COVID-19’s Implications on Free Appropriate Public Education with Gary Mayerson

I’m welcoming esteemed lawyer in the autism world, Gary Mayerson, back for a second interview! Gary had just finished his second book for children with autism when COVID-19 swooped in and changed everything, so he paused the publication of Autism’s Declaration of Independence to address the pandemic’s impact on the autism community and how a free appropriate public education fits into the new virtual world we live in.

I’ve been in the online education space since 2015, so I know that there are definite advantages to using the internet as a medium to reach more people. From Gary’s perspective, there are also benefits to moving IEP meetings online. But of course, there are many, many drawbacks to online instruction for both children with autism and their parents. Struggling to get children to pay attention to a device, removing parents from their support network, and providing therapy across a screen to an uncooperative child are just a few examples of how online school can be a struggle for the autism community.

And while every child is guaranteed access to a free appropriate public education, there is some difficulty in translating an IEP into remote instruction. After all, how do you track success on virtual instructions? School districts must flex to deal with the pandemic, but they also have to deal with budget constraints and public health mandates. It is definitely not an ideal situation.

Gary’s newest book tackles some of these questions but also addresses some of the more difficult problems facing children with autism as they transition into adulthood. How can children with autism stay safe from the police? What will their living situations look like? What can we do to protect adults with autism from sexual abuse?

For over 20 years, Gary has dedicated his law practice Mayerson & Associates to representing children with autism. In addition to advocating for them in the public education space, he’s also represented them in criminal cases. His book and his current advocacy are focused on helping individuals with autism transition successfully to adulthood where they can work meaningful jobs and live as independently as possible.


In 2000, Gary Mayerson founded Mayerson & Associates as the first law firm in the nation dedicated to the representation of individuals with autism. To date, Gary and his staff have assisted more than 1200 families in 35 states and are responsible for more than 150 federal court decisions, including the first “autism” case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Gary is the author of “How to Compromise With Your School District Without Compromising Your Child” and a newly released second book, “Autism’s Declaration of Independence”.


  • Surprising benefits from COVID-19 for students with IEPs.
  • Concrete tips for protecting a child with autism from police brutality.
  • Why new ADL skills need to be taught during COVID-19.
  • Options for children with autism as they transition into adulthood.

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Transcript for Podcast Episode: 091
COVID-19's Implications on Free Appropriate Public Education with Gary Mayerson
Hosted by: Dr. Mary Barbera

Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast episode number ninety-one. And today I have a returning guest, Gary Mayerson, who is an attorney with Mayerson and Associates in New York City. And the reason I wanted to have Gary back on the show, he is on episode number forty-three. Back last year in 2019. But I wanted to have Gary on again because he wrote this great new book called Autism's Declaration of Independence. And it's a very comprehensive book. And it was supposed to come out, supposed to be printed right before COVID struck. And so it was halted and lots of COVID information.

Mary: So we're going to talk about the COVID implications of IEPs and all kinds of services, whether virtual instruction counts during IDA and FAPE in all kinds of things. We're also going to talk about some general issues in terms of transitioning to adulthood, bullying and all kinds of things. So it's a fascinating interview with Gary Mayerson. So let's get to that now.

Mary: So, Gary, you are one of my few guests that I've actually had on twice. So welcome back to the podcast.

Gary: Thank you. I'm honored to be back.

Mary: Awesome. So the reason I wanted to have you back was last time you were on episode number 43. So And last time we talked about you were in the process of writing a book and it's now out. It's called Autism's Declaration of Independence: Navigating Autism in the Age of Uncertainty. And interesting time to write such a book with the whole COVID pandemic going on. So can you tell us about your book and how you started writing it and then what happened when COVID came down the line?

Gary: Sure. The book was largely going to be my attempt to put us forward and go towards the position of independence, greater levels of independence and self-sufficiency. And I obviously learned a lot over the last 20 or 30 years of educating students with autism and what methods worked and what didn't work. And I originally was going to be moving the book towards more of an outcome approach. That we should be looking at the outcomes, whether it's transition to adulthood or whatever it is. When the child exits the educational system at age 21, they should be able to graduate to something. So the outcome was very important. And I wanted to write a book that would talk more about the outcome and how to get to the outcome that everybody wants for their child obviously.

Gary: Within just literally a week or two of the publication date or the one who was going to go to press, COVID 19, came to our shores with a real vengeance. And it was obvious that we had to say something about COVID 19. But there really wasn't that much to say at that time because we really didn't know what the impact would be. Everything was exploding all over the country and so was the uncertainty that is part of the title was the uncertainty that I was writing about. But many of the things which I was writing about back in April and May, which have now in the book, many of them have come to fruition. It is coming out almost exactly the way I sort of predicted it would happen. So it's still unfolding today, obviously.

