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Autism Focus Of New Legal Center


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With autism prevalence on the rise, a new legal resource center is launching that will focus specifically on issues facing those with the developmental disorder across the country.

Autism Speaks plans to announce Tuesday that it will form the new center with an eye toward helping establish key legal precedents for this growing population.

First on the agenda will be ensuring that autism insurance laws passed in many states in recent years are implemented appropriately, organizers said. Ultimately, however, plans call for the center to address everything from housing to employment to criminal and family law issues as they relate to autism.

“There are a whole host of issues having to do with the ADA, housing, family law — autism challenges our legal system in so many ways and we want to be a part of shaping how that plays out,” said Dan Unumb, a South Carolina-based attorney who will head the new initiative.

Dubbed the Autism Speaks Legal Resource Center, Unumb said the effort will initially serve to support and provide resources and training to the legal community nationally. The center will not take on requests for representation from individuals, but does plan to offer legal information for families and a referral network for those in need of a lawyer on autism-related issues.

Informally, Unumb said many attorneys working on cases related to autism have been networking for years, but as the field emerges, there is a need for a central organization.

In addition to Unumb, Autism Speaks expects to hire a second attorney for the center this year and may intervene in legal actions that are of interest with friend-of-the-court briefs. Unumb did not rule out bringing cases as well.

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. Colleen Vance-Powell says:

    My 19 yr old son with ASD is entitled to support from his absent father, according to AL State law, which is where his support order was issued. However, I cannot pursue continued support without an attorney. We have been struggling since February to make ends meet, doing without Dr. visits and allergy meds, etc. I live in TN, my husband makes “too much” money (44k before garnishments from student loans for his grown children), for me to qualify for legal help in getting support for my son. There are laws in AL to continue support for adult children with autism, but no access to law without an attorney. We desperately need help.

  2. Marie Spicuzza says:


    If you look on your State Department Human Services, there should be information on enforcing orders for child support. The Tennessee Attorney General’s office may also have a child support enforcement division or could point you in the right direction. Good luck.

  3. Mindy says:

    Don’t forget employment law! We had a hard time finding a lawyer for my husband’s discrimination case. Lawyers all said there was not enough time, staff or experience to take his case. It was hard to try and stand up for his rights and it is also expensive!

  4. Gina Hubert says:

    I apologize in advance if my comments are not appropriate for this forum. Three weeks ago my 21 year old son who is on the ASD returned home from his second year of college. He has been living independently on campus, and came home for summer break with a great passion and enthusiasm to find a summer job on his own. It was soon clear he was going to need some intervention. He hit the pavement running, filling out applications from every fast food restaurant, ice cream shop, grocery store, and the stores in the mall. The second week he found out the YMCA was hiring for Day Camp Counselors, and Child Care workers just for the summer. So this sounded perfect for him. This opportunity sounded good for him because last summer he was a nanny in the mornings for two little boys, one preschooler, and one elementary age child. He played with them, took them to the park, prepared their lunches, and snacks. He even helped dress them and bath them. The prior summer he had gone on a volunteer trip to the Bahamas to help salvage a building for orphans and worked there with the children’s day camp. He was so enthusiastic that he was the MC for the week in addition to being responsible for several children in his group. So with his kind of experience, the YMCA sounded like a possible option. So, Zach called on the Y, they said they were hiring and interviewing, so apply now. He immediately filled out an application and attached his resume. They told him to follow up next week. The following week he returned, and when he asked to speak with the hiring manager she told him they had no openings and were not hiring. Zach was very dissappointed and took her for her word. Two days later, Zach’s Mentor (Life Coach) went into the Y and asked if they were hiring and they said, “Yes, call S…the hiring manager.” So he walked to his car and called the hiring manager from his cell. He introduced himself and talked to her about Zach. He had to sell Zach because clearly two days ago they weren’t hiring but today they were. She eventually agreed to give Zach an interview, but that was after she had to be persuaded to just give him a chance for an interview. We know she had to interview him now, otherwise she could be called on discrimination. Zach did go on the interview and a couple days later received his rejection letter. Now he is even more discouraged. We realize the economy if still struggling and the job market is very competitive for everyone. So he may not have been what they were looking for or the best qualified, however, what is clear is that they entered into the situation with prejudice and discrimination. It’s a difficult situation because it’s hard to prove it and we don’t have the time and resources to bring legal action. The summer will be over and Zach has to go back to college!

  5. Cynthia Reece says:

    The article reads, “There are a whole host of issues having to do with the ADA, housing, family law — autism challenges our legal system in so many ways.” Is this new legal center going to address the legal educational needs of individuals on the spectrum? Or, will there eventually be a separate Autism Speaks center for that extremely important issue facing ALL individuals with ASD?

  6. Whitney says:

    I am not sure about this. It one thing that Autism Speaks is more interested curing the ASD than helping those who are affected by it.. I welcome it but with great reservation because Autism Speaks seldom listen to those who have and make big decision with out the community input. It supporting more the people like the parents who see this as defect and sub-human condition than an actual individual with thoughts and feelings.

  7. marie camp says:

    Autism speaks does wonderful and I have learned many things. I am very grateful, good luck thie going to be well needed.

  8. Erik B. Anderson says:

    Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me.

  9. TurboQueenofEvrythnginIL says:

    THANK YOU SCOOP for your service to special populations!

    THANK YOU Autism Speaks for your tireless advocacy–I’m a grateful mom, and it’s my impression that sometimes the LEGAL avenue is the ONLY path to CHANGE.

    I want Autism Speaks to realize there is a group of individuals with ASD that have ALWAYS been outside of the “receiving window” of services and programs Autism Speaks have pioneered and successfully advocated due to AGE (and lack of providers) AND they are turning 20-something DAILY. Of the LUCKY ONES to have services in day training programs, etc. many are segregated into newly developed “autism rooms” where agencies have with the best of intentions done less than adequate training given the behavior challenges and seriously widely global needs based on spectrum in these programs. One UNintended painful hurtful outcome is that these individuals are loosing skills at a very high rate of which their life-long loving care givers have spent so many devoted YEARS (sweat and tears) working on with them.

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