Tag Archives: autistic

Parents in Crisis Can Be Vulnerable to Predators

There has been a tremendous movement among a group of special education lay advocates across the United States and beyond to get to the bottom of a very troubling situation involving an individual who claims to be a highly successful and renowned special education advocate but whose claims cannot be substantiated and, in fact, appears to have defrauded a number of parents of children with special needs, particularly targeting high-profile autism-related seclusion and restraint cases. This individual, who goes by the name of Michael E. Robinson, Sr., is suspected of being located in Redding, California, based on the physical location where the phone numbers he gives out are installed.

Robinson was previously located in Hawaii, so it seems. He claims to be located in Washington, DC, Arizona, Hawaii, and California. He has claimed to be a lobbyist (not registered); a special education lay advocate and/or attorney (he’s claimed both) with years of experience with due process cases and litigation going all the way to federal court (no record of him involved in any special education due process or court cases could be found); a medical doctor (there is an autism specialist also named Michael Robinson whose work Michael E. Robinson, Sr. has attempted to claim as his own); and, of all things, a NASCAR racer.

He’s also claimed that he has epilepsy and was given a wolf as a service animal because wolves can allegedly detect the onset of a seizure before it happens, thereby making them superior service animals – forget the fact that it’s not legal to have a wolf as a service animal. And on and on. His behavior seems indicative of a narcissistic personality disorder and an absolute disregard for the consequences of what he is doing.

It’s easy now that so many people have come out of the woodwork to share their Michael E. Robinson, Sr. stories and much of his story has now been pieced together to look at the big picture and reach the conclusion that Robinson is up to no good. He’s solicited money from several parents, apparently. He’s also requested copies of legal documents in individual student’s cases from parents to allegedly use for his “lobbying” efforts, only to turn around and copy and paste from these documents to attempt to misrepresent the work of other advocates and attorneys as his own to his next set of victims.

His M.O. is apparently to collect enough information from past cases to be able to initially convince parents in newly developing cases – usually horrific situations in which the parents are in dire need of technical assistance – that he is experienced and can help them. He commiserates with them over the injustices they have suffered and tells them not to worry because he’s going to take care of things for them. Then he takes whatever money they’ve given him and copies of their records and is never heard from by them again. He seems to particularly seek out single mothers who are emotionally vulnerable as they fight to protect their children with disabilities from harm and have little to no support from their children’s fathers.

As a special education lay advocate for over 18 years and a paralegal in special education-related litigation for the last 5 years, I have to say that the prospect of someone using special education lay advocacy as a vehicle for running a con is particularly disturbing. While it’s expected that different advocates have different styles and ways of going about things, this is well beyond anything like that.

What is so damaging is that the child who was in such dire need that his/her case caught Robinson’s eye continues to go unserved. Robinson’s advocacy, such as it is, fails to achieve appropriate outcomes, based on the reports coming in from families who claim to have been taken advantage of by him.

This hurts children with special needs overall by undermining the credibility of lay advocates everywhere. Every time I go into a school district in which I’ve never advocated before, I find myself having to prove that I’m not some crazy person or someone with an axe to grind. The expectation maintained by many school districts is that all advocates are adversarial jerks and a righteous pain in the keister. It usually takes months of working with an IEP team in a district to which I am new before people finally figure out that I’m just trying to solve problems and facilitate a rebuilding of trust between the school district and the student’s family and that I’m only going to pursue accountability if the school district personnel keep failing to perform their mandated duties.

But, when I have to follow behind someone calling him- or herself an advocate who has behaved disreputably, demonstrated a clear lack of knowledge regarding what constitutes an appropriate IEP, and antagonized the situation to such an extent that a power struggle has ensued between him/her and the school district, I am put at a tremendous disadvantage. The time I have to invest in proving that I’m not going to do the same thing is time that could have otherwise been invested in properly educating my client.

I want to make clear, though, that very few advocates are so lacking in knowledge and so adversarial that they do more harm than good. Mr. Robinson is the exception, not the rule. Nonetheless, parents need to be diligent about making sure that whoever represents them is on the up and up. When I meet with parents for the first time, they will often tell me that they Googled me beforehand. I’m totally okay with that; there’s a pretty good chance that I Googled them, too. Advocates have to protect themselves from shiesters, as well.