Mary: Yeah. And I didn't have a chance to read the whole book yet. I looked at the very comprehensive table of contents and I started reading the book and kind of right away, I was alarmed to find out that back when the CARES Act was being negotiated and passed, it's a two point two trillion dollar CARES Act, somehow it started to get involved that the IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, was suddenly at risk of really falling apart and being waived. Can you tell us about how you found out about that? And, you know, it's kind of scary when these big packages, whatever it is, are passed because people put a lot of stuff in them that could really impact our lives.

Gary: Well, this is a bullet, a gigantic bullet that the disability community dodged. And this story is really is actually quite shameful because when this disaster of an epic of a pandemic struck, there were some in Congress that thought, we have to come up with these loan packages and we're giving trillions of dollars away and we're going to be paying people six hundred dollars a week for unemployment and all the money that was being pumped in. Somebody, particularly Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee, decided that it would be a great idea if we could get rid of some of the aspects of the IDEA statute.

Gary: And somehow balance the budget of our country on the backs of the children that the IDEA statute was meant to serve and protect. So initially, Senator Alexander proposed a legislative, small legislative provision in the CARES Act that would have given Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, full authority to designate what sections of IDEA she thought should be waived. And that originally the way it was written is if that happened, DeVos would have been able to knock out gigantic sections of the IDEA statute and leave people without any of these protections.

Gary: Well, there was a lot of there was a lot of anger and discussion about that. And so the way that the statute was ultimately modified, the proposal was that the secretary DeVos would have 30 days to identify for Congress those provisions of idea that she thought should be waived. That was a little bit better, but it still left open a gigantic thread that that she would do that. And then as soon as she would identify these provisions, it was just a matter of time before Congress would pass those provisions and that we would be missing gigantic sections of the IDEA section. There was a tremendous outcry. Well, the 30 days came and went. And surprisingly, secretary DeVos did not make any major changes or didn't recommend any major changes to the IDEA statute, leaving the protections largely intact.

Gary: So, you know, most people don't really know the backstory of that. But that was a really close call for our community. I think that it almost was a complete disaster, but I don't know what exactly happened. I know that disability groups, including our firm, got very active in opposing what was going on. But Secretary DeVos decided not to take this on. And we still have today all the protections. And parents should know that, you know, the virus did not wipe out the IDEA protections. The IDEA statues protections are there. They're in full force and effect. And parents should not hesitate to invoke their protections when they need to.

Mary: Yes. So, you know, as we're recording this, kids are beginning to go back to school and, you know, we're kind of a little bit ahead of schedule, so this probably won't come out until September. So virtual instruction versus in-person instruction and like, how is that a free, appropriate public education? Especially when these kids are very severely impacted by autism and they need their parent to basically sit with them to do instruction of any kind.

Gary: Yeah, we hear a lot of conflicting stories about virtual instruction, remote instruction, telehealth instruction, it's all the same. So many of the children that we serve have reported varying degrees of success with this technology. So much depends on all the different factors. How good of a surrogate teacher the parent may be in getting their child to attend? It's all about attending. I mean, it's not about attendance. It's about attending. Especially when you're dealing with the autism population. And many children with autism, as you know, have great difficulty with distractibility and attentional issues to begin with. And that's even when there is a one on one instructional support right there, right there at their side.

Gary: So we've heard some conflicting stories. Some parents report that their children have actually done OK with the remote instruction. I would say the majority are reported problems, that there've been problems. And Amy Davies Lacky, Dr. Lacky of the Manhattan Children's Center, wrote a chapter in my book about the whole issue, about remote instruction and how difficult it is to measure success. How do you measure? How do you go about measuring progress with this? Because it's one thing to say, well, the child had four hours of remote instruction. Well, did they did they learn anything? Did they pick up anything?

Gary: So how do you translate? How do you take the IEP and then take this virtual model of instruction and then move it into a remote setting like remote instruction and then have it be effective? That's the trick. And it is very difficult to affect that. It really is. So, you know, how do you track success? What about generalization? You know, you might be able to use it to proffer generalization, but it is not an ideal system, to be sure. And most parents that we talk to are looking for more in-person instruction model if their child is diagnosed with autism. Certainly.

