Washington Post: Autistic boy allegedly abused by two girls in St. Mary’s considered them friends, mom says

By Ian Shapira and Dana Hedgpeth, Published: March 12
He thought they were his friends.The 16-year-old autistic boy allegedly assaulted by two teenage girls in Southern Maryland is perplexed by the criminal charges they are facing and even considers one of them his girlfriend, according to the boy’s mother. “He doesn’t appear to be traumatized. He thinks these girls are his friends and is surprised the police are involved,” said his mother, who works for a local health department. “But I am glad they are investigating. I am glad someone brought this out.”

The Post is not naming the mother to protect the identity of the victim, who is a minorNews of the criminal charges in mostly rural St. Mary’s County has rippled across the Internet, creating a furor. Police said the two girls — ages 17 and 15 — assaulted the boy repeatedly between December and February and used their cellphones to record the attacks. The videos allegedly show them holding a knife to the victim’s throat, forcing him to perform various sexual acts, kicking him in the groin and dragging him around by his hair. Continue reading Washington Post: Autistic boy allegedly abused by two girls in St. Mary’s considered them friends, mom says

Washington Post: Sled hockey takes hold among young athletes

“There it is! Get it, Sharks! Get it!” shouted a fan standing just off the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington recently, watching kids on the D.C. Sled Sharks compete against the New York Sled Rangers.“Get it out of there!” another fan yelled.

With a boom, two skaters collided and hit the boards, or the rink wall. But the play didn’t stop, and the kids continued to hustle to get into position, pass and score.

It may sound like any other ice hockey game, complete with checking, meaning a player can use his body to try to take the puck away from his opponent. But this is a different kind of hockey called sled hockey, and most of the kids who play have a disability that limits the use of their legs.slideshow

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Washington Post: “Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience”

Eileen Cronin was only 3 years old when she realized that, unlike her siblings, she had no legs. During her early years, her religious mother explained to her that this circumstance was God’s will — that he had chosen her “to carry the cross,” and for that reason, her condition was not hers to question. It wasn’t until her fifth-grade instructor, Sister Luke, abruptly and cruelly announced in front of her entire class that she was in fact a victim of thalidomide poisoning that Cronin understood the cause of her missing limbs.Developed in Germany, thalidomide was prescribed for expecting mothers in the late 1950s and early ’60s to combat insomnia and morning sickness. A stewardess provided the drug to Cronin’s pregnant mother to ease her queasiness during a flight to Germany. Thalidomide was later determined to be the cause of severe birth defects, including malformed or absent appendages, in thousands of newborns. These tragic results ultimately led to stricter drug testing and approval measures.

Cronin’s compelling memoir, “Mermaid,” chronicles her complex journey and acceptance of her disability, from the moment she realized that she did not have “two legs and a bunch of toes” like the rest of her large family, to her life today as a practicing clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. She shares her painful experiences and yet, in beautiful prose, delivers a tale of optimism. Continue reading Washington Post: “Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience”

NYT: The ‘Boys’ in the Bunkhouse

By DAN BARRY
For decades, dozens of men with intellectual disabilities belonged to a close-knit Iowa community. They lived in an old schoolhouse, worked in a turkey plant, and frequented the local mini-mart. But no one knew just what these men endured.

A man stands at a bus stop. He wears bluejeans, cowboy boots, and a name tag pinned like a badge to his red shirt. It says: Clayton Berg, dishwasher, county sheriff’s office.

He is 58, with a laborer’s solid build, a preference to be called Gene and a whisper-white scar on his right wrist. His backpack contains a jelly sandwich, a Cherry Coke and a comforting pastry treat called a Duchess Honey Bun.

The Route 1 bus receives him, then resumes its herky-jerky journey through the northeastern Iowa city of Waterloo, population 68,000. He stares into the panoramic blur of ordinary life that was once so foreign to him.

Mr. Berg comes from a different place.

For more than 30 years, he and a few dozen other men with intellectual disabilities — affecting their reasoning and learning — lived in a dot of a place called Atalissa, about 100 miles south of here. Every morning before dawn, they were sent to eviscerate turkeys at a processing plant, in return for food, lodging, the occasional diversion and $65 a month. For more than 30 years.

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NYT Magazine: Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney

By RON SUSKIND

In our first year in Washington, our son disappeared.

Just shy of his 3rd birthday, an engaged, chatty child, full of typical speech — “I love you,” “Where are my Ninja Turtles?” “Let’s get ice cream!” — fell silent. He cried, inconsolably. Didn’t sleep. Wouldn’t make eye contact. His only word was “juice.”

