How the Lanterman Act Forever Changed the Rights of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities in the State of California
The Lanterman Act, groundbreaking legislation that forever changed the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities in the state of California.
Since the early 1950’s, the developmental services system for individuals with developmental disabilities has come a long way in the state of California and the nation as a whole.
The Lanterman Act, passed in 1969, is the groundbreaking legislation which emphatically declared that people with developmental disabilities and their families have a right to receive the services and supports they need to live like any other individual without disabilities in the state of California. This meant that individuals, no matter what level or type of developmental disability they were diagnosed with had the right to live as free men and women within their local communities and to receive the proper local agency supports to ensure their safety and success.
Before this act passed, the only option for government-funded services in California were state institutions called “State Hospitals” or “State Developmental Centers”. While the federal government and individual states worked on improving the conditions within these institutions, individuals in these facilities were treated and cared for with inhumane and inappropriate methods where individual inalienable rights under our constitution were ignored and not afforded to those living there. Even though treatment has improved over the years in such facilities, those still residing in these centers are not free to live the life they deserve.
In the past, individuals with developmental disabilities faced segregation, isolation and a lack of basic freedoms that every human deserves. Now, due to pioneering laws, such as the Lanterman Act and others, they have many more opportunities available today. Since the inception of the Lanterman Act, agencies such as The SAILS Group, Inc. and others have earned the opportunity to open homes in local communities throughout the state by winning State of California Regional Center Request for Proposals. These local homes have transitioned 132 individuals just in the past 12 months into the community.
The Lanterman Act outlines the rights of individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, how the regional centers and service providers can help these individuals, what services and supports they can obtain, how to use the individualized program plan to get needed services, what to do when someone violates the Lanterman Act, and how to improve the system. The Lanterman Act initiatives are funded via the State of California’s Department of Developmental Services’ Community Placement Plan (CPP) budget.
For more information on this topic and other services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, feel free to contact The SAILS Group, Inc. at firstname.lastname@example.org visit their website at
This article was originally posted on Huffingpost.com
It’s true that many special needs conditions can’t be cured. But with the right tools, the right mindset, and the right activities, they can be managed — and there may be more therapies around than you think. Children with special needs deserve to live happy, fulfilling lives rich with creativity, imagination, and purpose, and everyday, we’re discovering better ways to help them do just that.
It’s no surprise that special needs students require a lot of careful, structured time that is interesting and enriching. They certainly have deep imaginations, and are capable, like all children, of creating lush, exciting worlds inside their heads. In order to achieve this, however, the adults in their lives have to provide extra guidance and creativity in structuring their activities.
Sadly, while special needs students can benefit more from this sort of structured activity, they are less likely to experience it. A report from Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute found a significant gap between the general population and special needs students in experiencing such cultural activities.
But there are organizations bucking this trend, and providing special needs students with chances to live more fulfilling lives. A great example is The SAILS Group’s, Kids First Foundation’s and Patterns Behavioral Services’ structured ABA Programs.
Online gaming and special needs students
One area that has proven extremely useful as enrichment for special needs students is online gaming. Interestingly enough, we’re not referring to games originally designed for educational or therapeutic purposes.
Open-world, immersive online games like Minecraft are highly suitable for special needs students. In this game, players gather resources and build creations one block at a time, limited only by their imagination and effort.
The idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Minecraft has been celebrated for its success as a medium, as people have built a huge range of places and objects on the program, including bygone ancient cities, fantastical locales from Lord of the Rings, and even 1:1 scale digital spaceships.
One Sydney school has turned to Minecraft as an educational tool, even going so far as to create lesson plans and units for other teachers who wish to do the same thing. By networking and collaborating with both online and real life players, special needs students have made huge strides in improving their social and mental skills.
Building discipline and confidence through ballet
Adults practice Latin dance, from salsa to bachata, to build their social confidence and rhythm. Special needs students do the same with ballet.
The inspiring success stories from Britain’s Flamingo Chicks dance school — an operation with outposts in several British cities — have been at the forefront of this. As an immersive program, Flamingo Chicks involves both special needs and regular students, allowing everyone to mingle in a safe, open environment with ample adult supervision. In fact, Flamingo Chicks has even created peer support groups for parents with their own activities, allowing parents of regular students to learn from and commiserate with those of special needs children.