Mary: And do you find some school districts are providing in person, even if they're not providing in-person full five days to typically developing kids? Are they providing that for kids with special needs? Or are they providing, OK. We'll send a personal care assistant into your home to provide the instruction via remote? And I think about half and half of our listeners are half parents, half professionals, mostly from the United States. But we have listeners from around the world. And, you know, some of the people listening don't have the protections of IDEA and free appropriate public education, which is an acronym FAPE. But most of the listeners probably do have those protections. But you can't get stuff if there's no stuff to be had. Like, I don't want to, you know, turn this into an episode where you're like having parents revolt against school districts for not providing FAPE when really nobody knows what to do.

Gary: Well, in New York City, where our office is located, for example, the administration I'm talking about the mayor's office and the Department of Education. They're convinced that schools are going to be opening in two weeks, three weeks, and that the teachers are going to be there. But the UFT, the United Federation of Teachers is saying we don't think it's safe enough to come back. We're telling our membership not to come. So if the teachers don't show up, then you're basically relegated to virtual instruction again. Anyhow, so, so much depends on something, you know, and may a little minor detail like are the teachers going to show up a little minor detail?

Gary: And listen, I can certainly understand from the teacher perspective, many of them have small children. You know, God forbid there should be someday an outbreak of the virus comes back with a resurgence. The children that go to school or they may be bringing it home into they're bringing the virus into their homes and infecting other people so that it is a it is a major issue. And I think that we'll know in two or three weeks if the teachers are going to actually show up. That's new. That's New York City. But in the suburbs, it's a mixed bag.

Gary: Many school districts are offering some kind of hybrid environment where there's going to be a couple of days of remote instruction, a couple of days and reduced hours and reduced number of children allowed in the classroom and at any one time for in-person instruction. So it's it runs the gamut. I think that, you know, every school district has its own method of how it's going to be approaching the problem. And it depends, again, largely depends upon like the rates of viral transmission. What's going on in your community. If you're in Florida or California right now, you might have a whole different approach than what's going on in New York or perhaps in in other states that have the virus relatively under control. Yeah.

Mary: So IEP meetings to process hearings like are they still going on?

Gary: That's the big surprise that by virtue of using the phone, I mean, it's just a lowly phone. Is that we're able to conduct IEP meetings. We're able to have hearings where I've had a number of hearings since March that I've done from my home, you know, by phone. And it is somewhat of a challenge to be able to determine witness credibility and witness demeanor. But other than that, the documents, the exhibits get circulated and disclosed days before the hearing, which is a five-day disclosure rule.

Gary: And by the time of the hearing, everybody knows what the evidence is and then you just have the people testify and you wait for the decision. So, yes, IEP meetings are actually, I think, easier to schedule now because they're not waiting for, oh the speech teacher can't make it or this person can't make it. There's no excuse because, you know, everyone can pretty much dial in now. So that's the that's the good news. The technology is very helpful in your IEP meetings and due process hearings.

Mary: So the legal situation is that if an IEP meeting is due, there's they're being held and they should be being held. And what about IEP is in general like now that say you're doing virtual instruction. Does the I do the IP goals change so that they work on more daily living skills, or do you work on more communication with the siblings who are also at home, or do you just leave the IEP and pretend like everything's normal?

Gary: Well, we can't pretend that everything's normal because it's not. Everything has changed. So, for example, you mentioned ADL skills. Before we would be teaching the ADL skills activities of daily living, such as getting dressed and undressed, hygiene, brushing of teeth, cooking, not cooking, just toileting skills and things like that. Okay. So now we have a whole new group of ADL skills that we must teach because it's potentially life threatening. How much distance stand between them and another person, whether or not to shake hands with somebody. Which of course we don't.

Mary: Mask wearing, like desensitization to mask wearing.

Gary: Exactly. Not only to put it on, but put her on and keep it on for hours at a time. That's it. That requires a lot of patience and skill. But this is a it is a gigantic safety issue that's in the IP least restrictive environment. It's obviously a big consideration. But are we really talking about plunking a kid in a classroom where there's twenty-five other students that are really close by? Probably not. With the distancing. Maybe that student will now have to be in a six, seven or eight student classroom, and that will have to do for at least restrictive environment because a least restrictive environment has to somehow interface with the with the safety issues so it's all reasonable.

Gary: Other accommodations, proximate seating, even you name the combination. It'll be affected largely it could be affected. So we're looking at IEPs with a new lens. Now, with the virus, I think that when the virus is gone, we'll be back to what was our prior normal. But right now, we have every single line item has to be revisited and revalued in accordance with what's going on the ground with the virus and the same issues that are tending to that. Sure. A whole new world.

Gary: So you do also talk in your book about residential placements and its effect with COVID. I just interviewed for episode number 86, Lisa C. who spent a year or more awaiting residential placement for her son, who is 19 or 20. And he finally did get placed a couple of weeks ago. But did COVID affect that, too? I know the waits have been extremely long anyway. So what's the deal with COVID and residential treatment?

