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Autism spectrum disorder situation highlights need for early diagnosis

SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES — Shaniel Miles is a mother of three children, and now an expert and advocate – by necessity – on autism.

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By Staff Report

MIAMI, Fla. – Shaniel Miles is a mother of three children, and now an expert and advocate – by necessity ¬– on autism. Three years ago, when Shaniel took her then 5-year-old son Geremy for his check-up she was told he was just fine, even though he wasn’t speaking much. “He’ll catch up,” the doctor told her. “Boys are just slower.”

Later that year, Geremy entered kindergarten. His teachers never complained about him, but they also never let Shaniel know that Geremy still wasn’t speaking or socializing with classmates. At the end of the school year, Geremy was held back.

“I thought it was so that he could mature a little bit more,” Shaniel said. “He understood what was going on. We just thought he didn’t like to talk much.”

A year later Geremy entered first grade. When Shaniel asked about Geremy’s progress, teachers told her that although he was well behaved, he didn’t participate in classroom activities or do classwork. She called for a meeting with his teachers, the principal, the school counselor, and school psychologist so she could understand her son’s situation better. Together they all came up with a plan to monitor him more. But when newly implemented daily reports came home, Shaneil got the same news over and over:

Geremy wasn’t doing any classwork and he wouldn’t speak to the teacher. The teachers didn’t offer up any explanation or any solutions.

Today, “One in 62 African American children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder and those children are frequently misdiagnosed or diagnosed later than other children, which may result in longer and more intensive intervention,” says Dr. Michael Alessandri, executive director of the University of Miami – Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD).

In Geremy’s case, he was 7 years old, Alessandri noted. “His speech delay and tendency to avoid eye contact with adults were early indicators of an autism spectrum disorder. Research shows early identification and family support have long-term benefits for children with autism. Unfortunately, Geremy’s story is all too common.”

When teachers told his mother they didn’t have time to work with him individually, she said, “I decided there wasn’t any more time left to waste with the school’s bureaucracy, and I made an appointment with a private psychologist.”

After the psychologist spent a few sessions with Geremy, and his parents, he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“We were shocked and didn’t know what to think” said Miles. “But at the same time, we were relieved, because the psychologist confirmed what we had suspected. Geremy wasn’t progressing like the other children and he needed help. It took almost two and a half years, to figure it out. But we were determined to help our child and committed to doing what’s necessary to get him all the help he needs to get back on track,” Shaniel explained.

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that affects the way the brain develops and processes information. It is characterized by impaired social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests. It is considered a “spectrum” disorder because it varies widely in its specific behaviors and severity from one person to another. Some individuals present with such mild symptoms that the disorder may go largely unnoticed by others.

“Parents, educators and medical professionals all need to be aware of the common and varied indicators of a possible autism spectrum disorder,” Alessandri said. Some of those include:

• Not responding to their name by 12 months,
• Not pointing at objects to show interest such as toys or airplanes by 14 months,
• Not playing “pretend” games, such as pretending to “feed” a doll by 18 months,
• Having trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
• Repeating words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
• Giving unrelated answers to questions
• Getting upset by minor changes
• Having obsessive interests
• Flapping their hands, rocking their body, or spinning in circles
• Having unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel.

“When any of these signs present themselves, it’s always best to speak to a medical professional, and if you’re not comfortable with what your family doctor or pediatrician is telling you, get a second opinion,” said Alessandri. “Symptoms can also vary by age and developmental level, with younger individuals often displaying different symptoms than older individuals. In all cases, individuals with ASD or other related conditions can benefit from early and appropriate treatment.”

UM-NSU CARD has offices in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties and can help families get a thorough evaluation and proper diagnosis. From there clients can be provided primary services including information, resources, medical referrals and support groups. Additionally, the state-financed program provides training and workshops for parents and educators, as well as public education and awareness activities.

“We want to create a community and provide the information, support, and strategies that help individuals with autism and their families succeed in all stages of life,” Alessandri said.

“We wish we’d known about them earlier in the process. It would have saved us a lot of time and frustration,” said Miles. “But now were on the right track and we know what’s possible for our son.”

Today, 8-year old Geremy is in second grade and attends a public school in MiamiDade County that has a specialized program for students with ASD along with specially trained teachers who understand his needs and potential.

“He’s thriving and is on the honor roll,” Miles said. “We are very proud of him.”

This article originally appeared the South Florida Times

Community

Ramachandran is the Only Candidate Who Lives in Oakland in the District 18 Assembly Race 

Oakland makes up 66% of Assembly District 18. Yet all the other major candidates live in Alameda or San Leandro. Our district has not had a representative from Oakland since the 1990s.

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Janani Ramachandran

Note: Janani Ramachandran is a social justice attorney. She has the sole endorsement of organizations rooted in Oakland, including ILWU, Oakland East Bay Democratic Club, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club and Oakland Tenants Union. 