To read more about the evidence compiled against Michael E. Robinson, Sr., see:

US GAO Seclusions & Restraints Report

The United States Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) released its report Seclusions and Restraints: Selected Cases of Death and Abuse at Public and Private Schools and Treatment Centers in May 2009. As Congress contemplates new federal legislation to contend with this societal atrocity, we thought it was pertinent to review GAO’s findings and remind ourselves why this is so important.

Examples of Case Studies GAO Examined:

Victim Information School Case Details
Male, 14, diagnosed with post traumatic stress Texas public school – 230 lb. teacher placed 129 lb. child face down on floor and lay on top of him because he did not stay seated in class, causing his death.- Death ruled a homicide but grand jury did not indict teacher. Teacher currently teaches in Virginia.
Female, 4, born with cerebral palsy and diagnosed as autistic West Virginia public school – Child suffered bruising and post traumatic stress disorder after teachers restrained her in a wooden chair with leather straps described as resembling a miniature electric chair for being uncooperative.-School board found liable for negligent training and supervision; teachers were found not liable, and one still works at the school.
Five victims, gender not disclosed, aged 6 and 7 Florida public school – Volunteer teacher’s aide, on probation for burglary and cocaine possession, gagged and duct-taped children for misbehaving.- No records that school did background check or trained aide.

– Aide pled guilty to false imprisonment and battery.

Male, 9, diagnosed with a learning disability New York public school – Parents allowed school to use time out room only as a last resort,  but school put child in room repeatedly for hours at a time for offenses such as whistling, slouching, and hand waving.- Mother reported that the room smelled of urine and child’s hands became blistered while trying to escape.- Jury awarded family $1,000 for each time child was put in the room.

Just to be clear, these are not isolated incidents. GAO tracked hundreds of cases for the purposes of its report, which you can read in full by clicking here.

Back during the 2002-2003 school year, when our founder, Nyanza Cook, was researching how to start a non-profit advocacy organization, she received a phone call one night from her family in Texas.  They knew that she was looking to start what has since become KPS4Parents and wanted to let her know of something that had happened in their local community near Ft. Hood. As much as she had her own motivations for starting our organization based on what her own household here in California had been put through, the story from her family back in Texas pretty much clenched it.

Her nephew, who was a special education student placed in a special day class at the time, was put on the phone with her, clearly distraught. She asked him what was going on and his reply was, “They killed him, Auntie!  They killed him!”

After speaking with him and other family members, this is what she got:  another special education student in her nephew’s class had become non-compliant that day and unable to focus on his school work. In an effort to compel him to stay on task and comply with adult directives, school site staff withheld food from him, refusing to let him go to lunch until he completed a task he’d been requested to complete.

Somewhere around 2pm, he decided he was hungry and was going to find food whether the adults in the room liked it or not.  When he attempted to leave the room, he was tackled to the ground by staff who piled on top of him.  According to Nyanza’s nephew, he gasped a few times that he couldn’t breathe and then fell silent.

When he stopped struggling, staff climbed off of him only to find him limp and lifeless.  He wasn’t breathing.  Staff ended up calling 911 and attempted to resuscitate him.  His classmates looked on in horror throughout the entire incident, including Nyanza’s nephew.

A friend of Nyanza’s family was an emergency room doctor at the hospital where this young man was transported.  He later reported to her that the school district’s lawyer got to the hospital just before or at the same time the ambulance did and did everything he could to try and convince the hospital to call time of death subsequent to the young man’s body’s arrival at the hospital when, in truth, he’d died on school grounds and emergency personnel had not been able to revive him.  Nyanza’s emergency room doctor friend was indignant that the lawyer had even dared to ask.

None of this made it into the local news.  Nyanza’s family didn’t know this young man’s family personally and before too long, the whole thing had been swept under the rug.  It’s unknown if the District settled with the boy’s family or what became of the teachers involved in the incident. However, after reading Case #2 of the GAO report (the first case cited in the table above), the similarities are uncannily eerie and I have to wonder if it isn’t the same case.

