Here's the good news and the bad news; autism has become a "hot issue" in the presidential campaign. Bad news because our ranks have grown to a full 1% of the American population and counting. Good news because the crisis this epidemic poses to our society at large is, at last, apparent to our government. At least it is to our politicians.
In tonight's debate, John McCain twice vaunted autism as one of the issues he would advocate if President. In fact, he held it up as one of the primary credentials of his running mate; Sarah Palin is the aunt of a child with autism (as well as the mother of a son with Down's syndrome). But here's the hitch. Being related to a special needs child does not automatically guarantee that a candidate will offer the best policies to meet that's child's needs. Any more than being a woman automatically assures that candidate will advocate women's rights. Any more than does running with one on a ticket.
When Governor Palin made her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention this summer, I watched with rapt attention. When she looked into the camera and promised that those of us with special needs children would have a friend in the White House, I felt she was looking directly at me. I was moved to tears. But this is not a moment for sentimentality. Any more than when my son was diagnosed. Then, as now, I put my own emotional response on hold, in order to best analyze the problem, as well as the solutions. My son depended upon it. He still does.
McCain claims his regime will support research for a cure. Yet he also wants to freeze government spending. He claims he will advocate for families. Yet his health care policy offers a $5000 tax deduction, which Americans can put towards purchasing coverage. Any parent with a child on the spectrum knows just how little $5000 buys you. Services to support my son's development (outside of, and in addition to, tuition at publicly funded Special Ed day programs) easily runs past $90,000 per year. Thank God that California state-funded regional center services have absorbed the lion's share of those costs. But, as everyone knows, California is now bankrupt. Those services have been frozen. Children and parents are floundering. McCain proclaims to be a "Federalist." As often as possible, he would have individual states determine the welfare of their denizens versus Washington D.C.. If ever there were a time for the federal government to rise to the occasion of serving the needs of our people, it is this national epidemic. Twelve years ago, the rate was one in 10,000. Today (according to the NEH), it is 1 in 150. States cannot, and should not, be expected to sustain the demands this crisis presents.
Tonight, Senator Obama told us that every autism advocate he has met, stresses the urgent need to increase funding for medical research. He was right to tell the American people that this essential work will cost money. As a former board member of Cure Autism Now foundation, one of the first parent driven organizations to fund and grow bonafide, university based research, I attest to that. Piece meal tax rebates will not cover health costs for our families, as they contend with this lifelong neurological disability. Tonight, John McCain told us that Governor Palin "knows more about autism than any other American I know." Perhaps he should get out more.