I had just started a job as The Wall Street Journal’s national affairs reporter. My wife, Cornelia, a former journalist, was home with him — a new story every day, a new horror. He could barely use a sippy cup, though he’d long ago graduated to a big-boy cup. He wove about like someone walking with his eyes shut. “It doesn’t make sense,” I’d say at night. “You don’t grow backward.” Had he been injured somehow when he was out of our sight, banged his head, swallowed something poisonous? It was like searching for clues to a kidnapping.

After visits to several doctors, we first heard the word “autism.” Later, it would be fine-tuned to “regressive autism,” now affecting roughly a third of children with the disorder. Unlike the kids born with it, this group seems typical until somewhere between 18 and 36 months — then they vanish. Some never get their speech back. Families stop watching those early videos, their child waving to the camera. Too painful. That child’s gone.

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Court tackles intellectual disability and the death penalty on Monday

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The Supreme Court will hear one of the most high-profile cases of its current term on Monday, as the Justices determine how states define if a person is mentally disabled to the point of becoming ineligible for the death penalty.

The Hall case arose from the 1978 murder of Karol Hurst, who was 21 years old and seven months pregnant, by Freddie L. Hall. Hall was convicted and sentenced to death in Florida. Continue reading Court tackles intellectual disability and the death penalty on Monday

Blue Ridge Adaptive Snow Sports

The BRASS (Blue Ridge Adaptive Snow Sports) Adaptive Program at Liberty Mountain Resort offers ski and snowboard instruction for people with disabilities:

Visual Impairment – a person with complete or partial blindness.

Developmental and Cognitive Disabilities – a person with a physical or mental impairment that affects his/her ability to process information and/or to coordinate and control his/her body.

Mobility Impairment – a person has the use of only one leg (Three Track Skiing); a person who needs assistance with balance (Four Track Skiing); or a person who uses a wheelchair or walks for short distances or periods of time (Sit-Down Skiing).

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NPR: With Death Penalty, How Should States Define Mental Disability?

Twelve years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people who are, quote, “mentally retarded” cannot be executed. But the justices weren’t very clear about exactly who they were referring to. They’re returning to this question today.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: In 2002, the Supreme Court, in a case called Atkins versus Virginia, ruled that executing people who have retardation is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment. But the justices left to the states the definition of retardation.

Now the court is focusing on what limits, if any, there are to those definitions. The case before the court involves the brutal murder of Karol Hurst, who was 21 years old and seven months pregnant when she was kidnapped, raped and killed by Freddie Lee Hall and an accomplice. Hall was sentenced to death, but after the Atkins decision, his lawyers challenged the sentence. They cited multiple diagnoses of hall as having mental retardation and quoted the state Supreme Court as having previously declared that hall had been, quote, “mentally retarded his entire life.”

The state court, nonetheless, subsequently upheld Hall’s death sentence on grounds that his IQ tests averaged over 70. Hall appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the question today is whether states can establish a hard statistical cutoff for determining retardation. Florida’s statute, as interpreted by the state Supreme Court, sets the definition of retardation at an IQ score of 70 or below. Anything higher, and the defendant cannot put on other evidence to show he has retardation. Continue reading NPR: With Death Penalty, How Should States Define Mental Disability?

NPR: Blood Test Provides More Accurate Prenatal Testing For Down Syndrome

A new blood test offers pregnant women a safe and much more accurate way to screen for Down syndrome.

A study that evaluated the test in 1,914 pregnancies found that the test, which checks DNA, produces far fewer false alarms than the current screening techniques.

“It’s very good news for pregnant women,” says Diana Bianchi, a pediatric geneticist at Tufts Medical Center who led the study. “It’s very important because it means a significant proportion of women are not being made anxious by being told they have an abnormal test result.”

Bianchi and others stressed that the results of the screening test would still need to be confirmed by follow-up diagnostic tests — either amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, which can cause miscarriages. But the new blood test would send fewer women for that risky testing.

“That’s what we’re really concerned with at the end of the day,” Bianchi says. “That there’s an unintended miscarriage resulting from a procedure that didn’t need to be performed in the first place.”

Doctors recommend that all pregnant women get screened for Down syndrome and other trisomies, which are conditions caused by too many chromosomes. But the tests, which rely on measuring chemicals in the mother’s blood and doing an ultrasound of the back of the neck of the developing fetus, can raise flags when none are warranted in a small but significant number of cases.

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