29 Child L. Prac. 1 (2010-2011)

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Vol. 29  No. 1

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March 2010

Helping Lawyers Help Kids

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Child Welfare System:
A Guide for Lawyers and Judges
by Emily Lechner

A utism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of
developmental brain disorders that affect a child's
behavior, and social and communication skills. Detectable at
age three years or earlier, this group includes autistic disorder
(autism), pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise
specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger's syndrome.

This article shares how lawyers and
judges who handle cases involving
children in the child welfare system
can help children with an ASD.
Know the statistics.
New data estimate that one in every
110 children is diagnosed with an
ASD, making it more common than
childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes,
and pediatric AIDS combined.'
The risk is three to four times
higher in males than females. Based
on this prevalence alone, it is prob-
able that many children in the child
welfare system are affected with an
ASD.
In addition, studies show that a
high percentage of children in the
child welfare system have develop-
mental delays, including an ASD. A
study2 using data from the National
Survey of Child and Adolescent
Well-Being (NSCAW) found that
one quarter of children in the child
welfare system had a developmental
delay. Children in the youngest age
group (0-2) were particularly likely
to have a developmental delay.

Despite these numbers, only one-
third of children with a delay were
receiving developmental services.
These numbers underscore the im-
portance of this issue among chil-
dren involved in the child welfare
system.
Learn to recognize the
signs of ASD.
Children with ASD demonstrate
deficits in social interaction and
communication, and engage in
repetitive behaviors or interests.
Each of these symptoms range from
mild to severe, and will present in
each child differently. Social indica-
tors of ASD are often apparent from
a young age. Some very young
children with ASD have difficulty
interacting and maintaining eye
contact with parents and caregivers.
As these children grow and de-
velop, their self-isolation and indif-
ference to human affection often
deepen. They may also have diffi-
culty regulating their emotions. For
example, they have a tendency to
lose control' in a new or
E-mail: childlawpractice staff.abanet.org

overwhelming environment, or
when angry and frustrated. This can
make social relationships difficult
for children with an ASD.'
Communication problems in
children with ASD are also often sa-
lient from a young age. Some chil-
dren diagnosed with an ASD never
speak, others babble for the first few
months and then stop, while still
others are delayed in developing
language. Some children with an
ASD develop echolalia, a language
disorder in which the young child
repeats everything she hears. Many
ASD children do not respond to
their names, and lose language
skills which they possessed earlier
in development.'
(Continued on page 6)
What's Inside:
2 CASE LAW UPDATE
9  Working to Help People
with Autism
10 HEALTH MATTERS
Positive Youth Development:
The Key to Keeping Youth
Out of the Juvenile Justice
System
14 POLICY UPDATE
Children of Incarcerated
Parents Promoting
Coordination across
Service Systems
Internet: http://,,'www.childlawpractice.org

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