Brief of the Asperger's Association of New England to Appear as Amicus Curiae

Asperger's Syndrome ("AS") is a neurological disorder affecting several areas of development due to "wiring" problems on the right side of the brain where communication and sensory integration occur. The pattern of behaviors that make up the syndrome was first identified by Hans Asperger in Vienna in 1944, but the establishment of diagnostic criteria and the official classification of AS as a psychiatric disorder did not occur until 1994 Because of the recency of the syndrome's classification, the incidence of AS remains uncertain. Surveys from the National Institute of Child Health and Mental Development suggest that 1 in 500 people have some form of AS with apparent prevalence in males by a ratio of 4:1.

AS is sometimes characterized as autism without mental retardation as individuals with AS typically have IQ's that range from normal to genius levels. In contrast to autism, most individuals with AS wish for social acceptance but have difficulty mediating social interactions as they have difficulty noticing or reading social cues, parents typically begin to realize that there is something different about their child at age 3 or 4. While there is a great deal of individual variation, a hallmark of AS is a lack of eye contact and acute sensitivity to sensory input. To the outside world children with AS look normal, but their inability to distinguish gradations of emotions and lack of a "social filter" lead them to dramatically misread others' social cues. Interviewed about AS by the Boston Globe in 2001, child psychiatrist and AS specialist Daniel Rosenn of Wellesley, MA, noted:

"If you sound a little annoyed, he thinks you're furious. If you are furious, he thinks he's in danger. Survival instincts take over. He'll hit you because he thinks you're going to hit him, even if you never have before."

Characteristics of children with AS includes the inability to understand complex rules of social interaction, judge "social distance" or understand jokes; poor skills at initiating and sustaining conversation; insensitivity; tactlessness; naivete; egocentrism; dislike of physical contact and the use of inappropriate gaze and body language. These children are extremely emotionally vulnerable and are easily stressed. Their self esteem is often low, they can be hyper critical of themselves and they may be prone to depression. Children with AS usually want friends and want to be part of a social world but don't know how to interact. They can learn to accommodate and live with their lack of social instinct and intuition by learning to process intellectually what they are not d to do. Professionals who work with AS children emphasize that while such children exhibit different forms of challenging behavior, it is crucial that these behaviors not be viewed as willful or malicious, Rather than imposing simplistic disciplinary measures that imply the assumption of deliberate misconduct, the AS child's disability must be treated by means of thoughtful, therapeutic and educational strategies.

There are many techniques to help children with AS develop the skills and knowledge that will permit them to lead successful lives as adults. These skills and knowledge can only be activated when the child feels safe and supported in his or her community. The Asperger's Association of New England ("AANE") is concerned that, best intentions notwithstanding, the actions of the Falmouth Public School District (the "District") in suspending Jan Rankowski and subsequent statements made to the press by District Administrators and their counsel typify the discriminatory and counterproductive responses that create significant barriers to the successful integration of AS disabled children into mainstream society. Furthermore, AANE is concerned that the District's conduct may have violated Jan's rights under laws specifically enacted to ensure equal rights for persons with disabilities.

Apropos this case, attached please find AANE Exhibit 1, a published paper by University of Southern Maine Associate Professor David B. Jones specifically addressing barriers to participation in community recreation programs encountered by Maine children with disabilities. Professor Jones' study of the recreation experience of disabled children found that most of the children included in his survey had been asked to leave community recreation programs due to their behavior. Professor Jones notes that disabled children cannot learn appropriate behavioral social skill in isolation and that they need to engage with other children through play and recreation activities that include non-disabled children. Absent interaction with peers who can serve as positive role models, disabled children become further marginalized.

AAANE's brochure, attached as Exhibit 2, provides a website through which additional information and resources can be easily accessed. In resolving the disputed facts and issues of this case, AANE urges the Court to be sensitive to the unique challenges facing both children disabled by AS and their parents.


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