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Sue Basko/LA Times autism comments

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Attorney Claims Autism Parents Are Just In It for the SSI Gravytrain

Update Wednesay December 14 2010 12:29 pm The person quoted below is now claiming I "made up" the comment she once posted to the LA Times and the comments on her Facebook page. I've added a screenshot of her LA Times comment to verify that she indeed posted the comment, and screenshots of the comments on her Facebook page. For the record, I have never telephoned this woman or left voice messages for this woman, anyone in her office, or any family member she may have. The sole extent of my contact with her was to include her twitter handle in several tweets, which I have captured and posted at the bottom of this post. That's it -- a few tweets.

The Los Angeles Times is running a series on autism by Alan Zarembo. The first piece ran Sunday (12/11/2011), and had the following deck:


Autism boom: an epidemic of disease or of discovery?

Autism rates have increased twentyfold in a generation, stirring parents' deepest fears and prompting a search for answers. But what if the upsurge is not what it appears to be?

This introductory piece discussed the history of autism and gave the background on the rise in incidence. Some parts of the article were very well done...others troubling. I'll be writing more about the series; links to the pieces published to date are at the bottom.

In the comments a woman who is a Los Angeles-area entertainment attorney announced than in her view, parents are seeking autism diagnoses for their children so that they can make a living from the generous Supplementary Security Income (SSI) paid to disabled children.

No, I am not kidding. Here's the text:

Many parents today want a diagnosis of autism spectrum for their child, not only because there is a great deal of funding allocated for services for those children, as the news article explains, but also because this qualifies the child or family to collect a good SSI payment each month. If a family can get a few kids diagnosed with such things, the family can live off the payments. This was caused because welfare payments are so low, welfare is so hard to get, and intact families with both parents present do not qualify for welfare.

The real story would be to check out what percentage of families with child with an autism diagnose are collecting SSI. That is where you will find the real secret behind this "epidemic." Also, school districts that will receive extra funding for each child with autism will be far more likely to make such a diagnosis.

When I was a kid, there were kids who kept track of details, counted things, paid little attention to others, and seemed socially awkward. There were called future accountants.

I realize there are actual cases of autism, which seems to be a form of retardation. A lot of this spectrum stuff, I think, is based on wanting to collect available funds, without regard for the fact it stigmatizes the children for life to have such a diagnosis.

Anyone who writes a scathing reply should reveal if their family is collecting SSI or if they or their school is in any way collecting funds based on autism.

12/14/2011: Below, a screenshot of the comment, captured Monday morning. Click to see full size:

Sue Basco autism1.jpg

Sunday, I was quite vexed reading this--it's the welfare queen with a Cadillac, autism edition, plus intense ignorance about autism--but decided to let it go. Then today, Sullivan wrote about the same comment at LeftBrain/RightBrain: Ignorance adds to Stigma Again, making the point that the rise in diagnoses is among the well-to-do, not the poor.

So I decided that I'd leave the "music and film attorney" a kind but firm comment at her Facebook page, rather than in the LA Times comment page.

just checked my messages and had a message from a woman with a fake name, with a "husband" with a fake name (Edgar Cayce, lol) bullying me about a Comment I wrote after a news article online. I am open to peoples' ideas, but if you want to bully me from expressing mine, get lost.

I have no idea if the caller was using a fake name or not, or was "bullying". I think not, given that the caller (not the attorney) was weeping.

The entertainment attorney went on to write:

lol. She said she cried when she read what I wrote and told me to get educated. I told her to go get herself educated, even read the news article.


No, seriously, this is a topic that NEEDs to be addressed.


Really, people are so afraid to speak reality because they might be bullied by people like this lady who messaged me.

The other comments to this attorney were of the "attorney lady you were right" and "the weeping woman needs to get a life" variety. Sigh. Guess none of the commenters have ever had a child with a disability, or had to fight to get basic needs met.

Here are 3 consecutive screenshots of the woman's now-deleted Facebook comments, captured Monday.

Sue Basco autism2.jpg
Sue Basco autism3.jpg
Sue Basco autism4.jpg

So I left a comment (well, two, but the first was truncated. Danged Facebook).

Hi Sue. I read your comment yesterday at the LA times piece on autism, and was quite struck by your naiveté about autism.

To begin with, the word "retardation" isn't used any more. The Arc, the largest national advocacy organization, .... [then hit return which posted comment #1. Started over]

First of all: I am not autistic, I do not have a child with autism, and I certainly have not applied for SSI for said non-existent child. Yes the school district in which I live educates children with autism, but since it's a poor and struggling district any marginal payment hardly makes up for the marginal cost of educating said children. I am however, and autism ally an advocate, and a co-founder and editor of The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism (TPGA). Our webpage is here:

and our Facebook page is here:

Second, it is too bad you got a pseudonymous message. However, as I said, your comment revealed an immense amount of ignorance about autism.

