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Class Action Suit Filed to Defend Rights of Children With Autism to Vital, Cost-Saving Treatment

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, attorneys with Public Counsel and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP filed a class action law suit and preliminary injunction on behalf of children with autism against the Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center (ELARC) for unlawfully terminating the most effective treatment for their condition.  ELARC, a nonprofit agency through which the state provides statutorily-required services to people with disabilities, suddenly and illegally eliminated funding for the treatment, known as "DIR," after more than 10 years of providing it to hundreds, if not thousands, of mostly low-income children with autism.  

Autism, a severe neurological disorder, is the fastest-growing developmental disability in California and the nation; today, 1 in 110 children born in the United States have some form of autism.  The "DIR" or Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based treatment, as ELARC has long acknowledged, provides the children in the lawsuit with the only effective means by which they may grow into or continue to be healthy and functioning members of society.

"DIR treatment is what stands between these children and a life of dependence," said Laura Faer, the Directing Attorney of Public Counsel's Children's Rights Project. "At an economic low point for California, this agency could not have made a poorer choice for these children or for the state's finances.  DIR is cost-effective, changes lives, and prevents state-funded hospitalization and institutionalization."  

For twelve-year-old Benito R., DIR is the only treatment that has worked to control his violent, aggressive behavior.  

"DIR treatment is making a huge difference," said Benito's mother, a low-income single mom who works full time. "Without this help, I would never be able to take Benito out into the world, even to do simple things like grocery shopping for fear of what might happen.  I'm worried that he will revert back to the way he was, aggressive, dangerous and unable to interact even with me."

Like the other class members, Benito is entitled to these services under California's Lanterman Act, which was enacted to prevent the institutionalization of developmentally disabled persons.  In particular, the Act prohibits the unilateral termination of authorized and necessary services.

"Raising a child with autism on a limited income is hard enough," said Brian Capra, Staff Attorney at Public Counsel. "ELARC has broken the law meant to protect those families and children and done so in a way that leaves them without options.  It's inexplicable and wrong."

ELARC's termination of DIR is based on a misapplication of the so-called "Trailer Bill," which was passed by the California legislature last July, and prohibits Regional Centers like ELARC from, among other things, funding "experimental treatments."

"Far from being 'experimental,' DIR has successfully treated thousands of children with autism in 33 states and in countries throughout the world," said John Sharer of the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.  "Over the past 20 years, it has substantially improved the quality of their lives and has transformed many of these children into fully-functioning, well-adjusted members of society."

ELARC is also the only regional center, out of seven in Los Angeles County, to have misinterpreted the new legislation in this way.  Attorneys for the case have learned that DIR programs are still being provided to children at the other Regional Centers in LA County and throughout California.

"ELARC's actions have no basis in law, and they will cause irreparable and irreversible harm to these children," said Katie Marquart, attorney with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. "These children already face tremendous daily struggles.  ELARC's action will unnecessarily result in devastating consequences for their psychological, emotional and physical well-being.  It is for these reasons that today we ask the Court to immediately enjoin ELARC and stop it from eliminating this vital program."

About Public Counsel -

Public Counsel is the largest pro bono public interest law firm in the world. Founded in 1970, Public Counsel is dedicated to advancing equal justice under law by delivering free legal and social services to the most vulnerable members of our community, including abused and abandoned children, homeless families and veterans, senior citizens, victims of consumer fraud and nonprofit organizations serving low-income communities.

About Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR) –

The DIR treatment plan for autism focuses on the individual differences among children with autism, including understanding the child's emotional, social, behavioral, and intellectual level; individual differences in motor, sensory and language functioning and the child and family functioning and interaction patterns.  It places a premium on forging a close bond between the parent and the child and the clinician and the child.

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