Gary: Well, I'm just I can just tell you from our experience that what we've seen is an uptick in the demand. There was already strong demand for residential placements to begin with. But we've seen an uptick that as parents are home with it, with their students for months at a time that the need for residential becomes even more critical in a parent. So those parents who were kind of maybe on the fence a year ago. She is it is it too early to go residential or maybe we should wait another year? Many of those parents are pushing now to get in the door. So I think the demand has, as I've seen, an uptick in the demand.

Gary: And what we're also seeing is with our existing clients that are in these residential facilities that often because of the need to protect the whole, protect the entire school, the facility, that there are very almost draconian safety measures that are being implemented so that if you drop off your child, you may not be able to get back in to visit four months at a time because, you know, they have to protect everyone. And so that they're going to go a little bit overboard and probably in a good way to make sure that everyone stays safe. So I've heard some parents are called that. And we dropped off our son in X month. It's been five months. They still won't let us in.

Gary: But the answer has always been what we're trying to protect everyone. So that there are different limitations now in terms of access and egress into these facilities that parents did not have to face pre COVID. Wow. But the biggest changes is simply the demand. There is just greater demand than ever for residential placements for students who do need them.

Mary: And I see, you know, online a lot of parents who are really struggling with, you know, they used school as a six-hour break from their child who has high needs, needs constant supervision. The aggression that a child might have, might have had increases with the lack of a schedule and just all kinds of things. I really am seeing a lot of struggle with families. And there's just not much answers, you know.

Gary: Vincent Straley, who is the executive director of the New England Center for Children up in Southborough, Massachusetts, actually wrote a section of my book about what are some of the key factors to look for when you're considering residential placement, when is the time to be looking to residential? So, you know, I think Vinnie wrote a really a very nice point by point list of considerations that parents can turn to if they're thinking. Am I in that boat? Am I going residential? Should I be considering residential? It's a very difficult decision for anyone. And it's a serious decision that should not be taken lightly. But when you need it, you need it like now.

Mary: And then the waiting lists are atrocious, which is what Lisa said on podcast episode eighty-six, is even though it was clear that her son needed it. He ended up, you know, really because he had a medical history that people weren't comfortable with. And just like you said, once you finally make a decision like, yeah, that's what's right for our family. It's like, well, get in line and wait. And in those times when you're waiting, especially if your older child is aggressive, that is, you know, really challenging, especially if you're a single parent and you wake up in the middle of the night and your child is hovering above you with your hands around your neck.

Gary: We've seen situations like that. You can't wait until to get your child into a quality residential facility. And yet, you're right, you may have to wait months, if not longer, to have that shot.

Mary: Yeah. Yeah, it's really a challenge. So you've said so far that one of the good things about the situation now is easier to schedule IEP meetings, easier to use, you know, to process cases are going on. But besides that, are there any other things that are kind of swinging into a better situation?

Gary: There's one thing I could think of that would fit that criteria, which is the whole telehealth. Using the technology of telehealth, whether it's Zoom or some other similar technology for other purposes. For example, parent training and counseling. That is an ideal mechanism for parent training and counseling. And it could be either we have the benefit of time shifting. If somebody wants to give that training at eight o'clock at night and the parents are available, makes it easier to get it. What about sampling of transition situations? A student may be interested in working or interning at a radio station, but it may be very difficult to get out to the radio station.

Gary: What if a student is offered a school that there's no way to visit the school in person? But you might be able to take a virtual tour using zoom technology or speak with the principal or the teachers do to be able to consider whether that's an appropriate placement for your child. Grouped dyads and Triad's for speech language development. That is a perfect technology. So, you know, the list goes on and on. But basically I think that the remote instruction that is failing many of our students is not something to be thrown out, that we can use this technology to our advantage with so many other aspects where it's not a problem, where in fact, it's a plus. So I'm hoping and I'm thinking you're going to you're going to see much more telehealth technology being used for these to produce different functions because they're efficient and they work and they're inexpensive and they help the process along. Or even things probing for generalization. You know, there's no end to the additional uses of telehealth can put to barrier here?

Mary: Yeah. I think I've been in the online space for over five years, creating my first course in 2015 and during COVID especially we are seeing, especially with the toddlers preschool program and even for the verbal behavior bundle with parents and professionals. But they're coming for online learning because the conferences got canceled or moved, all to tell the health of the last minute. We have people from all over the world in different time zones accessing the training when it's appropriate for their own lives. And we've had a couple of really amazing success stories, including podcast number seventy-eight with Michelle C, who got her daughter diagnosed at 24 months right before COVID. And then the COVID shutdown happened.