The arc (http://www.thearcorg/) now refers to "intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Autism is unrelated to retardation. Some autistics have intellectual disabilities, but many have average or above-average intellectual capacities. What we are finding is that even autistics with limited verbal language may have substantial intellectual ability. I'd be glad to share the research if you'd like.

On to SSI and your assertion that the autism diagnosis "qualifies the child or family to collect a good SSI payment each month" and that families can even "live off the payments" and "A lot of this spectrum stuff, I think, is based on wanting to collect available funds."

Your assertion is completely mistaken

I wonder if you had any idea, when you wrote that, how hateful -- vitriolic even-- your assertion would appear to parents of autistic children, or adults with autism?

I invite you and your readers here to come by TPGA and get to know real families dealing with autism and real adults with autism and how they live.

So I posted the comment (with a link at LB/RB in those comments) and went on my merry way. Then I heard from Sullivan that the attorney had deleted my comments.

verification that I indeed, posted the comments to her Facebook page. Click to enlarge.

Sue Basco autism5.jpg

I went to look, and couldn't. The entertainment attorney had blocked me from seeing her Facebook page. I guess I was bullying, or something. You decide.

I guess we can add to Emily Willingham's list of things that cause autism: the SSI gravy-train. In case you can't tell, that's sarcasm.

Update 1: just heard from a friend: the princely sums autism parents can get from SSI, per child: the maximum is $674 per month. That'll let parents live large!

Update 2: Realized after a brief poll that very few of my friends -- even friends whose children have intense autism -- receive SSI benefits, so I decided to actually, you know, poke around the SSI website. Research. (Don't attorneys do research? Evidently not the one in this story.)

Supplemental Security Income

SSI makes monthly payments to people with low income and limited resources who are 65 or older, or blind or disabled. Your child younger than age 18 can qualify if he or she meets Social Security’s definition of disability for children, and if his or her income and resources fall within the eligibility limits. The amount of the SSI payment is different from one state to another because some states add to the SSI payment. Your local Social Security office can tell you more about your state’s total SSI payment.

SSI Rules About Income And Resources

When we decide if your child can get SSI, we consider your child’s income and resources. We also consider the income and resources of family members living in the child’s household. These rules apply if your child lives at home. They also apply if he or she is away at school but returns home from time to time and is subject to your control.

If your child’s income and resources, or the income and resources of family members living in the child’s household, are more than the amount allowed, we will deny the child’s application for SSI payments.

We limit the monthly SSI payment to $30 when a child is in a medical facility where health insurance pays for his or her care.

SSI Rules About Disability

Your child must meet all of the following requirements to be considered disabled and therefore eligible for SSI:

  • The child must not be working and earning more than $1,000 a month in 2011. (This earnings amount usually changes every year.) If he or she is working and earning that much money, we will find that your child is not disabled.
  • The child must have a physical or mental condition, or a combination of conditions, that results in “marked and severe functional limitations.” This means that the condition(s) must very seriously limit your child’s activities.
  • The child’s condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least 12 months; or must be expected to result in death.

If your child’s condition(s) results in “marked and severe functional limitations” for at least 12 continuous months, we will find that your child is disabled. But if it does not result in those limitations, or does not last for at least 12 months, we will find that your child is not disabled.

Providing Information About Your Child’s Condition

When you apply for benefits for your child, we will ask you for detailed information about the child’s medical condition and how it affects his or her ability to function on a daily basis. We also will ask you to give permission for the doctors, teachers, therapists and other professionals who have information about your child’s condition to send the information to us.

If you have any of your child’s medical or school records, please bring them with you. This will help speed up the decision on your application.

What Happens Next?

We send all of the information you give us to the Disability Determination Services in your state. Doctors and other trained staff in that state agency will review the information, and will request your child’s medical and school records, and any other information needed to decide if your child is disabled.

If the state agency cannot make a disability decision using only the medical information, school records and other facts they have, they may ask you to take your child for a medical examination or test. We will pay for the exam or test.

That sure reads like it's a piece of cake to get SSI for your children, or a good plan for parents to supplement their income....yes, that's sarcasm again.

Links to the LA Times Series (will be updating as published)

Sunday December 11 2011: An epidemic of disease or of discovery?

Link to the comments on all posts

Portfolio of photos

Videos of families profiled

Interactive: Diagnosing Autism

Timeline of Autism History

Spreadsheet: autism rates in California elementary schools

Why autism?

Autism rates by state

Tweets mentioning the irate attorney. Click to embiggen.
Sue Basco autism6.jpg