Thursday, August 14, 2014

People with Developmental Diabilities and the Police - A Safety Issue

One year ago on Long Island, a 29-year old resident of a group home for people with developmental disabilities died after police used stun guns and pepper spray during a 10-minute struggle in the home where he lived.

Dainell Simmons had lived in the group home in Suffolk County on Long Island since it opened six years earlier. Police reported that staff at the facility called 911 to request assistance transporting him to a psychiatric emergency room after he "created a disturbance" in the facility, running around and banging into the walls for about half an hour.

By the time police arrived, Dainell had calmed down and was sitting on a couch talking to staff. Police claim he assaulted them when they attempted to handcuff him for transport to the emergency room. A struggle ensued, and police used stun guns at least twice, as well as pepper spray. After being handcuffed, Simmons lost consciousness and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Police characterized him as "emotionally disturbed," a term that appeared in many of the news stories. Comments following one of the stories on the web included two former staffers who said they knew Simmons, and that he was diagnosed with autism. Both said that, handled competently by properly trained professionals, the situation could have been resolved without the use of weapons.

In response to Simmons' death, one parent of an adult group home resident began a petition to mandate training for first responders on interacting with people with disabilities.

In February, 2013, a 26-year old man with Down Syndrome died of asphyxiation after police restrained him face-down on the ground when he failed to leave a theater at the end of a movie. The death was ruled a homicide, but a grand jury failed to indict any of the officers who responded.
In Toronto in 2011, a 45-year old man who was unable to speak as a result of traumatic brain injury he sustained as a child was beaten with batons when he failed to respond to police questions. He collapsed and died later, possibly of a brain hemorrhage.

The civil rights movement for people with disabilities resulted in massive "deinstitutionalization"--the closure of long-term facilities where people with disabilities were locked up and forgotten--and the right for people with developmental and psychiatric disabilities to live in the community. What was supposed to follow--support and services in the community to ensure the opportunity for full and equal engagement in society--has never fully materialized.

While the demand for more training for police as a short-term response may prevent some tragedies such as the killing of Dainell Simmons, longer-term solutions involve more and better housing with clinical support available at home, and more and better care in the community. This would minimize the need for trips to the psychiatric emergency room and short-term hospitalizations, which are traumatic and disruptive of people's lives.

Crisis response, when still needed, should be performed and supervised by trained, knowledgeable people, rather than police officers primarily trained to take lawbreakers into custody.

High Temperatures on School Buses

The Office of the Public Advocate, Leticia James, has received complaints regarding high temperatures on school buses. Children with special needs who receive bus service may have certain accommodations, such as an air conditioned bus, on their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). If your child requires a properly air conditioned bus but has not been provided with one, or if your child is riding a bus with a broken air conditioner, Public Advocate James' staff will mail you a thermometer that can record temperature changes by the hour and store the information. The thermometer can be easily attached to your daughter's or son's clothing and is a great way to get an accurate read on the temperatures within buses.

To be mailed a thermometer, please email the following information to :

1) Your name

2) Your address

3) Your child's name

4) School

5) Bus Route

6) Bus Company

7) Bus #

8) Complaint #s

9) Documents

10) Your child's IEP

11) Any correspondence concerning your child's transportation

If you know of other parents who might have the same problem with poor or non-working air conditioners on buses, please forward this email.

Safety Kit for Parents of Children and Youth with Autism

We are all aware of situations via the media where children with autism wander off from their parents, programs and places. Sometimes this behavior has tragic results as in the case of Avonte Oquendo, a teenager with autism who liked to run and was able to leave the school building he was in. Unfortunately, wandering behavior resulted in the death of this young man.

For families affected by autism, having a safety plan is always important and the organization, Autism Speaks, the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization, has risen to the occasion by providing to parents and caretakers of individuals with autism, the "Big Red Safety Box." This is a valuable tool designed to educate, raise awareness and share simple tools that can assist in preventing, and responding to, wandering-related incidents.

The Big Red Safety Box contains educational materials, such as a caregiver checklist, a Family Wandering Emergency Plan, a sample IEP letter that can be used to implement prevention and response protocols in school, along with safety products, including two GE Door Alarms, one Who's Shoe ID, and five laminated adhesive stop sign visual prompts for doors and windows.

The Autism Initiative Program of Sinergia has received a number of these safety kits that have been distributed to families of children and youth with autism. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, please contact:

It is very important to note that if you have a family member who experience behavior that interferes with their ability to recognize danger or stay safe, it is critical that you maintain close supervision and security in all surroundings and situations. For more information and ways to prevent wandering-related incidents, please visit You can also find additional resources at:

Inclusion of English Learners with Disabilities in English Language Proficiency Assessment.

The office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), in July released guidance to States and LEA’s regarding inclusion of English Learners with Disabilities in English Language Proficiency Assessments. To read the full document……….