Mary: So no one, you know, starting out she was not able to get therapists. It's a two-month training program. And within two months, her daughter, she reported her daughter went from two words in an hour to five hundred words and phrases an hour, you know, all with her implementing. And that's all detailed in episode number 78, which we can link in the show notes. But I know I posted in both my Facebook communities the ones that are attached to the courses, like what are your struggles since COVID? And within days, like three of the nine comments in this one group said, I considered COVID a blessing because I'm finally like learning what I should do to help my child.

Mary: Like before COVID, I was sending them for an hour of OT and an hour of speech. And he wasn't making much progress. But now he's home. He's with me. I'm learning. I'm doing. And I'm seeing the progress. And so, you know, I'm used to working from home. This is what I do all day long. I spread the word through online courses and podcasts and video blogs and writing a second book like you write on your tail off. Right. And my second book. And, you know, to really empower parents, I do think that that's a really good point. Is that one of the good things is that this pandemic. And hopefully it's our last. And hopefully it goes away as soon as possible.

Mary: Has shown us the power of learning online, whether that's learning in grade school, high school, college, learning through autism courses, learning through advocacy courses, whatever. If there is a will, there's a way. And I think we should embrace the technology to say, how can we use this? And those kinds of things aren't going to change when we do get to go back to more in-person services.

Gary: And thank God that this technology was available when this struck. Imagine 20 years ago the pandemic, the last big one was back in 1918. Imagine having a pandemic like this coming in 1985 or 1990. We would have been really dead in the water educationally because we wouldn't have any method to do this remote instruction. We would've been caught dead.

Mary: Yeah. And I've been using Zoom for, you know, four years, three years, whenever it started. And so I know Zoom went completely crazy with new subscribers and stuff but. Yeah, you're right. Thank God they were ready and thank God for Facebook and for everything. Google meets and Google Docs and all the technology that some people are just learning about for the first time. But yeah. So I think those are good things to address. So let's talk about like non COVID issues in your book, including bullying. Yeah, there's a few before because you said you had almost a 200-page book just pre-COVID and then you added some stuff with COVID. But your book addresses bullying and sexual assault. And how big of a problem is that for students with disabilities?

Gary: Well, I think obviously bullying is much more a problem and frequent than sexual assault. Sexual assault happens and it unfortunately happens more often than we would like to think that it happens. But the bullying is a rampant issue even today, and it's gotten better. But you're a child with a disability, particularly autism, is like likely to by a factor of four, four to one to have more opportunities to be bullied than a student that's typically developing. So, you know, that statistic itself puts our population very much at risk. And so we had a case back in maybe about six, seven years ago in the Second Circuit that established that that bullying is a FAPE deprivation. And before that, there actually had not been a case that said that bullying was a FAPE depravation and that, you know, free and appropriate public education.

Gary: And that was important because bullying was being treated as some kind of inevitable rite of passage. So we had a case in a very short in New York City where the city was denying that there was any bullying going on. The parents alleged that had been going on for two years. The case went all the way up and down the line to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the Court of Appeals. And judge, Jack Weinstein, who is famous Judge Weinstein who wrotethe briefs Brown versus Board of Education, was the judge who decided this case and said, of course, has been bullying, has been bullying for two years. The child was deprived of FAPE. And one of the things he said in there, which goes connects up with the COVID issue, is he said children have a right to be safe at school.

Gary: Children have a right to be to be educated in safety. So that ties right into the duty of the school district to take a reasonable precautions to protect the safety of the students who attend and their families. When the kids come home. So bullying is a problem. I think it is less today. We have statutes. Most states now have anti-bullying statutes. Pennsylvania has one. New Jersey has. I mean, most states have them. And there's more sensitivity to anti-bullying efforts. One of my friends, Michael Drive Blatt, wrote a chapter in the book about bullying and what parents could do to spot when bullying is occurring and what to do when you when you feel that there's bullying going on in the school. What parents can do step by step to address it and take care of that problem.

Gary: Sexual assault is a is a whole other issue. We don't like to think that this ever happens, but it does happen, not frequently, but it does happen. And we have a there's a chapter in the book about a case that we had in New Haven, Connecticut, where a student with major communication challenges was being sexually assaulted by their aide. Their one to one aide in school and the school district denied that there was any sexual abuse going on. We actually had to have a jury trial in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, for over a week. And the jury came back with the verdict that, yes, unfortunately, in fact, there was sexual abuse of this particular student.