The program has been successful as well, aiding individual improvements in areas such as flexibility, socialization, and discipline. It’s also highly sought after, with 100 families applying for 15 slots.
Reconnecting with the outdoors
Hippotherapy came about almost by accident; after an occupational therapist brought a patient to a horse farm, she was intrigued to find that the girl, nonverbal for a year, began to sing. The pattern of breakthroughs repeated itself with a cerebral palsy patient who began to walk with crutches.
Later was it discovered that horseback riding could enhance spatial awareness, focus, and attention — key traits for special needs students. What began as a hunch and an observation has now evolved into a full-time therapy center, built around horses and equestrianism.
Common trends in helping special needs children
Now that we have examined the clever, unorthodox organizations and ideas that are making a positive impact on special needs students, let’s take a look at the common criteria. While none of the activities and safe spaces are exactly alike, they all share some noteworthy guidelines that may prove helpful to parents, educators, and policymakers looking to make a difference.
Interactive is best
All of the previous activities and safe spaces are interactive, hands-on projects in one way or another. Often, students can see the tangible fruits of their labor; gathering and using resources in Minecraft will yield a fully formed (if digital) world, while ballet recitals are borne of hard, dedicated practice.
In all the cases we reviewed here, a sense of accomplishment is best reinforced with an actual, physical product. This serves to link the efforts of the student with a clear, palpable, and positive result.
A structured, organized environment with clear rules and goals
Special needs students, by their very nature, thrive in organized environments with little ambiguity and confusion.
All of the examples presented have well-defined rules and objectives. For instance, ballet is a challenging physical discipline — but a highly structured one with a clear progression of learning, differentiated levels of skill, and rules about what can and cannot be done. The same could be said for Minecraft, horseback riding, or gardening — each area has a concrete, unambiguous format for its participants to exercise their bodies and minds.
The environment as a gateway to success
So what is the result of these interactive, engaging activities? From ballet to Minecraft, gardening to equestrianism, sports to puzzles, such a disparate set of pursuits can provide surprisingly similar results.
If done right, they are a gateway to expression and understanding for special needs students. In each case, such students took away valuable life lessons, not necessarily from classroom lectures, but from learning, creating, and most of all, exploring for themselves. The proper practice of ballet gives students core strength, coordination, and even the ability to tell stories and understand characters. Minecraft, played with a friend or sibling, can assist students in collaboration and world-building, skills that are valuable in areas ranging from the classroom to, eventually, the boardroom.
A challenge for all of us
It’s true that many special needs students may never be 100% like their siblings and other kids. But with creativity, lateral thinking, and the courage to try new, diverse solutions can lead to a richer, more fulfilling life for them — and for all of us, as well.
It’s easy to forget sometimes, but the media and entertainment industry has come a long way. Even though, in 2016, we still have racist caricatures on mainstream television and a stunning lack of diversity, progress has been made.
One group that has seen their depictions change considerably is that of the autistic population, who have increasingly been portrayed in more nuanced, complete characters. This is especially important when you consider that about 1 in 68 children are autistic. And just as one minority group will cringe at hurtful stereotypes onscreen, these children will find narrow, one-dimensional roles harmful and limiting. After all, to paraphrase filmmaker Rebecca Brand, if one can’t see it, then one can’t be it. Autistic individuals already have their own struggles; fighting for fair screen time should not be one of them.
With that being said, let’s take a look at how depictions of autistic individuals have changed over the years.
A changing understanding of autism
Does life influence art, or is it the other way around? It’s clear now that popular culture, society, and science influence and cross-pollinate each other, and autism is no different.
Perhaps one of the earliest and most memorable portrayals of autism was that of Lennie, in John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men. While Lennie was never clearly said to be autistic and may have actually suffered from a number of disorders (of which autism was only one), Steinbeck does write him out to be a sympathetic and likable, if tragic character.
What Steinbeck does not do, however, is tell the story from Lennie’s point of view, or even to explain Lennie’s mindset or background at all. This was not so uncommon, however, given the limited scientific understanding of the era, which informed the majority of the portrayals of autistic individuals. In fact, as the documentary Refrigerator Mothers makes clear, throughout the early-mid 20th century, rather than autism being seen as the mysterious mental condition that it was, mothers were blamed for the stunted development of their autistic children, a troubling and emotionally devastating turn of events for already-stressed mothers.