For parents of EL’s with disabilities, two important questions regarding the role of the IEP team were included in the question and answer guidance document to States and LEA’s.

The Role of the IEP Team
What is the responsibility of the IEP Team in determining how ELs with disabilities participate in the annual State ELP assessment?
Decisions about the content of a student’s IEP, including whether a student must take a regular State assessment (in this case, the ELP assessment), with or without appropriate accommodations, or an alternate assessment in lieu of the regular ELP assessment, must be made by the student's IEP Team. These decisions cannot be made unilaterally by a single teacher or other school employee outside of the IEP process described in 34 CFR §§300.320 through 300.324.
The IEP Team is responsible for developing the IEP for each student with a disability, including each EL with a disability, at an IEP Team meeting which includes school officials and the child’s parents.
(i)     A statement of any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and districtwide assessments consistent with section 612(a)(16) of the Act; and

Should IEP Teams for ELs with disabilities include persons with expertise in second language acquisition?
Yes. It is important that IEP Teams for ELs with disabilities include persons with expertise in second language acquisition and other professionals, such as speech-language pathologists, who understand how to differentiate between limited English proficiency and a disability. The participation of these individuals on the IEP Team is essential in order to develop appropriate academic and functional goals for the child and provide specially designed instruction and the necessary related services to meet these goals.
It is important that IEP Teams for ELs with disabilities include a public agency representative who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of ELs with disabilities. This representative should be knowledgeable about the availability of agency resources needed to enable ELs with disabilities to meaningfully access the general education curriculum. This will ensure that the services included in the EL student’s IEP are appropriate for the student and can actually be provided.

Source:  Questions and Answers Regarding Inclusion of English Learners with Disabilities in English Language Proficiency Assessments – Guidance to Sates and LEA’s- Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services ; July 2014. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Surf For All

On June 23, 2014 Sinergia took seventeen children with disabilities and families and several adults from our Day Program surfing at Long Beach, Long Island.  The event was hosted by a non- profit organization, Surf For All that promotes surfing for children and adults with developmental disabilities. It is truly inspiring to see how the children and adults benefit from this activity.

The instructors were led by Cliff Skudin. All the surfing instructors  are first rate and lovingly took out people on the surf boards, including one child who uses a wheel chair and an individual who is blind with  intellectual disabilities.

Thanks also to  lifeguard chief Paul Gallespi and Bryant Brattish.  The trust that the participants  exhibited as they faced and felt the waves is remarkable and a tribute to the fine instructors of Surf For All.  The participants all received caps, sweatshirts and wrist bands.

The citizens of Long Beach have opened their a
rms and hearts to Sinergia. After the surfing, the group was led to Gino's Pizza by police escort and patrolwomen Kelly Graham presented toy police badges, coloring books and crayons to the children.

We thank Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, Len Torres, all the instructors and the police Department of Long Beach for making this a memorable occasion.

There will be two more surfing events in July 21 and August 18.  If your family is interested in attending either date, please contact Godfrey Rivera, 212-643-2840.  First come first served.

Autism Arts Program

The Autism Initiative Program operated a special project that   offered workshops, resources and a support group to parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) Paola Jordan, the coordinator established a collaboration with the Healing Arts Initiative (HAI) that provides arts programming  to schools and  non-profit organizations.  The 12-week program met weekly from March 11 through June 3, 2014.
The art program enabled children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their parents, opportunities to engage in an afterschool art project with the children designing and making their own puppets. Eight parents and their children participated in this art program; one mother stated "this will be the first time that I will participate in a therapeutic activity with my son rather than waiting next door while the therapist does her work".  The participation of the parents was a major component of the art program which reinforced the social and communication skills taught and which they could then put in practice in their homes.

The parents were encouraged to engage in the promotion and development of language and socials skills of
their children. A professional puppeteer created a variety of activities that lent themselves to these goals including storytelling, singing and other interactive activities. The parents enjoyed the opportunity to be engaged with their children as they worked together to create their puppets.
A video was produced of this program that will give you a good idea of the project and its intended outcomes.

Here is a link to the video on YouTube:

Sinergia's Autism Art program

A Day at the Beach

A day at the beach is always an uplifting and enjoyable experience. This trip to Orchard Beach is no exception. Pictured is the first outing that the Residential consumers had for the 2014 summer season. Blue skies, salty air and good friends were ingredients that made the day perfect for all who participated.

The residential program at Sinergia encourages individuals to take the opportunity to enjoy  natural and cultural experiences in order to lift their spirits and enrich their lives. The day was especially helpful in bringing consumers together so they could become more acquainted with one another. Everyday life keeps us all moving in different directions and the consumers also have a full day of programs, meetings and, doctor's appointments. An experience of nature and of community is the perfect remedy for the busy pace of life that the consumers can slip into while they grow toward their personal goals. Sinergia offers regular programs and experiences like this one
to enrich the lives of
participating consumers.