Rules That Asperger's Syndrome is a Disability
Boston Herald, January 31, 2006
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A York County girl who suffers from Asperger's syndrome is
entitled to special education services even though she completes
her homework, behaves well in class and scores well on tests, a
federal judge ruled.
U.S District Judge D. Brock Hornby ordered School Administrative
District 55 to assemble a team of teachers and specialists to
design an appropriate learning program for the girl, identified
in court documents only as "L.I."
In his ruling, Hornby said the girl's parents demonstrated that
the disability adversely affects her educational performance
"and is thus eligible for special education under (federal law)
due to her Asperger syndrome and her depressive disorder."
Richard O'Meara, the family's lawyer, said the decision
recognizes that social development is an important part of
education, along with academic studies.
"Education is so much more than academic performance," O'Meara
said. "Hopefully, this will put that debate to rest once and for
While Hornby overturned the district's decision to deny
services, the judge also denied the family's reimbursement
request for the two years of private school tuition it has paid
since taking her out of public school in 2003.
Nonetheless, advocates for the disabled hailed the ruling as a
The decision clarifies the question of who is eligible for
services, and it will have an impact both in the state and
beyond, said Peter Rice of the Disability Rights Center of
Eric Herlan, lawyer for SAD 55, declined to comment until he has
reviewed the 48-page ruling, which was issued Monday afternoon.
Asperger's syndrome is a milder variant of autism. The name
comes from Dr. Hans Asperger, an Austrian who described the
syndrome in 1944.
Hornby's ruling described Asperger's as a "clinically recognized
pervasive developmental disability" with symptoms that include
"limited interests or an unusual preoccupation with a particular
subject to the exclusion of other activities."
School is challenging for Asperger's students because they often
have poor social skills and difficulty communicating, Hornby
L.I., who attended public schools in Hiram and Cornish through
5th grade, performed well academically but in the fourth grade
her teachers noticed that she looked sad, anxious and had a
difficult time making friends.
When she was in sixth grade, she stopped studying and attempted
to commit suicide by overdosing on several medications. A
psychiatrist evaluated her and diagnosed her with Asperger's
syndrome and "depressed mood."
A team assembled by the school, however, denied special
education services to her "since there was no adverse impact on
her academic progress." Her family appealed but the decision was
upheld by an independent hearing officer.
O'Meara said the decision could have a broad impact. "It should
qualify kids for special education even when academically it
seems they are able to succeed in school," he said.
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