Saturday, October 26, 2013

US Supreme Court: Death Penalty, IQ & Intellectual Disability

Use of the death penalty on people with intellectual disabilities has been the focus of very heated debate for decades.  The US Supreme Court will be hearing a challenge on the IQ criteria used to establish intellectual disability as it relates to being eligible for the death penalty.  The original landmark case was decided in 2002: Atkins v. Virginia 536 U.S. 304. The ruling held that the execution of a person deemed intellectually impaired was a direct violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.  It is considered, “cruel and unusual punishment”.  

The current challenge comes from the use of IQ to determine intellectual disability. Presently an IQ of 70 or less would result in being found intellectually impaired.  There is a long history of court challenges around IQ testing in general, especially in the field of special education. IQ alone has not been sufficient to find any student eligible for services. A full comprehensive assessment is needed.  The American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities discusses the criteria which go into making an accurate diagnosis. IQ is one component of this but at no time can IQ alone be used to make this determination.  

There have been specific cases in the states where IQ has been the main determining factor in using the death penalty. This is the piece which is being challenged and heard by the US Supreme Court.  The original decision did not provide clear guidelines and left the decision to determine intellectual disability with the states.

People with intellectual disabilities who are convicted of killing another human being do have to be held accountable. How this happens needs to be carefully considered.  To allow someone not to be held accountable is problematic and at the same time we must consider the circumstances of each individual.  Deciding on a fair way to determine intellectual disability is a matter of life and death.  It is a task which must be looked at with the utmost prudence.  These discussions must include people with intellectual disability. The rulings will impact everyone and everyone’s voice must be represented, especially those for whom it will have the greatest impact.

This is a very controversial topic and warrants a very in-depth debate which will yield imperfect answers. It is situated in a history where people with intellectual impairments were subjected to inhumane treatment, the target of a eugenics movement as well as a long history of not receiving an adequate education.  It is just not as simple or as narrow as it has been made out to be at times. A definition alone does not account for this horrific and recent history. It was not until 1975 when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act PL 94-142(now IDEIA) was first put into law addressing the educational needs of students with special needs. This was the first time schools were mandated to educate all children, including those with intellectual disabilities. Many court cases followed with challenges made regarding who could benefit from an education. The reality is we have only been attempting to provide a free and appropriate public education to people with disabilities in an aggressive manner for the past 38 years.  This is a very short period of time. Inclusive practices have been evident for even less.  There is no way to measure the impact this complicated history has in the current capacity of each person with an intellectual disability. Although none of this is an excuse to commit a crime, nor is it a reason not to hold someone accountable; rather it is representative of a problematic human history where certain groups are marginalized, discounted and silenced.

If we are really going to look at the death penalty as it relates to intellectual disability, all voices must be included. If they are not, we will continue to marginalize a group which has already been subjected to the judgments of the dominant culture and perpetuate a society which is selective on its application of social justice.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Behavior Mapping by Amy Buie

One of the things all hands-on professionals and families look for are very practical resources they can use immediately and expand upon to meet the unique needs of their students or child. Behavior Mapping written by Amy Buie, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA is an example of such a resource. I have found over the years that simple, practical information can sometimes be the most powerful when you are addressing the day to day needs of a child with ASD. Behavior mapping is not a new concept and has been established in the research literature for some time now. It capitalizes on the use of visuals in a systematic manner in which the student is explicitly shown the path of their behavioral choices.  It has long been established that people with Autism struggle with complex social rules, social-communication and the broader concept of the hidden curriculum. Behavior mapping provides a concrete representation of the expectations of the student and the consequences (reinforcement) while showing what the alternative path is should the student engage in the targeted behavior to decrease and what those consequences will be.  The book provides clear instructions and a wide variety of examples to begin with.

One of the things I like most about this book is that it is written by a practitioner. Teacher research, that is teachers who reflect upon their practice in a systematic manner impacting the effectiveness of their instruction and thus supporting better student outcomes, tends to produce some of the most helpful ideas available for immediate application. It is an ongoing conversation which adds to the evolving knowledge and practice of the profession.  I would recommend taking a look at this book. It is something I will be placing on my resource list for many of the classes I teach.  I have found that preservice teachers are often much more invested in purchasing, reading and applying knowledge from these types of books as opposed to more traditional texts. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Disability Employment Awareness Month – October

This is disability employment awareness month. As you click on the website of the first link you will also notice at the top, that the website is not being regularly updated due to the irresponsible government shutdown.  It is important to note that the impact of the lack of duty of care for the American People impacts so many different areas.

Disability employment continues to be a serious issue across the world. The US Dept. of Labor website does offer a variety of tools and pieces of information including ideas of what you can do.  Autism Speaks has posted its report – Employment Think Tank which is an important read.

Accessing consultation to improve the accessibility of the workplace including various aspects of specific job duties is one way to continue to move forward. Consultation must include people with disabilities in order to make effective changes.  An inclusive world must include all voices in order to make sustainable changes which are responsive to the dynamic and diverse workforce we will continue to have.
It goes back to seeing the person first. There are so many people who are waiting to use their gifts and talents. What a tremendous loss this is to everyone when we are not able to capitalize on this.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Technologies on the Horizon

The New Media Consortium has developed some informative centralized reports and resources for emerging technologies and trends. Two of their latest reports for K12 Education and Higher Education prove a comprehensive review of the direction we are going in. In addition there is a great resource for teachers to share information internationally: ELO It allows you to develop activities, store them, share them and have access to other activities. Practices of sharing information freely and collaborating on a much broader basis has become so much easier, there is really no reason not to do it.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Autism Educator Endorsement - Massachusetts



Docket No. 2870

Lead sponsor:  Representative Bradley

This bill will help ensure that school districts increase their capacity to provide appropriate educational services to the growing numbers of students with autism in the Commonwealth.     The legislation requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to revise educator licensure regulations and provide a mechanism for special education teachers to receive an Autism Endorsement. Despite the fact that Massachusetts has experienced a steep rise in the number of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder over the past decade, licensure regulations inadequately prepare teachers to meet the complex and unique needs of students with autism.  Thousands of students with autism across the Commonwealth will benefit from this legislation.  Starting in 2016, the bill also requires IEP Teams to include a teacher with an Autism Endorsement, to ensure that the Team can adequately address the complex communication, behavioral, sensory, social, and academics needs of youth in the least restrictive environment.  In addition, the bill ensures that existing recertification requirements regarding effective inclusive schooling for children with disabilities address the needs of children with autism.
Here are some important links explaining the bill in more detail: Massachusetts Advocates for Children 
Something else you may be interested in is the current Autism Commission Report.