Nyanza’s nephew was terrified to go back to school for fear that he would be killed, too.  He was understandably traumatized.  That is an aspect of the harm done when seclusions and restraints are used in the school setting:  the emotional impact on the children who witness take-downs and adults physically manhandling other children.  That’s probably worth a study in and of itself.

What the GAO report makes clear is that this was hardly an isolated incident.  But, the taxpaying public does not finance the public education system so that it can kill children; the public education system is supposed to be educating children.

At the time of the May 2009 report, there were no federal laws regulating the use of seclusions and restraints in public or private schools.? There are no such federal laws today, though legislation has been proposed. State laws were at the time of the report, and still are, highly divergent.

GAO reported that almost all of the hundreds of cases of the use of seclusion and restraint in school settings that its research uncovered involved children with disabilities.  GAO found that there was no national effort to specifically collect data and track the use of seclusions and restraints in the school setting, requiring it to conduct exhaustive research in order to identify cases of such.  It wasn’t that the cases hadn’t been reported, but the way that data was collected by the involved agencies resulted in the seclusion and restraint cases getting mixed in with many other different types of cases, requiring GAO investigators to go through each case to individually identify which ones involved seclusions and restraints in the school setting.

When I first got involved in special education advocacy, I was working with families of children with dyslexia who weren’t receiving adequate reading instruction and kids with ADHD who needed IEP supports to help them with their organizational skills.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d end up working cases of where:

  • An 8-year-old nonverbal boy with autism who loved to play “chase” would do what the adults around him mistook for elopement but was actually his way of initiating a “chase” game, only to be tackled to the ground by his principal on a gravel driveway in an effort to prevent the child from leaving the campus (which he wasn’t actually trying to do), resulting in significant bruising to they boy’s chest.
  • A 14-year-old mostly nonverbal boy with autism who became non-compliant with staff directives when his teacher unexpectedly left early for the day (which had not been part of his visual schedule and, thus, he’d been unable to predict), resulting in an unlawful restraint in which a large male staff member twisted the boy’s arm behind his back and broke it, causing nerve damage and requiring surgery to repair.
  • A 15-year-0ld boy with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (from having witnessed his father’s suicide) who was directed into a time-out room alone with his male ESY teacher (an aide on a 30-day emergency teaching credential), who then compelled the student  to perform oral sex upon him behind a locked door.
  • An 8-year-old boy with autism and mild mental retardation who received special education transportation services on a large bus filled mostly with emotionally disturbed children being transported to an ED program on the same campus where his learning handicapped class was located, only to be forced to regularly orally copulate a male ED peer in the back of the bus in the absence of a transportation aide and out of sight of the bus driver.

The latter case was peer-on-peer violence, but it was the lack of appropriate supervision that allowed it to happen. Passiveness on the part of adults can result in just as much harm as outright aggression.

The point is that children with disabilities are at a higher risk of being preyed upon and victimized by people who should know better or peers who themselves are not receiving adequate intervention. This continues in one form or another into adulthood where cognitively impaired adults are put up to committing crimes they don’t understand so that other people will “like them” or are taken advantage of by scam artists and are economically abused.  Women with mental disabilities can easily end up in the sex trade.

What is really scary is when a person with mental deficiencies is repeatedly exposed to violence and learns through experience to behave violently him- or herself.  Trying to unteach that learning when the person has reached adulthood after a lifetime of inappropriate, violent behavior, can only be achieved through very time-consuming, involved, and usually very costly, direct instruction.  The long-term consequences of seclusion and restraint are far-reaching and devastating.

California SLPs Sometimes Confuse Legal Requirements

Today’s posting will hopefully lay to rest a misunderstanding that seems to plague special education in California. I can only presume that, like many other “urban myths” that root themselves in special education lore, at some point in time, somebody somewhere in California conducted a training seminar on speech-language assessment and services within special education and miscommunicated something that has now led to speech-language specialists throughout the state making improper conclusions to the detriment of some children in need of speech-language services.

The problem is this: the distinction between who is found eligible for special education on the basis of a speech-language impairment (“SLI”) and who qualifies for speech-language services as a student already eligible for special education under any other category. Eligibility for special education as SLI is not required in order for a child otherwise eligible for special education to receive speech-language services in order to benefit from his/her IEP.

