By Jane Weinkrantz
It is hard to quibble with those who see Hillary Clintonís candidacy as the most scripted and approval-driven of all the presidential contenders which is why her plan to address the spread of autism has met with some skepticism. Read online about Hillaryís pledge to provide $700 million for autism research and treatment and you are sure to encounter more than a few posts claiming that her promises are just a way to pander to a new special interest group. Some even accuse her of anti-autism prejudice, as though by wanting to prevent the condition, she was planning a sort of extermination.
One might say that if funding research for autism, a developmental disability that affects 1 in 150 children, improves treatment, positively impacts the lives of autistic individuals, their families and their teachers and gets the vote, then it is the correct thing to do even if it is also the shrewd thing. (Had Hillary pledged $700 million to research and treat breast cancer, I doubt that naysayers would have accused her of pandering to the mastectomy crowd.) But addressing a nationwide autism epidemic is an important and valid mission worth the attention and support of politicians on both sides of the aisle. Previously, Clinton co-sponsored the Combating Autism Act in 2006 and this yearís Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act.
Specifically, Senator Clinton hopes to fund research into the causes of autism, develop better methods of education, diagnosis and treatment and make available more teacher training for those of us who instruct autistic students.
Recently, I was a co-facilitator at a staff development course on autism. The feedback we received from faculty members left no doubt that teachers sincerely wanted more techniques for teaching the increasing number of students on the autism spectrum in our district---particularly the lower-functioning children who might not have been in a regular school a decade ago---; more classroom aides to support them and more empathy for the challenges these kids pose from administrators. While autistic students are often ingenuous and conscientious learners, they can also be disruptive, frustrating and difficult to teach. As diagnoses of autism increase, more teacher training becomes vital.
Once school is out, those of us who are parents of kids with ASD know that the necessary therapies can consume much of our time and even more of our money. It is not unusual for my family to spend at least $15,000 annually on treatments that are not covered by our insurance. I admit that I was very aggressive in finding interventions for my son, but I also believe those treatments made a big difference. Not surprisingly, such expenditures force some choices in the Weinkrantz budget. But, again, I donít mind that because by and large I can afford it. What would I do if I had an autistic child and $15,000 wasnít a medical bill but my annual salary? Senator Clinton claims her proposed universal health care plan will provide coverage for autism therapies without increased premiums. She states, "Parents will no longer be burdened by unmanageable premiums just because their children have autism."
I have no idea what is in the heart or mind of Hillary Clinton. Maybe she sincerely believes the time has come to acknowledge those of us whose lives are affected by autism in one way or another. Or maybe her handlers told her she needed an issue that would make her seem kind and nurturing. I donít really care. If the result is that $700 million is spent on improving our countryís understanding of autism and autistic individuals, the motive for solving the puzzle of autism becomes far less significant than the solution itself.
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