Thursday, October 11, 2007

Autism Speaks, Autism Leadership and Board of Education of City of New York v. Tom F., 06-637

The autism communities in the US and Canada have suffered from a common problem - a lack of strong leadership, focused on the important priorities of raising awareness, generating funds for research and advocating for effective health and education treatments for autistic persons. That scenario began to change for the better though with the emergence of Autism Speaks under the leadership of Bob and Suzanne Wright.

The Wrights' media savvy, contacts and organizational skills have worked wonders at raising autism awareness, real awareness of autism as what it is a debilitating neurological disorder. From the very best stand up comics and TV stars to NASCAR racers the Autism Speaks team have put autism into the public consciousness in a very big way. They have generated funds for important autism research. And they have participated in a significant United States Supreme Court decision Board of Education of City of New York v. Tom F., 06-637.

As set out in the Autism Speaks Press Release the New York City Department of Education had argued that even if the child's IEP is demonstrably inappropriate, a parent should not have standing to challenge their child's IEP unless the parent has first "tried out" the school district's IEP.

Autism Speaks filed an amicus brief in the case focusing on the critical nature of early intervention for children with autism which explained why parents of children with autism should not be forced to "try out" demonstrably inappropriate and ineffective IEP programs during what may well be a relatively narrow window of opportunity. The Autism Speaks press release indicates that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg quoted from that brief during oral argument.

Here in Canada our education system operates under different legal and constitutional considerations then in the United States. And American decisions have no binding effect in Canadian courts. They can still be influential, however, directly in the court systems as non binding precedents, or indirectly, by influencing educators who take American developments under consideration. Hopefully this ruling by the US Supreme Court will have some positive influence on Canadian educators and will dissuade them from pursuing the NY City Board of Education approach.

In any event, a big Thank You to Autism Speaks for its excellent leadership in addressing the real needs of autistic children.

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