Month: May 2012
Student loans discharged because debtor has Asperger’s
About $340,000 of debt were wiped away by Maryland judge
Carol Todd of Nottingham pursued college degrees “as a stepping stone toward a measure of liberation … and perhaps to help her achieve something closer to a normal life,” according to the May 17 opinion of Judge Robert A. Gordon, a bankruptcy judge for the District of Maryland. Asperger’s is an autism-spectrum disorder that is typified by problems with social interaction.
But the debt Todd racked up ended up complicating her life, Gordon said. He took a rare judicial step by deciding that the loans Todd took on were an “undue hardship.”
“It’s very difficult to discharge a student loan,” said Lawrence D. Coppel, a Baltimore attorney and founder of Maryland’s Bankruptcy Bar Association.
“The courts have applied a very strict standard to that exception,” said Coppel. “Most of the decisions that are published deny the discharge and refuse to find a hardship exception, even in cases where there’s clearly hardship — so the decision by Judge Gordon … is unique.”
Todd, who was 63 at the time of her student loan discharge trial in Nov. 2010, received a GED at 39 and began pursuing higher education.
She received an associate degree at Villa Julie College, now Stevenson University, and a bachelor’s degree at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, now Notre Dame of Maryland University. At Towson University, she obtained two master’s degrees.
She also enrolled at the University of Baltimore School of Law and Regent University, and took classes online at an unaccredited school. But after all that education, Todd was never able to keep a steady job.
“The thing to understand about Asperger’s is that it can impact people so differently,” said Barbara A. Bissonnette, a Massachusetts-based workplace coach for people with Asperger’s syndrome.
Some people with the syndrome can make six-figure salaries, she said, but many more have difficulty being successful in even entry-level positions.
It’s not uncommon for people with Asperger’s to be in financial straits, she said. Indeed, there seems to be an increasing number of educated people with Asperger’s syndrome who are having trouble finding work, Bissonnette said.
“Lately I’ve been seeing in my coaching practice many more young people, because there’s so much more awareness now and Asperger’s is diagnosed at a much younger age,” Bissonnette said.
When people are diagnosed at a younger age, they’re more likely to receive counseling and graduate from high school and college, she said. But those degrees don’t wipe away the social difficulties that people with Asperger’s face, which can be detrimental when they try to join the workforce, she said.
Todd could not be reached for comment. Frank E. Turney, a Catonsville-based attorney who represented Todd in her bankruptcy petition, did not respond to inquiries.
Marc E. Shach, a Baltimore-based attorney who represented one of Todd’s lenders, Access Group Inc., said his client is still reviewing the decision. He would not comment on whether Access Group intends to appeal the ruling.
Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for Maryland’s U.S. attorney’s office, which represented the U.S. Department of Education in the case, declined to comment on the judge’s ruling.
An attorney for Educational Credit Management Corp., a student loan guarantor that services loans during bankruptcy and that was also named as a defendant in Todd’s case, did not respond to requests for comment.
- Judge Rules Law School Student Does Not Have to Repay Loans (jdjournal.com)
I have wondered this for a while, and want to pose this question to families on the Spectrum: do any of your other (neurotypical) children display some autistic-like, or Asperger-like behavior? With the onset of the Internet, mobile devices, texting and social media, it seems that this generation’s teens, tweens and to a lesser extent, children have less, and crave less face-to-face interaction with their peers. Some will, in fact, go out of their way to avoid personal interaction.
Like most parents, we grew up with friends that we went to school with; we played both sports and games with them, and generally hung together as we made our way through middle school/junior high school, high school and beyond. We shared interests and made interpersonal bonds because we knew no other way.
The advent of technology has given our children the ability to communicated with someone thousands of miles away but in doing so, it robbed them of their social skills: speaking and writing to one another. One of my teenaged son’s handwriting resembles that of a grade schooler, often printing rather than writing in script; even when prompted to write in script, the letters often resemble the capital letter/lower case letter alphabet banners that hung on top of classroom blackboards. Now, this isn’t entirely of his own choosing; he happened to be in school as they too embraced technology, and began requiring work to be typed or printed. Reading his handwritten prose reminds me of reading the words my autistic son worked on so hard to produce, often with hand-over-hand guidance to form individual letters, words, and eventually sentences.