Oakland makes up 66% of Assembly District 18. Yet all the other major candidates live in Alameda or San Leandro. Our district has not had a representative from Oakland since the 1990s. Oakland deserves true representation in our Legislature, and here are some reasons why:

Howard Terminal

Look no further than the Howard Terminal to see the power that state legislation can have on local issues. Our most recent District 18 assembly member who lives in Alameda, facilitated the development of Howard Terminal by introducing AB 1191 and AB 734 – ultimately to benefit the billionaire Fisher family and their allies. By contrast, a legislator from Oakland would understand the disastrous consequences of the project for West Oakland residents, such as worsening air quality and stimulating rapid gentrification. 

A legislator from Oakland would also understand that such a project would threaten the job security of 85,000 workers at the Port of Oakland. As the only major candidate in this election publicly opposed to Howard Terminal, I promise to stand firmly by Oakland community groups in vocalizing my opposition to this project, and any others that prioritize billionaire interests over those of our neighbors.

OUSD Takeover

Oakland has been unable to run our own public schools since the deeply problematic state takeover of OUSD in 2003. This takeover, and the actions by the State-appointed administrator  in running up OUSD’s debt, led to the closure of many majority-Black public schools and the proliferation of charter schools (in fact, OUSD has the highest percentage of charter schools out of any school district in the state). 

Oakland deserves a legislator who will prioritize winning immediate return of full local control of our schools to our residents as soon as possible. It takes a genuine understanding of the hardship and trauma that the state takeover inflicted on our City to meaningfully fight for Oakland’s youth at the State Legislature – something that I unequivocally vow to do.

Tenant Protections

Tenants comprise over 60% of our city’s residents. Thanks to decades of local activism, Oakland has one of the strongest rent control ordinances in the state. However, our city’s hands are tied on many state laws that prevent tenants from being meaningfully protected. For example, the state law Costa Hawkins prevents Oakland from being able to expand rent control to units constructed after 1983 and to single-family homes. Having supported tenants facing eviction in Oakland in the course of my legal career – including during the pandemic –  I’m acutely aware of the need for stronger statewide tenant protections to support our city.

 For example, despite Oakland City Council passing a resolution calling upon the State Legislature to repeal the Ellis Act, or at least suspend these evictions during the pandemic, our legislature refused to act. As a tenant advocate who helped launch the coalition that spearheaded Ellis Act legislation, and as a tenant myself (if elected, I would be just 1 of 3 tenants, out of 120 state lawmakers), I would bring a tenants rights framework to our legislature to support the needs of Oakland tenants.

Gun Violence

Last year, nearly as many Black Oaklanders died from a gunfire as did from COVID-19. It isn’t enough to just say we need tougher statewide gun control laws – California already has some of the strongest in the country.

 Oakland deserves a state legislator who understands the root causes of this violence and the state action needed to address it – including more funding for community-based organizations that do meaningful prevention work, economic development and expanded career opportunities for our youth, and more broadly, treating gun violence as a public health crisis – all of which are pillars of my platform.

This special election, vote for the only Oakland candidate on the ballot, a person who will take action based on the needs of our city, and work towards achieving economic, educational, racial, and environmental justice. Learn more at www.jananiforca.com 

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Community

Legislative Summary from State Senator Nancy Skinner

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @NancySkinnerCA and Facebook and to visit my Senate website for regular updates on the status of my legislation and information on the state budget. It is a pleasure serving you in the state Senate.

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Sen. Nancy Skinner. Photo courtesy of Nancy Skinner.

Here’s a brief summary of the bills I introduced this year that are still moving through the legislative process. All so far were passed by the state Senate and are now on their way to the Assembly:

  • SB 8 Extends Housing Crisis Act of 2019: The Housing Crisis Act helped expedite housing that meets local rules by asking local governments to process permits faster and not change the rules midstream. SB 8 extends the sunset on the Housing Crisis Act until 2030.
  • SB 16 Coming Clean on Police Records: Thanks to my 2018 bill, SB 1421, Californians now have access to a limited set of police misconduct records. SB 16 expands access to records on officers who have engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior, unlawful arrests and searches, and excessive force.
  • SB 65 California Momnibus Act: California’s infant and maternal death rates, especially for families of color, persist at high rates. SB 65 expands pre- and postpartum services, such as doula care and financial support, to reduce death rates and ensures data is collected to understand what’s causing these disparities.
  • SB 65 California Momnibus Act: California’s infant and maternal death rates, especially for families of color, persist at high rates. SB 65 expands pre- and postpartum services, such as doula care and financial support, to reduce death rates and ensures data is collected to understand what’s causing these disparities.
  • SB 81 Judicial Guidelines for Sentencing Enhancements: California has over 160 enhancements that add time to a prison sentence over and above the time required for the crime committed. SB 81 establishes parameters for judges to determine whether a sentence enhancement is needed to help ensure that sentences are the length the judge believes is necessary to protect public safety.
  • SB 262 Bail Reform: I’m a joint author of SB 262 to reform CA’s bail system so no one is kept in jail simply because they can’t afford bail.
  • SB 290 Clarifying CA’s Density Bonus Law: Allows low-income student housing and for-sale low- and moderate-income housing to benefit from California’s Density Bonus law.
  • SB 354 Relative Placement: Reduces barriers that prevent children in foster care from being placed with relatives and extended family.

