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One year after passage of a federal law requiring schools to pay the legal fees of parents who successfully challenge them in special-education disputes, a Texas advocate for the handicapped says the "flood of litigation" feared by the law's critics has not materialized.

Reed Martin, a lawyer with Advocacy, Inc., told a Congressional oversight panel last month that only 34 decisions citing the new law have been published in legal journals since last year. In most of those cases, he said, "the children served have been exactly the kind of children that were the concern of the Congress."

Mr. Martin offered his assessment of P.L. 99-372, the Handicapped Children's Protection Act of 1986, during an Oct. 8 hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on the Handicapped.

Starting this fall, California students may learn American Sign Language as a means of fulfilling their high-school graduation requirement for foreign-language study.

The change results from a new law passed by the General Assembly. The law declares American Sign Language, the method most commonly used by deaf people, to be "a distinctive, separate language." Though few high schools now teach sign language, said Richard Simpson, a consultant to the Assembly's education committee, "we saw this as primarily creating a demand for the course."

A prominent child psychiatrist warns that children with some psychiatric disorders may be at a higher risk of contracting aids than their non-handicapped peers.

Speaking during last month's meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Washington, Harold Koplewicz said children who suffer from Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or other such conditions are more likely to engage in behaviors that make them vulnerable to aids infection.

"Conduct-disordered children defy authority," said Dr. Koplewicz, who is director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Schneider Children's Hospital on Long Island. "Children with adhd act impulsively, and psychotic children are often unable to think clearly."

Handicapped visitors to the nation's Capitol may have an easier time finding their way with the aid of special maps developed by the U.S. Education Department.

The maps--which come in braille and have large print and three-dimensional surfaces--were designed by the department's office of special education and rehabilitative services to assist the visually impaired, blind, or learning-disabled. Larger maps will also be posted at sites on the Capitol grounds and the Smithsonian Mall.--dv

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