This unfair, totally unfounded perception was based on the works of one man: Bruno Bettelheim, a survivor of concentration camps in Europe, and an utterly unqualified and controversial, if charismatic “scientist”. In particular, Bettelheim wrote that cold, unconscious hostility on the part of mothers caused children’s autism. Unfortunately, his teachings shaped the autism world for many years, casting autistic children as malcontents who simply needed a bit of direction and love to get them on the right track.
Autism in the media today
Rain Man: a landmark film
The turning point, as many note, probably came in the form of groundbreaking movie Rain Man, specifically thanks to Dustin Hoffman’s sensitive, nuanced portrayal of an autistic savant. True, Rain Man was not perfect: it established autistic savants as the default type of autism, in the process creating the film trope of the super-powered, high-performing autistic individual. Still, Rain Man has its touching moments, in particular the touching relationship between brothers Raymond and Charlie Babbitt, which gave the autistic a tender, loving side little seen before.
Autism as a superpower
The trend of high-powered autistic individuals as superheroes continues today in many forms. Most recently, the Ben Affleck thriller The Accountant, which centers around an autistic assassin who uses his powers to derail powerful corporate interests, was derided by critics as an uninteresting, shallow, and worst of all, exploitative film.
Unfortunately, The Accountant is not alone, but simply the latest example in the trend of the perception of the autistic being able to leverage their disability to perform at a higher level. This trend is alive and well today, seen in police procedurals like BBC’s Sherlock, in which the updated Sherlock Holmes outright calls himself a high-functioning sociopath to anti-government thriller Mercury Rising.
Animation and Documentaries
Surprisingly, the two areas which feature some of the best, most sympathetic portrayals of the autistic are polar opposites: animation and documentaries.
Pixar: Inclusion and Neuro-Diversity in Animated Film
But animation is not as strange as it looks at first: perhaps because of its focus on inclusion for all ages and conditions, animation has consistently portrayed autistic individuals in a sympathetic, believable light. From Finding Nemo to Inside Out, Pixar has truly pushed our society’s understanding of autistic people, challenging us to practice empathy and understanding, not to mention putting us in the perspectives of autistic individuals and their loved ones.
Critically, Pixar does two important things for its autistic characters: first, they often set the action in a fantastical, mythical space (such as an ocean of talking, anthropomorphic fish in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory)–a clever move that allows its creators space to draw real-world parallels. Also, as evidenced by Dory and Riley of Inside Out, Pixar takes the radical step of having its characters capitalize on their own unique strengths, not being held back by their limitations, but thriving in spite of them.
Because they are true to life, documentaries can provide wonderful, in-depth look at autistic individuals. Two notable releases are How to Dance in Ohio, which centers around three autistic teenagers who prepare for their prom, and Autism in Love, which as the name suggests, centers around people on the autistic spectrum seeking out and managing their love lives.
More importantly, both documentaries provide something that has long been denied those who find themselves on the autism spectrum: a voice, and more importantly, agency. In both How to Dance in Ohio and Autism in Love, autistic individuals fall in love, prepare for life-changing events, and struggle with the same things that many non-autistic individuals do: acceptance, belonging, and of course, meaning.
Truly, both the media and the public have come a long way from refrigerator moms who were blamed for causing autism through their “hostile parenting style.” Still, while portrayals have shifted to showing the individual and societal challenges that people on the autism spectrum face, problems remain. The persistent trope of autism as a superpower remains, despite the fact that autistic savants are actually quite rare, and that autism is a life-changing condition.
Michelle Obama’s glamorous wardrobe often generates sales for the designers she wears. Case in point, at the president’s most recent State of the Union address, the first lady’s marigold Narciso Rodriguez dress sold out almost immediately.
But it’s not just Ms. Obama’s fashion choices driving public interest. Upon her visit to the White House on August 2, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife Ho Ching sported a funky dinosaur clutch. The item, designed by 19-year-old Seetoh Sheng Jie, also sold out in a matter of days.
The difference? While the first lady’s look was a boon for the designer and Neiman Marcus, where the dress was on sale for $628, Ho Ching’s pouch came from the Art Faculty, a platform for autistic students at the Singaporean school “Pathlight”. Student Seetoh, a dinosaur enthusiast, earns royalties from the sales of the $11 pouch along with the program.