And great news, the funding to support my bill, SB 364, Free School Meals for All, was included in the Legislature’s budget proposal, which means millions of our K-12 students will get a free meal at school.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @NancySkinnerCA and Facebook and to visit my Senate website for regular updates on the status of my legislation and information on the state budget. It is a pleasure serving you in the state Senate.

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Community

Closing Youth Prisons Is Not Enough

But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

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Ella Baker Center staff and members attend a Books Not Bars rally in Sacramento advocating to close youth prisons in California. Courtesy of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

COMMENTARY

As a parent who was involved in the juvenile system as a teenager, I know too well that children who are struggling should never be incarcerated and treated like criminals. 

Instead, they should be cared for as young people in need of restorative help. This May, dedicated as National Mental Health Awareness Month, was the perfect opportunity to embrace human rights and racial justice by moving from a carceral system of punishment to a community-based health system of restorative care.

“We have a system in place that is not really focused on rehabilitation,” Los Angeles State Senator Sydney Kamlager told CalMatters in January. Unlike some states, we have not had a governing body in California to oversee trauma-responsive, culturally informed services for youth–the majority of whom are youth of color–in the juvenile justice system.

Fortunately, we in California finally have a chance to make a change. California Senate Bill 823, signed by Gov. Newsom last December, shuts down California’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and redirects millions of dollars to counties to provide care and resources for young people. But without a plan to invest in and institute a restorative justice framework, most of that money might find its way back into local youth jails rather than into treatment and rehabilitation.

Sonya Abbott and her son Anthony Johnson can attest that a transformation is long overdue. When Anthony was 16, Sonya found a bag of Xanax in his back pocket. Believing that he intended to sell the drugs, she made the difficult decision to turn him in. At the time, she viewed her decision as a way to save her son’s life, and the lives of others.  Now she says, “I feel like it just made things worse.”

As is too often the case, Anthony was cycled through a number of ineffective programs and has been shuttled back and forth among several facilities. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the DJJ went into lockdown, Anthony was at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in San Joaquin County. Feeling lonely and depressed because of the isolation, Anthony asked for extra counseling.

“They refused to give it to me. They laughed at me,” Anthony says.

 Anthony attempted suicide roughly two days later. He remembers a Chaderjian staff member witnessing his suicide attempt and saying, “You’re not doing it right, I’ll call this one in later,” then walking away. Afterward, Anthony was kept in the medical unit for a month, locked in a room for 23 hours a day, without any counseling or companionship.

Throughout all of this, the DJJ did not inform Abbott of her son’s suicide attempt, nor his consequent transfer to Patton State Hospital. After Anthony missed a scheduled Skype visit, Abbott had to call every juvenile facility in California to locate him, and only then learned that he had tried to take his own life. He remains at Patton today.

Statistics show that suicide and suicide attempts are too common. According to a 2014 report from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection, “11% of the youth (in the juvenile justice system) had attempted suicide at least once,” far exceeding the percentage  in the general population.

Nor are the dangers of youth incarceration justified by the outcomes. A 2015 study from the University of Washington, observed that, “juvenile incarceration is not only ineffective at reducing criminal behavior,” but that those who were incarcerated in their youth were more likely to suffer negative consequences in every aspect of their adult lives.

Abbott describes Anthony as a good kid who just got himself a little lost. “I don’t understand why there’s no resources for these kids,” she says. “They are just locked up and forgotten. I can’t let my kid be one of their victims.”

We now have an unprecedented opportunity to chart a new direction. Part of SB 823 creates Juvenile Justice Coordinating Councils (JJCC) in each of our 58 California counties, bringing together experts and constituents like Abbott and Anthony, whose lives have intersected with the juvenile justice system. 

These new councils will help guide how the millions of dollars in new state funding can best be deployed to provide a continuum of care. To inform that process, youth advocates have been working to implement a community vision of care to replace the old carceral model that has failed so many of our most vulnerable young people of color.

Advocates are also pushing the state to properly resource the new department within Health and Human Services (HHS) that will provide oversight for the new system. The proposed budget is a woefully inadequate $3 million; Assemblymember Cristina Garcia and state Senator Maria Elena Durazo, joined by the California Alliance for Youth and Community Justice and members of the Free Our Kids Coalition, are pushing for a larger allocation to help scale up community-based interventions by local groups. 

If a community system rooted in healing had already been in place, Sonya Abbott and Anthony might have received the help they really needed. We can do better for our kids and our communities.

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