Mary: I know there are stats out there that show that people with autism, adults with autism, are X amount more likely to be sexually assaulted or abused. Do you know any of those stats?

Gary: Again, it's a multiple. There's about three or four times more likely to happen to somebody with a developmental disability, including autism wife. Because people with developmental disabilities make great victims. Unfortunately, they don't complain. They don't have. May not have the capacity to to complain and they may not have expressive language. And even when they do complain, they're often not believed. So that people who are the perpetrators select people with disabilities precisely because they are the perfect victims. So you never want to have your child in a position where they're alone with another adult in a room where nobody there's no accountability.

Gary: You want there to be transparency. You want your child to be in the presence of other adults, then then nothing's gonna happen. These things, they have to normally happen in private. And that might mean like an empty classroom or a room in the basement. But it's a crime of opportunity. And it just takes a minute or two to happen. And that's what happened in her case. It was literally just, you know, few minutes, boom, it happened.

Mary: And as a behavior analyst and a registered nurse, I have learned that the best way to kind of prevent sexual abuse is not only to, you know, have multiple people around, but also to teach the child how to be independent with toileting, showering, dressing, so that there is not the opportunity for, you know, it's it doesn't become normal for people to be assisting and touching during dressing and that sort of thing.

Mary: And I think as you get older, you know, people move into group homes and that sort of thing. There's not an abundance of people around in and, you know, then the risk could be higher. But I think the best way, especially for poor kids with limited cognitive ability to explain when to report or what is appropriate, what is not appropriate to get them as independent as possible with these healthcare tasks, I think is a job, because many of our list, most of our listeners, are parents or professionals who are going to, you know, well, how can we prevent it? Not to just be like, oh, my God, you know, three to four times more likely to be sexually assaulted. It's like, you know, we can't get paralyzed with fear. We just have to be like, OK, how can we have a way to prevent it as much as possible?

Gary: Exactly. I think you're 100 percent correct. In the particular story that's in the book, the student actually comes to his parents one morning at breakfast to report enough facts that the parents could figure out that there was an abuse situation going on and it apparently had not been going on for very long. So it was caught at a very early stage because the student had sufficient communication skills and had known and had been taught about good touch, bad touch. And so that was important for the child to be sensitized enough to be able to know something's not right. Mm hmm.

Mary: Yeah. So in your book, you talk about confrontations with the police. And is that something parents should be concerned about, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the police brutality cases and all that stuff? But I also know as a behavior analyst that kids with autism are much more at risk too to be misunderstood by police officers and the justice system.

Gary: Yeah, we've profiled two cases that we were involved with. And it is a growing problem because people in the autism community with inclusion and so forth, are out in the community doing community things, you know, like like everyone else. And so to that extent, there is sort of a greater risk. And I'll tell you what. When a police officer sees something that he or she believes is unusual, they will often be barking out all kinds of commands to the person who is the potential suspect.

Gary: Let's see some I.D.. What's your name? Where do you live? What are you doing here? Come over here. Stand over here and these. And if you don't comply immediately or if you don't give a response immediately, the police officer might believe that the person is being disrespectful to the process. And then that's how the confrontation gets started. In the particular in one of the cases that we do profile. There was a student named Reginald Latson in Virginia. We were involved with this case and he would like to go to the library. His thing was going to the library and reading books. Imagine what a crime. African-American young man. So somebody on the streets saw this African-American young man waiting to get into the library because it wasn't time for the library to open and reported that they saw a black man with a gun standing outside the library. There was no gun.

Gary: So the police officer got a legitimate report from somebody that said they say, look, there's a man with a gun outside the library and he thinks that there's a real threat to the library. So he shows up at the library. He says, what's your name? Giving all these commands. Stand over here. Come over here. Do you have a show? Give me I.D.. And the Reginald Latson did not comply fast enough. He was a little frozen. He just couldn't move. And so the police officer thought that he was being disrespected. He took Reginald and he threw them around and placed him on the hood of the police cruiser. And that's when the struggle began.

Gary: And Reginald and the police officer tussled and they, somehow falling to the ground. The police officer, unfortunately, hit his head on the pavement. And with such force that he became ultimately partially paralyzed for life. So when the rest of the police showed up, Reginald was arrested for resisting arrest and everything else. And assault. Yes, and because the because the police officer had been seriously injured, was facing major jail time. We're talking 10 years. And Reginald had Asperger's. He was sentenced to two years. I got involved with Bob Wright and Suzanne Wright of Autism Speaks. We petitioned the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, to commute his sentence from two years to a facility, a therapeutic pubic facility in Florida, which he did, thank God, because this guy would never have survived prison for all those years.