This post is really about how this generation’s adults-in-waiting have shied away from social interactions. They know all their friends email addresses and Facebook statuses, and even have their cellphone numbers, if only to send text messages to each other. A common conversation in my house goes like this:
Me: Did you call Jeffrey to hang out?
Son: He didn’t answer me. I texted him an hour ago.
Me: Why didn’t you call his house? Maybe he doesn’t have his phone with him.
Son: (no answer; tries texting again)
Me: (walks away, shaking my head in disbelief)
Our children are well-versed in texting, and mastered that skill years before I did, even before we had QWERTY keyboards or touchscreens on our phones. They seem content to ‘reach out and touch someone’ electronically, but balk at the notion of actually conversing. Anecdotally, it seems that my sons are more apt to send text messages, or email someone, as compared to their female cousins or peers, who seem to take to video chat apps like Oovoo or Skype, much more readily.
Yesterday we went out to a local restaurant to eat because the High School Music Dept. made an arrangement with the restaurant to donate 10% of each bill that was accompanied by a special flyer. Good food, good cause, and the place should be filled with many friends and acquaintances. After dining, we urged our sons to go say hello to their friends who were in the adjacent area/within viewing distance.
“No.” “I don’t want to.” “I don’t have anything to say.” were the responses we got from them, even after significant prodding and cajoling.
Despite their (relative) social disinclination, they are capable of, if not accomplished at, expressing themselves, either through music or sports, with their peers; a manifestation of hours/days/weeks/years’ worth of repetitive movement that they convey to each other. Even participation in a team sport or musical group can be broken down into how each individual child performed. Someone could argue that savant-like behavior is also exhibited within the Spectrum.
There have been many blog posts and articles similar to this one, positing that in some sense we are all ‘a little bit Autistic.” Maybe it’s because I’m hypersensitive to Autism issues. Maybe it’s because I have three boys and Autism has a preponderance for affecting males. Perhaps they are this generation’s nerds, who will go on to become the next Bill Gates or Sheldon Cooper.
Perhaps they’re just average teenagers trying to make their way, just like we did decades ago. Hopefully years from now, they will look at their children/our grandchildren and remark “back in my day…”
Does technology promote Autistic behavior? I’m not sold; it certainly can exaggerate some classic manifestations of Autism or Asperger’s. Certain too is that technology will help the children on the Spectrum, and that we can’t go back in time; my autistic son can now spontaneously share his artwork with his grandmother via his iPad. A small step in socialization but a step in the right direction nevertheless. Technology is, and always will be the magnifying glass for our society: revealing things not previously seen, including ways to improve ourselves and our children.
With Summer at our door step, children on the Spectrum will be flooding the parks, camps, local pools, malls and movie theaters, to name but a few places of respite from the heat. While we would love to keep our children out of harm’s way; we need to be mindful that emergencies happen, and we need to know how to handle them, as well as communicate our children’s needs to emergency workers. I would love nothing more than to have everyone trained, or at least cognizant of how to approach a child on the Spectrum during an emergency, but that’s simply not going to happen anytime soon. But as parents we can make phone call to local legislators and police supervisors urging them to find out more about training their personnel. An even easier method is to send a copy of this or other articles/blog posts so they can see what their constituents are concerned about. For my EMS, PA, and other friends and blog followers who have already taken this step, Thank you.-Ed
Mass. Emergency Workers Learn To Recognize Autism
by DENISE LAVOIE Associated Press
WRENTHAM — Norwood Police Lt. Martin Baker begins his training session with a startling new government statistic: 1 in 88 children in the United States has autism or a related disorder.
Then Baker, whose son has autism, tells the class of 25 police officers, firefighters and other emergency response workers gathered at the Wrentham police station what they can do when they encounter someone with the disorder.
“Use calm, simple language,” he says. “Avoid touching or standing behind the person.”
But Baker knows it’s not as simple as that. So for the next three hours, he gives the group a crash course on how to recognize the signs of autism and how to adapt their usual emergency response techniques to help someone with the disorder.