The critical piece of legislation, which gets erroneously cited in speech-language assessment reports all the time, is 5 CCR  3030(c). Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations Section 3030 describes all of the criteria for each of the eligibility categories under which a student may qualify for special education and related services. These categories include Specific Learning Disability (“SLD”), Other Health Impaired (“OHI”), Emotionally Disturbed (“ED”), and many others, including SLI. The critical thing to understand here is that the 3030s describe who can receive special education and on what basis, not what services they will get.

What ends up happening, though, is a child will be assessed for special education purposes and a speech-language assessment will be conducted. In the course of the overall assessment, even though the child is found eligible under some category other than SLI, because he did not score below the 7th percentile on two or more speech-language assessments, the speech-language specialist will determine that he doesn’t qualify for speech-language services according to 5 CCR   3030(c). It is a complete and utter misapplication of this Code, which deals strictly with eligibility under SLI and not what services an otherwise eligible child should receive.

A typical example of this would be a child who is eligible for special education pursuant to 5 CCR   3030(g) for autistic-like behaviors (in special education in California, a medical or psychological diagnosis cannot be made by the school psychologist, so this section of the code provides alternative language and defines the criteria by which a special education eligibility category can be identified for a child exhibiting the symptoms of autism), but who is relatively verbal. While his scores may hover just above the 7th percentile on the speech-language tests he was administered, they are still very low and his low language functioning compounds his other problems arising from the other needs arising from his handicapping condition.

In this example, anyone in their right mind can see that the child needs pragmatic (social) language intervention and help with idiomatic and figurative (non-literal) language. He doesn’t have any friends, he doesn’t get jokes, and he doesn’t understand clichs and colorful sayings, such as “Clear as mud.” This makes it difficult for him to participate in group projects with peers and understand the writings of Mark Twain. He needs goals that address these areas of need and speech-language services in order to benefit from his IEP.

No subsection of 5 CCR  3030 drives the selection of services that any child gets, only whether or not a particular child is eligible and, if so, under what category. The IDEA mandates that children who are eligible for special education, regardless of what category they qualify under, receive whatever supports and services are necessary in order to afford them a FAPE.

Specifically, the federal regulations found at 34 CFR  300.320(a)(2) state that IEPs must include for each child measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals designed to meet the child’s needs that result from the child’s disability to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum and meet each of the child’s other educational needs that results from the child’s disability.

An eligible child is a child who requires, as a result of one or more handicapping conditions, special education and related services in order to receive educational benefit. 34 CFR  300.39 “Related services” is described at 34 CFR  300.34. In none of this is there anything that suggests that the only way that an otherwise eligible child can receive speech-language services is if he is also found eligible as SLI.

In fact, 34 CFR  300.304(c)(6) states that, when evaluations are conducted for special education purposes, they must be “sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child’s special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.” Congress understood when it crafted the IDEA that you don’t individualize a child’s program by resorting to “cookie-cutter” strategies that are based on a kid’s eligibility category.

The IDEA is the skeleton of special education law. It establishes the basic framework and minimal standards. It is left to the states, if they want any federal special education dollars, to add the flesh to the bones by creating their own state-level legislation that explains how each state will implement the requirements of the IDEA. While states are free to add more obligations to their schools than what the IDEA requires, they are prohibited from reducing the protections offered to students and parents under the IDEA lest they sacrifice their funding.

What this means for speech-language services to special education students in California is that the IDEA basically says each eligible child must get whatever he/she needs in order to receive educational benefit, regardless of what type of services are required and regardless of the applicable eligibility categories. That’s the whole concept of individualizing a child’s education plan based on his/her unique educational needs.

There is nothing at the state-level that reduces this federal mandate, nor could there be unless California were to choose to go it alone to cover its special education costs and we all already know that California can’t pay its bills even with the federal funding it receives. It absolutely cannot afford to give up its federal special education funding.

We’re curious to know if there are any other state-level debacles involving misinterpretations of the law happening elsewhere. Readers are encouraged to post comments to this posting about such misinterpretations that may be occurring where they live.