Gary: He would have died in prison. There's no question he would not have survived. We have another situation in the book where one of our one of our client families is profiled who lives in Alaska. And he was getting the mail in front of his own house and was doing something else that was a little unusual. He liked to go into people's cars on the street to make sure that they...he was a quirky guy, that the seat belts were positioned properly. The rearview mirror was position properly. He basically would go into people's cars and set them, set them up for them.

Gary: Somebody saw him going into a car and reported it to the police who was a visitor in the area. Same kind of thing. The police show up. There was a confrontation. Next thing you know, Nick is on the ground being sprayed in the face with pepper spray. Saying, you can see you can hear him on the video and the body cam video saying, I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go. Over and over again. So it is a problem. And the police need more training to be able to identify people that are on the street that are likely to have some kind of challenge or special needs that has to be accommodated and not immediately go to 10 when you don't get answers. And so forth.

Mary: Yeah. And I know we the Autism Society in Berks County, years ago, we bought many hundreds of copies of Bill Daviss Book on training first responders on about autism. It was a very good book. And Dennis, I can't remember his last name. Who else?

Gary: Dennis Dubon.

Mary: Yeah. That's the name. Dennis Dubow hasn't that has a book on training first responders. So that's a practical tip that you can do. Is it even if you don't want to make it like buying 100 books and, you know, a big campaign? One of the things that I recommend you do, whether you have a young child or an older child or a child or adult with autism in your community is, you know, make sure your neighbors know what the what the issues are. Make sure your neighbors are watching for wandering or, you know, this car behavior and that sort of thing.

Mary: And also make sure that the local police, you know, register them with the local police. There's a app called Something nine smart nine one one. I think that you can kind of list Lucas, his name, his birth date, his level of impairment. I mean, that's not going to help in every situation. But I think the more you can communicate your child or adult's deficits to your local police and that sort of thing, it can only help. And then also to train the police and train other first responders. And then if you have, you know, a lower, lower language child or adult, you know, they're gonna probably be with care provider. But, you know, the care provider could you know, the child could get aggressive if it's the older you know, if it's an adult and they get aggressive with the care provider, you know, nine one one can be called like.

Mary: And, you know, autism, it doesn't look necessarily like there's anything wrong. So you have that. You have you know, he looks like he's OK. And he is not having any features that would alert somebody from the start like, oh, there's something wrong. So those are just some tips from a behavior analyst and a mom point of view that, you know, it's scary. And I don't want this whole episode to be like, oh, my God, I never thought of that going on as I have to worry about this. But, you know, it is important that we kind of open our eyes to some of these legal issues.

Gary: We're talking about reducing the threat of this happening. We're alerting parents not to aggravate them or to give them further anxiety, but rather desensitize them to issues that they could they could eliminate a lot of this threat. And if you live in a small town, for example, you may want to bring your child literally to the police station, introduce them around so they feel more comfortable when they see the person dressed like that on the street. These first responders, that they'll be OK with it. And the first responders in the school town will pass the word around that there's this student and child that has special needs. And I think that, you know, it just reduces the overall threat. So it's hard to do that. Obviously, in an urban environment where you're never going to introduce your child to all the different police personnel, it can happen. But, you know, all these are good tips to reduce the threat. Sure.

Mary: Yeah. Yeah. So do you think with budget cuts and funding issues, some related to COVID, some related to just life in the big city, how do you think that's going to affect, you know, programing and transition supports? And I think you say in your book that fifty thousand individuals transition to adulthood every year, that, you know, the tsunami has come. And it's just, you know, I know in Lucas's situation, his day, the place he went during the day. The pre-vocational program or sheltered workshop or whatever you want to call it. I mean, they closed down during COVID and now we're reevaluating that placement and so like a lot, there's just a lot of things happening. But, you know, I'm sure funding is also another aspect of that.

Gary: You know, there's funding and then there's investment. So you mentioned the fifty thousand, that's fifty thousand Americans with autism will transition to adulthood every single year, leaving the IDEA protections, leaving the school district, the school age entitlements and moving into eligibility situations. So that population has about an 85 percent unemployment rate. Eighty five percent. And the general population? Well, it depends on what week we look at it, but it's somewhere between five percent and that's a 20 percent, maybe a little more than that. I mean, it's just there are a lot of people that are unemployed, but people are freaked out that don't know typical people are unemployed at that rate. Imagine how we should be feeling that eighty five percent of our population is unemployed.