Public figures’ fashion decisions can be wildly impactful, especially at red carpet events or political meet and greets. Singapore’s first lady’s choice to showcase a bag from the Art Faculty reflects her down-to-earth nature and philanthropic sensibility. To the school’s honor and surprise, Ho Ching took three separate bags on her trip to D.C. Seetoh, though unaware of the larger impact, was “just happy” someone liked what he made.
The Art Faculty features the work of Pathlight students and alumni, acting as a gallery, workshop, shopping venue and art cafe. Pathlight is the first autism-focused school in Singapore, offering a unique blend of traditional academic programs and life-readiness skills. Established by Singapore’s Autism Centre in 2004, the school has grown from 41 to over 1,000 students in just 12 years.
Autistic individuals often take a strong interest in niche subjects and become experts on these, developing a specialty the Art Faculty then puts on display. Seetoh, for example, knows the spelling of every dinosaurs full, paleontological name and draws each figure from memory. Other students are similarly focused on the subject matter they draw, from animals to architecture and ancient warships. Those not local to the shop can make purchases anytime online where they can also learn about each artist. Prints are available on t-shirts, bags, stationery, and more.
It all goes to show how a simple choice of bag, dress, or notebook can spread awareness. Though Michelle Obama and Ho Ching may have more influence than the everyday person, each purchase in support of special need individuals makes a difference — and a great statement, too.
For individuals with Autism, theme parks can be the definition of overstimulation. Loud noises, large crowds, and screaming strangers can grate on anyone’s patience, but for autistic individuals it can be much worse. Unfortunately, most theme parks aren’t equipped to accommodate guests that feel overwhelmed by roller-coaster rattling and cotton candy crowds. Southern park Dollywood, as of recently, is an exception to this oversight.
Owned by country singer and actress Dolly Parton, Dollywood is a theme park located in Pigeonwood, Tennessee: the biggest ticketed tourist attraction in the state. Hosting roughly three million guests per season (Presidents Day to Christmas), Dollywood is a Smokey Mountains staple. It showcases the region’s traditional crafts and music, frequently hosting concerts by Dolly and other musicians.
Unlike other theme parks, Dollywood now features what they call a “calming room” where families can take their overstimulated loved one for some quiet time. The relaxing environment helps families take a break from the excessive sights and sounds so that everyone may better enjoy their day. Dollywood’s calming room is the first of its kind at any theme park in the world, according to ABC news.
Many people on the autism spectrum have difficulty dealing with sensory information, especially in situations where there is a lot of stimulation — sights, sounds, smells, you name it — criteria that truly defines theme parks. The way autistic individuals process all of this may affect their feelings, emotions and behavior, especially if they can’t remove themselves from the situation. Sensory overload may induce stress, anxiety, aggression, or even physical pain.
Under other circumstances, families might decide that taking an autistic family member to a theme park would be too much of a risk. If taking that risk, they might try to seek out refuge in a restroom or under a tree, neither which are guaranteed to be quiet. Calming rooms, as an alternative, let those guests enjoy their time at the park at their own pace. Parents can rest assured knowing that if they do get overwhelmed, there’s a special place to cool off.
Will other theme parks follow Dollywood’s lead on this? Though it may be too soon to say, Parents.com claims that Legoland may implement this feature too. Whatever the case, the benefits are clear. Families of autistic individuals will be much more willing to patron theme parks with the whole family if they can escape the hustle and bustle when they need to, then get back out there and have a ball.
The autism spectrum has typically been visually represented as a linear progression, with “not autistic” on one end, and “very autistic” on the other. The problem with this understanding of the spectrum is that it oversimplifies a complex medical condition and does not account for the myriad complexities in human brain processing. Autism is a spectrum as diverse as the rainbow, and it’s about time we had a more holistic representation of the many ways it can affect individuals.
So it’s no surprise that a comic depicting the spectrum in a novel way recently went viral online, specifically being shared by caregivers and people with autism. Created by artist Rebecca Burgess, the visualization takes the spectrum beyond black and white, into more productive territory for diagnosing ASD and being aware of how to address it in settings like the classroom.
In the comic, we follow a boy named Archie who has been diagnosed on the spectrum. However, we see how labeling Archie as either “very autistic” or “less autistic” isn’t helpful or accurate to him, his caregivers, or those he interacts with on a daily basis.
