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Hillary Clinton Unveils Autism Support Proposal

Cross-posted from Politics K-12

By Alyson Klein

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, wants to restrict the use of seclusion and restraints for kids with autism and other students in special education. She also wants the U.S. Department of Education to help schools prevent bullying of autistic kids, and expand the use of early autism screenings.

"Too many American families are staying up at night worrying about their family members, especially children, who are living with autism. There is more we can do," Clinton said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Clinton, who like other presidential candidates has yet to unveil a comprehensive K-12 education plan, will talk more about the autism proposal later today in a speech in Iowa. 

On Clinton's wish list: enacting the "Keeping All Students Safe Act," which was championed in previous Congresses by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, both now retired. The bill would limit seclusion and restraint as means of controlling students in special education, particularly if there is a risk of injury, and would prevent these practices from being included in students' Individualized Education Programs, or IEPs.

So far, the bill hasn't gotten much traction in the GOP-controlled Congress, but similar measures have gained in popularity in state legislatures.

That doesn't mean everyone is a fan of such policies. Back in 2012, AASA, the School Superintendents' Association, came out against the measure. AASA is still concerned about any legislation that would prohibit local districts from considering the use of seclusion and restraint, after other interventions (like Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports) have failed.

And Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, expressed concerns back in 2012 that the bill could hinder state efforts to deal with the issue. (Kline will soon be out of office, but other lawmakers may take a similar view.) What's more, the newly enacted Every Student Succeeds Act includes language cracking down on discipline practices that remove kids from the classroom, including seclusion and restraint.

The legislation is just one piece of Clinton's broader plan to address autism. She also wants to:

  • Develop a national early-screening outreach campaign to encourage parents to get their kids checked for autism. Early screening can lead to early intervention.
  • Bolster U.S. Department of Education guidance to ensure that students with autism and other kids in special education are protected from bullying.
  • Launch a new "Autism Works" initiative to help students with autism find employment after high school and enact the "Transition to Independence Act," which would create demonstration programs in up to 10 states to help students with special needs move into the workforce.
  • Prod states to require private insurers to cover services for children and adults with autism.

Read a fact sheet on her plan here.

Note: The campaign has set up a press call of experts to comment on the proposal. This blog will have a post up later Tuesday with additional information and analysis. 

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