Gary: So part of my book is this idea that when you graduate, you should be able to graduate to something. That doesn't mean necessarily gainful employment in every instance. But there are many, many more jobs that people with autism or developmental disabilities can accomplish and be productive members of society being paid as opposed to having to be funded in terms of the cost. So, yes, we're still here in New York. We're looking at a state budget deficit of 16 billion dollars. New York City's budget deficit is between eight and nine billion dollars. That will have an impact. And I think that it will come out of there. They're the height of trend. Things like transition supports and transition training and so forth. But if we start to look at the transition support network as an investment in this in this population, that is, then many of them will be able to get gainful employment of some capacity.

Gary: Particularly when the virus is over, that it will be less money spent by society overall looking than if you just treat the whole thing is like we just have to keep throwing money at this population until they're not on the planet anymore. And this is just to me as a very wasteful missed opportunity that people who are doing that, they see it in action. I'm the I'm the board chair of a not for profit in Manhattan called Job Path, which for 40 years has been finding jobs for people with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Gary: Up until COVID hit, they had two hundred and fifty people with autism running around with great jobs at museums, radio stations, restaurants, office buildings, law firms, even the NBA. We're talking about people making investment in this group. So we shouldn't hesitate to spend, not be afraid of looking at these big price tags because they could really pay off in the long run, particularly when you're talking about fifty thousand people per year transitioning to adulthood. The question in my mind is that can we afford it, but really, can we afford not to make that investment, right?

Mary: Or how do we get this at least tackled to some respect? This actually transitions really nicely into our final couple questions. I'm interested in looking at Job Path. Where do we go for information about Job Path? Obviously, very few of our listeners are actually in New York City where they could benefit directly. But, you know, looking at programs like this might give you ideas about some situations where you could help your own child or your clients. So how do we find out more about job path specifically?

Gary: Well, you go into the jump pit Web site to find out what their model looks like is Job Path NYC online. And basically, they have a like a mentoring job coach situation where first they find an employer that has needs. Then they assess that the strengths and capabilities of the potential employee, they make a match and then they stay on the job for a period of time, whether it's weeks or months, to make sure that the that the individual with autism learns the job can perform but satisfactorily to the satisfaction of the employer. And then it's evaluated for the employer. So it's not a sort of charity situation. It's value added for a real job.

Mary: So it's just great. Which is great. And it's one of probably many organizations in the country, in the world that are doing great things. So wherever you're listening, I would encourage you to check out Job Path NYC and we'll put that in the show notes as well. So people can find your book. It's over 230 pages long. It's a great book. I've only read a little bit of it, but I know that it is filled with great stuff. Your first book, How to Compromise with your school district without compromising your Child. I can recite that title by heart because it was such a Bible for me. That was published in 2008, actually 2004. And that book it was and still is really great. And this book just seems like it's it's definitely next level. And I think the additions of the COVID information are super helpful. Also, the book is available at, How about people finding you and your work through your law offices? How would they get in touch with you?

Gary: You can go onto my office's Web site. Www, probably don't need that anymore.

Mary: Awesome. And just to wrap it up, part of my podcast goals are for parents and professionals to be less stressed and lead happier lives. So I know we gave some tips on how to help the kids, but what kind of advice do you have for parents and professionals. Any self-care tips or stress reduction tips that you can think up?

Gary: I was gonna say don't put on the television, but I think that might be too flip. So I would just say there's only so much that parents can do. I think that parents try to take on every single possible thing that they can do, and they can they could be submerged in the process. I think that if parents take a few things, it's almost like if you have 10 homework assignments, you'll do none of them. If you bring it all home, you bring three home, you'll get a you'll get three of them done. Sotake a step, take another step. Take another step. But don't try to do all the steps all at once. It's just it just can be.

Gary: And particularly in this environment with COVID where we live in an unprecedented time. I don't think that our community has ever been as stressed out as it is right now. And I agree with you. I hope that it does end soon. But I think parents are remarkably resilient and they're flexible and they have tremendous courage. And they obviously love their children very much because I've seen what parents are doing right now. They're doing the best that they can. And that's all you can really do.

Mary: Well, I think that's a great way to end this podcast interview, I really appreciate your time. It's been a real pleasure both for your first episode, which is episode number 43, as well as for this episode to get to know you better. You've been you know, I followed your book since the very beginning. And you've been a great mentor to me, even though I didn't know you at the time. But it's been a real pleasure to get to know you better. And I can see us collaborating in the future with any efforts to improve the lives of children and adults with autism. That's my goal. Fullest potential. Be as safe as possible, as independent as possible, and as happy as possible for all of them. And so I know that's your goal, too. And I really am looking forward to diving in very deeply to your new book, Autism's Declaration of Independence. You can get it at So have a good day. Thanks for your time.