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The Special School District and the parents of a child with autism have agreed to a $133,000 settlement of the parents' case against the District.
May 22, 1998. St. Louis, Missouri. Michael and Kathryn Asbury settled their claims against the Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) on behalf of their son, Daniel. Under the agreement, the SSD will pay the Asburys $100,000.00 for educational expenses and damages, plus up to $33,000.00 for attorneys' fees and expenses.
Daniel Asbury is a six year old boy with autism. The Asburys claimed that the SSD refused to provide Daniel with an effective education. In the two years that Daniel was in the SSD's program for autistic children at Litzsinger School, Daniel fell further behind his peers.1 The Asburys refused to accept those results. They did their own research and learned about a method of educating children with autism that often results in children recovering permanently from their autism, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA).2
Using their own funds, Michael and Kathryn Asbury then created an in-home instructional program and a community integration program based on the research of Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas. The Asbury's educated themselves, hired consultants, and hired and trained techers to work one-on-one with Daniel. For the past two years, the Asburys provided Daniels with special education at home. Daniel made excellent progress since his parents took responsibility for his education. His parents are hopeful that he will make a full recovery with one more year of services.3
The settlement will provide the Asburys with the necessary funds to continue Daniel's in-home and community integration program over the next school year. Although the SSD formally denied any wrongdoing, the Asburys see the settlement as a vindication of their position. The Asburys jointly state: "We view this settlement as a clear indication that the Special School District's autism program was a complete failure for Daniel and that the ABA method of instruction works. We strongly believe that other children are wasting their precious time in the SSD's out-dated programs and vow to continue to fight for their right to appropriate services."
There are 279 school-age children with autism in the Special School District's programs, and additional undiagnosed children with autism in the District's early childhood programs. SSD fails to test a child for autism before kindergarten age and fails to use the CHAT, a 20 minute diagnostic questionnaire that can detect a child as young as 18 months who is at-risk for autism.
Research shows that the vast majority of children with autism receiving the kind of services provided by SSD are likely to remain in special education programs throughout their public education and to continue to government support as adults. Daniel may be one of the children who will avoid that future.
The Lovaas research indicates that nearly half (47%) of the children who received the ABA training Daniel's parents are providing, permanently recover from their autism and achieve fully mainstreamed school placement, with no special education services. Many of these children are indistinguishable from their normally developing peers.4
States such as Wisconsin, Maine, California, Delaware, Iowa, and New York already provide ABA therapy state-wide. In Missouri, the state Department of Mental Health provides ABA/Lovaas training to young children under the age of three with autism and related disabilities. The state educational agency, however, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which has responsibility for education of children with disabilities from ages three to 21, fails to inform parents about ABA as an available option.
Missouri's and SSD's failure to provide this option to children with autism force families to move out of St. Louis County and away from Missouri to get an appropriate education for their children.
UPDATE: On June 12, 1998, Daniel's parents filed a federal lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Note: The parents were represented by Mary Jane White of Iowa (email: email@example.com) and Kenneth Chackes of St. Louis, Missouri.