The Debate, the Candidates, and Autism

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Tonight the candidates completed their final debate before the election in November.  They talked about a lot of issues on the Economy, throwing barbs back and forth about a lot of issues, and how they would do things better than the other candidates.  But one thing in particular stuck in my mind, and I hope it stuck in the minds of all parents who have children with autism:  Only one candidate seemed to show his commitment to the research, treatment, and development of children with autism.  It began with a discussion on running mates, and Senator John McCain talking about the focus Sarah Palin has for children with special needs.  He specifically mentioned autism, focusing on the needs of children on the autism spectrum.  Senator Obama then countered by saying that if there is a spending freeze in the government, then you can't fund research for autism.  I think he was referring to the earlier comments by Senator McCain on a proposed spending freeze for all new legislation, in order to root out any fiscally irresponsible spending.  The problem is, when hearing it, it sounded as though Senator Obama was in favor of cutting any planned spending for autism research.  At least that is how my wife heard it, and how it read in the transcript at a cursory glance.  He then never mentioned autism again, not even when he covered his education policies and proposals.  Instead he focused on sending people to Charter schools in order to get them out of their traditional public school.But Senator McCain again focused on the needs of children with autism in his education policy, focusing on caring for these children.  I was amazed, because the issue in the debate was even brought up.  Senator John McCain seemed to even be energized by the topic.  He seemed genuinely dedicated to the research and dedicated to taking care of these children.  Senator Obama seemed to almost write it off as a foot note by saying it's " an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel [referring to government budget reform] that we want to make sure that we're funding some of those programs"(emphasis added).Perhaps it is because Senator Obama felt it was not worth the time and effort to focus on the issue.  Perhaps, because his daughters are not on the Autism Spectrum, it's not an important issue for him.  After all, it is more likely to be found in boys, as in one in every ninety-four boys born are now diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.  Perhaps he hasn't met one of these boys, or one of the less common, but just as important, girls.  Perhaps he doesn't understand the challenges parents go through with their child on the autism spectrum.  Or perhaps it just wasn't a priority for him that night.No matter the reason, it disappointed me on several levels.  First, as it looks likely by the last polls taken, he may very well be the next President of the United States.  A President that didn't take the issue of autism seriously, where does that place me and my family?  Perhaps we are just not as important to him as the rich people he would rather tax, the middle class he wants to give the money to, or Joe Plumber that has issues with healthcare and taxes.  I'm glad Joe Plumber at least got some attention from the candidate.  Someone needed to, I suppose, since the growing silent epidemic of autism was largely ignored by Senator Obama.  Secondly, education and autism are almost intertwined.  You can't have one without the other, because every school district in this great country of ours has the need to educate, by law, children with autism.  Senator McCain made it a large proportion of his education policy.  He announced his dedication to help all Americans with special needs, with special emphasis on autism, and to be sure the research into discovering the cause would be found.  And yet it didn't seem to be a concern for Senator Obama.  Instead he worries about getting every child to College, using charter schools as a way to prepare them.  Are there charter schools for children with autism?  I am not aware of any, and therefore his plan excludes my child.  How can my child make it to college without a proper primary and secondary education that helps him retrain the neurons in his brain?  Perhaps that was covered when he called all parents to get off the couch and help their children.  Perhaps he feels that parents whose children are on the autism spectrum are just not doing enough for their kids.  After all, it was a commonly held belief during the 70's.  Of course, I am just inferring here, but as this was the only part of Senator Obama's education plan that could even remotely focus on my child as I understood it, it's all I have to go by.And lastly, I posted previously that I emailed the campaign regarding Senator Obama's position on autism and his plans for the future of children with autism.  Instead of a reply that even feigned interest in my concern, I got a thanks for supporting Senator Obama, and have sense been spammed by everyone and their dog in the campaign.  So not only did I get blown off, but I have since been receiving unwanted emails from the very source that felt my concerns did not warrant a response.I would like to mention that I also emailed Senator McCain's campaign about the same issue.  And while I also have not received a reply (and no spam at all, I might add), it seems that Senator McCain has the same issues on his mind.  That impressed me, it touched me, it made me feel like he understood my position.  Sure I have economic issues, and sure I am part of the lower middle class that is getting squeezed hard by the economy:  but right now my son's future is more important.  Senator McCain made me believe that he too had my son's best interests at heart.  It was the first time I felt like a candidate of any election had reached out to me and my family. So, in case you have been unable to discern my mood after the debate, I was very disappointed in the apparent apathy Senator Obama had for parents who have children on the autism spectrum.  I have admired the man for his calm and reach to the people, but he lost any possibility of a vote from me this night.  Perhaps I am over reacting, perhaps I'm getting too emotional.  Most likely Senator Obama will blow me off yet again as one of those that "angry people that cling to their guns and their religion".  But with no significant funding forthcoming from the Obama Administration, it seems religion will be all I can cling to as I strive to help my son through his autism.  Senator McCain, on the other hand, actually connected with me.  I could tell that he had real conversations with parents with children on the autism spectrum.  He knew their fears, he understood their concerns.  It was almost as though he read my email the day of the debate, and wanted to talk to me directly.  Sure it's just one policy, but it's a policy that deeply care about.  This isn't just a research project for me, and it's not referring to children without a name, this issue is my family.  It's my son, it's the promise that he will have a place in society if I get hit by a bus tomorrow.  It's a promise that he will be able to share his intelligence in a way that is constructive to society, instead of being seen as "weird", "crazy", or "dumb".  Anyway, my rant is through.  I want to leave with these words:  Autism should not be a back burner issue.  Just because the majority of Americans don't know about Autism, or don't care about Autism because it hasn't happened to them, doesn't make it any less important than Cancer, AIDS, or Roe Vs. Wade.  I would have hoped that if one candidate had brought up his plan for helping special needs children, the other candidate would have said something more than just it's " an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel that we want to make sure that we're funding some of those programs."