with your own tax advisor about your own situation.

Utah: Police Shooting of Autistic/Bi-Polar Boy Reflects a Growing Trend

By Lou Conte
EBCALA Board Member

We are beginning to see an increase in instances where police find themselves in deadly physical force situations involving people with autism. The Salt Lake Tribune article describes a tragic confrontation between Sean Morrison, 15, an adolescent with autism, and the Unified Police Department. The increase in these tragic situations is to be expected given the rise in autism and the fact that so many people with autism are now entering adolescence.

What conclusions can we draw from this case where the police shot and killed Morrison? The situation described in the Salt Lake Tribune strongly suggests that the police were under fire as they arrived on the scene. In situations such as this, it appears that the police acted reasonably to protect themselves. Police immediately encountered a man who was firing at them. Further, the man was wearing a black ski mask and body armor. Witnesses reported hearing the police yelling out commands for Morrison to stop shooting.

As a person with 28 years of law enforcement experience, I can state that it appears that the police had few choices on March 18 and acted reasonably given the totality of the circumstances that they suddenly found themselves in.

The details about Sean Morrison’s life in the weeks and months before the tragic incident are noteworthy. It does not appear that the family viewed the interventions of therapists and treatment providers to be positive and described the counselors working with Sean as having been “mean” to him. In February, Morrison’s father was charged with 14 felonies relating to the sexual abuse of “a relative” of the family. Further, the week before the shooting, Sean Morrison was the victim of a knife attack in which his face was slashed by two unknown adolescents. It is clear these incidents were triggers to Sean Morrison’s actions on March 18, 2012. Apparently the family also had a number of firearms available in the home that were not adequately secured, along with body armor. So, the picture here is of an adolescent with autism and mental health issues who was not positively engaged in therapy (we do not know what kind) in a family with multiple issues and who was recently traumatized by an act of violence.

Autism, rage and ready access to firearms is a formula for tragedy.

While it appears that the police who responded to the incident in Utah acted reasonably, we can be sure that there will be future incidents where police will be in contact with people who have autism and the results will be uncertain. In response to engaging more and more people with autism, I recommend that law enforcement officers go through additional training and update continuum of force planning. The first improvement in training is for all police and peace officers to become knowledgeable about what autism is and how people with autism sometimes act – particularly when stressed. The quicker that law enforcement recognizes that they are dealing with a person on the autism spectrum, the sooner they can intervene in as positive a manner as possible. Second, police and peace officers need to train more regularly in self-defense techniques. Many law enforcement agencies require annual re-certification in firearms proficiency and this training is generally well delivered. However, many agencies do not emphasize hand-to-hand techniques as rigorously as they should. Lastly, I encourage agencies to arm their officers with Electronic Control Devices, such as Tasers. While Tasers are not without risk, they certainly result in far fewer serious injuries than firearms do.

Coming Soon!

EBCALA’s Know Your Legal Rights Law Seminar at Autism One

Thursday, May 24
9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Lombard, Illinois

CLE credits are available for attorneys

Read conference schedule

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