Over the last eight years, hundreds of classes like Baker’s have been held around the state. The Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition, known as ALEC, has trained more than 15,000 emergency workers on how to respond appropriately when they encounter someone with autism, a broad spectrum disorder that affects normal development of social and communication skills.
Typically, the training features a police officer who has a close relative with autism and can describe expected behaviors and suggest ways to deal with people without using force.
Data released in March by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that autism likely affects about 1 million children and teens in the United States. Its new figure of 1 in 88 children means the disorder is nearly twice as common as the government said it was just five years ago. Health officials attribute the increase largely to wider screening for the disorder.
For parents of autistic children, the training is a welcome relief.
Nancy Shea of Brookline says she worries her 22-year-old son, a college student who has social and communication difficulties, will have problems in any encounter with police.
She recalled an incident one night when her son was 17 and a neighbor called police on him and several friends who were talking loudly and doing cartwheels on the lawn.
“My son kept asking the police: ‘What’s wrong? What are we doing wrong? I really want to know what we are doing wrong,'” Shea said. “For someone like my son, that is legitimate. They don’t get the whole idea of appearing to be contrite and sorry because it’s 2 in the morning and you’re a bunch of teenagers making noise.
“I could see the police officer looking at my son. If I hadn’t been there, it could easily have escalated,” Shea said.
There have been several cases of people with autism being shot by police.
Last year, a jury awarded $1.7 million in damages to the family of an autistic man who was shot and killed by a Los Angeles police officer. According to testimony, the 2008 encounter began amicably, with Mohammad Usman Chaudhry chatting with officers about his shoes and how he stayed dry when it rained. But moments later, an officer shot Chaudhry. Police say Chaudhry pulled a knife on the officer and lunged at him.
In 2007, a Miami teenager who was autistic died after police officers restrained him following an outburst at his home. And in Calumet City, Ill., a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, was shot and killed by police in February. Police said the boy cut one of the officers with a kitchen knife, and the officer thought his life was in danger.
Dennis Debbaudt, considered the guru of autism trainers for law enforcement, did his first training session for police in Detroit in 1995 and his organization has held classes since then for police departments around the country. He said Massachusetts has one of the most active programs.
Debbaudt, who has a son with autism, said one of the biggest difficulties is that people often do not exhibit obvious signs of the disorder and police may be suddenly taken aback by an unusual movement or reaction.
“If a law enforcement officer came to a scene where someone wouldn’t look them in the eye and repeated what the law enforcement officer said … you could easily make a judgment — without knowing it’s autism — that there’s somebody who must be hiding something,” Debbaudt sad.
“A family’s greatest fear is that no one will know and our son or daughter won’t be able to explain, or they will run off or close in on someone’s space. This is how people get hurt.”
Martin tells the officers in his class that they must always do what they need to do to keep themselves safe, but he also offers them techniques to help calm autistic people, who can become agitated at the sounds of sirens and dealing with police.
He also tells his class that autism appears differently in different people. Some people with autism are high-functioning; some need help with everyday activities. Some are talkative; others are non-verbal. Some don’t like to be touched; others stand too close.
“What might work for one might totally set off another,” he said.
Wrentham police officer Derick Cassidy nodded his head throughout Martin’s class. His 2-year-old son was diagnosed with autism last year. Cassidy said he appreciates the training as a father and a police officer. He’s had to respond to calls for two autistic brothers in town who tend to walk around late at night.
“We’ll go there and say: ‘You’ve got to head home. You’re making people nervous.’ But we do it in a gentle way,” Cassidy said.
ALEC training coordinator Bill Cannata said the program began at the urging of parents who were concerned that first responders would not know how to deal with their children on emergency calls. Cannata, a Westwood fire captain, has trained fellow firefighters, emergency medical personnel, police and county sheriffs.
ALEC did a training session for state police at Boston’s Logan International Airport last month. About a week afterward, one of the state troopers said he saw someone in the airport who he initially believed was behaving suspiciously but soon realized he was dealing with someone with autism.
“He de-escalated the situation,” Cannata said. “This story repeats itself all the time. The training pays off.