It’s not about being a little or very autistic, but rather which areas of the brain are most affected in an individual on the spectrum. The comic reimagines this spectrum as a color wheel, with different areas for perception, motor skills, language, sensory filter and executive function. Each person with ASD displays different traits in these areas—but their brain functions just like a non ASD person in the other areas—which a linear spectrum doesn’t account for. Portraying the huge range of the spectrum in a clear way that many people unfamiliar with ASD can understand is a great step for improving the public awareness of autism.
At The SAILS Group we value the importance of approaching ASD from a holistic and non-averse treatment standpoint. That’s why we’re thrilled to see the strong reception of an important piece of social art that demystifies one of the pervading myths surrounding the autism spectrum. Well Done!
For years, autism has gone largely undiagnosed or mistreated amongst the black community, as research and funding has been geared toward white, affluent communities. This has been a problem since autism came into public consciousness in the 1940s, but in 2016, it’s high time we find a solution.
Autism first came into public consciousness as a diagnosable disease thanks to child psychiatrist Leo Kanner, who studied patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital and wrote a paper in 1943 describing what he called “early infantile autism.” This breakthrough paper described 11 children who were highly intelligent but displayed a “powerful desire for aloneness” and an “obsessive insistence on persistent sameness.” Kanner is considered one of the finest psychiatrists of the 20th century, and his diagnosis of autism was a huge breakthrough for the medical field.
However, none of those 11 children he worked with in his study were black, despite the fact that many of the hospital’s patients at that time were low-income people of color. This unfortunately set the precedent for autism being seen as an illness that only affected the affluent upper class white demographic. Kanner helped perpetuate this untruth by believing that ASD disproportionately affected those who came from very ambitious, upper middle class families.
Obviously this thinking has no basis in fact, but even in 2016, we’re still seeing the need for more racial diversity in the diagnosis and treatment of autism in people of color. A 2010 report by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine found that African Americans are severely underrepresented in genetic databases for autism research. This lack of research on a huge demographic has led to misdiagnoses including mental retardation and ADHD.
Advocacy groups are working to change public consciousness on this important issue. The nonprofit foundation Color of Autism seeks to highlight the disparities by educating and assisting African American families with children on the spectrum. A recently published anthology called All the Weight of Our Dreams highlights the voices of people of color living with autism. And while NPRcovered the challenges of autism and racial bias earlier this year, we need more mainstream media attention on improving this disparity. Greater awareness that autism has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin can lead to earlier diagnosis, and in turn, earlier interventions and better care.
For years, autism activists have been working with state legislatures to require insurance companies to provide covered care for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and other autism treatments. Big strides were made with Obamacare, with 29 states in the Health Insurance Marketplace now covering ABA as an Essential Health Benefit. This allows residents of 29 states in the U.S. to choose plans that best address their autism treatment needs.
ABA treatment should be available, affordable and accessible to residents of all 50 states, however. That’s why the recent news from major insurance provider UnitedHealthcare is so important. Beginning in 2017, UnitedHealthcare will offer ABA coverage as part of its standard benefits package for all insurance holders, regardless of whether they happen to live in one of the 29 states that have passed the autism insurance mandate.
United already covers ABA treatment for fully insured group members in the mandated states, and for those who elect it under self-funded plans. Beginning next year, the universal coverage of ABA treatment will make autism treatments much more affordable and accessible to a huge demographic of the population, regardless of what state they live in. This is a huge step forward in the democratization of autism treatment. With the country’s biggest insurance provider making this important statement about equal access to autism treatment, we can hope to see other insurance companies follow suit in the near future. There is a new precedent for autism treatment being established as we speak.
This news signals a turning point in the public discussion of autism. By normalizing treatment for this common disability, we can begin to work toward more effective solutions for more people on the spectrum. I am elated to share UnitedHealthcare’s ABA coverage news, and I look forward to it helping more people get the right insurance to access proper treatment and services. Families looking to choose the right insurance plan can start by visiting the Mental Health & Autism Insurance Project guide for helpful information on different options and benefits.
SAILS Group and Patterns, our ABA company, often work hand in hand with customizing this type of autism care for individuals and families. We look forward as an organization to facilitating rehabilitation and treatment for people across the country, in all 50 states, who need a helping hand in caring for those living with autism.