Republicans Alienate Yet Another Growing Population: Children With Autism (VIDEO)

Maureen Dowd, in an article titled “A Lost Civilization” that recently appeared in The New York Times, wrote:

“[T]he Republican decline will be traced to a stubborn refusal to adapt to a world where poor people and sick people and black people and brown people and female people and gay people count.”

Add to that list people with disabilities — two strikes in one week.

Strike One: The recent failure of Senate Republicans to ratify the UN treaty that had bipartisan support and would have banned discrimination abroad against those with disabilities, based on America’s very own Americans with Disabilities Act. (This was a very dark day for Republicans, in my opinion; to learn more, read Wendy Gittleson’s coverage here.)

Strike two: The successful effort by one Republican House Representative to freeze legislation that would protect children with developmental disabilities – like autism – from being injured at school.

John Kline, representing Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District, has been in the House of Representatives for a decade now, and most people have never heard of him. During that decade, he has sponsored a total of 12 bills, only one of which was signed into law (earlier this year, in fact). Of the 298 bills he’s co-sponsored, only nine have made it into law, making him one of the lowest-ranked house members in this classification (bottom 10%).

But if you’re the parent of a child who requires special education, it’s likely you have heard Kline’s name, because he was historically a strong advocate for the federal government fulfilling its commitment to states by covering 40% of the costs of special education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Currently, only about 16% of the bill is covered, and the rest must be paid at the local level by states and school districts.

After being so vocal on the issue in 2009, Kline’s special education funding advocacy seemed to have completely vanished once his bill stalled in the House. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin picked up where Kline left off in the Senate, attempting to introduce legislation that would pay for the federal government’s cut of IDEA by doubling taxes on cigarettes and small cigars. While there are 13 Democratic co-sponsors of the proposal, there is zero Republican support.

But I digress. Having stayed out of the spotlight for so long, Kline is finally back in, becoming the sole voice of dissent for legislation that would address a growing problem – thousands of special needs children being injured – and sometimes even killed – when restrained improperly at school. See below for ABC’s Nov. 29, 2012 Nightline coverage of this tragic issue, “Deadly Discipline? Students Hurt, Dying After Being Restrained: Autistic, special needs kids handcuffed, restrained, suffocated.”

Here’s the video:

After watching this, you may ask yourself, why on earth would anyone object to taking action on this heartrending situation?

You’d have to ask Rep. John Kline.

According to ABC News’s coverage (“Which Congressman Is Blocking Bill That Would Protect Kids with Autism?”) the communications director for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce reported on Kline’s decision:

“Chairman Kline believes state officials and school leaders are best equipped to determine appropriate policies that should be in place to protect students and to hold those who violate those policies accountable. For this reason, the committee has not scheduled any action on seclusion and restraint legislation at this time.”

So Chairman Kline believes the policies in place, despite the growing number of injuries and death amongst this vulnerable population, are adequate. I guess it’s more important for schools to retain their autonomy than to protect these children properly.

For the record, I’ve spent a good deal of time working with both children and adults with severe autism. I’ve had to undergo  training on how to properly interact with them to ensure that they and others (including myself) were not injured, and parents and/or guardians were asked to provide specific handling advice (primarily in the form of redirection). And it was all done without the use of restraints. It was 100% effective – no one ever got hurt. I imagine many children with special needs would be saved injury, and even death, if all teachers had to undergo the same training.

What say you, Chairman Kline? Don’t you think these children deserve a safe environment at school, particularly when it’s obvious that the status quo isn’t working?

If you’re as outraged as I by this decision, please let Rep. Kline know. Following is his contact information:

Congressman Kline’s Minnesota Office
350 W. Burnsville Parkway, Suite 135
Burnsville, MN 55337
Phone: (952) 808-1213
Toll-Free: (888) 808-6644
Fax: (952) 808-1261

Congressman Kline’s Washington Office
2439 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-2271
Fax: (202) 225-2595

TWITTER HANDLE: @repjohnkline