Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Autism and Politics

Over the past few months I have listened to many families with special needs kids get excited about Sarah Palins commitment to special needs children. I was very happy to watch her bring Downs Syndrome and Autism center stage in this important election. Everyone needs to know about out kids, our challenges and get on board as a community to support our most vulnerable citizens. I however, did not believe the Palin/McCain political campaign promise to get IDEA fully funded. I believe in the idea and the hope and like all families impacted by a disability I know this funding would make the world of difference for so many people. However, given our country’s current economic crisis I could not imagine how IDEA could get fully funded without raising tax's, and in light of the recent financial bailout I thought this was a campaign promise that could not happen. Folks have been unsuccessful in their fight to get IDEA fully funded when we were not in financial crisis, hence I was angry that this carrot was offered as part of a campaign, even if it was offered in earnest.

I am an Obama supporter and I believe if he is successful in the reforms he has proposed our children will benefit. I believe this not only because of what I have heard in the news but because of what he said to me personally. In October of 2007 I was invited to a small gathering to meet Senator Obama and to learn about his campaign. At the time my only real thoughts of him where what I had seen and hear surrounding his speech at the 2004 democratic convention; he was a very sharp young man with a exciting future ahead. I didn’t get warm fuzzies about Hillary but in my mind she was the presumptive nominee and I was excited about having a female president.

As the 70 to 80 guests walked about enjoying fabulous food and a beautiful day in Malibu most were talking about this new guy they were curious about. Why had some Entertainment Moguls abandoned Hillary and endorsed this guy? Why? Who was he?

Again, I didn’t know enough to have a thought but I was excited to be there. After an hour of folks eating and talking, Senator Obama came into the yard rolled up his sleeves and spoke about why he was running for president. He was running because he believed he could make a difference, he believed that our country was off track and we deserved better and that perhaps it was the new guy, and not the old guard that could make a difference. I felt goose bumps on my arms, as I was touched by his genuine candor, passion and conviction. After laying out his platform and telling us what was “different about him” he offered to take questions. My hand seemed to fly into the air and take my body with it, and I was on my feet waving my hand like a kindergartner. I think he actually meant to call on a lady behind me, but I was so animated he had to take us both.

When my turn came, I asked “Senator Obama I am a single mom, a business owner, a minority and the mother of a child with a severe developmental disability, Autism. Healthcare and entitlement systems are inadequate to care for my son. My son is part of an epidemic that our society would prefer to ignore or at least not help. I pay $700 a month to my medical insurance company who provide limited coverage and routinely try to cancel us. Their position autism is not an Insurance covered diagnosis. It is horrific that the most fragile of our society are treated with such disregard by insurance agencys. That said, Hillary worked so hard for get universal health care, she had passion, intelligence, a great team of brilliant thinkers and support, yet she failed. Why do you think you can be successful?”

Senator Obama took a deep breath and said “I am familiar with Autism and I am sorry”. “I believe I can make a difference, because I will not accept no for an answer. I will bring everyone to the table with a mandate that this must be done. All Americans are entitled to healthcare. I acknowledge that all sides will have to give something up, and a lot of people will not be happy about giving something up. I know it will be difficult, but I will not approach it like an option it will be a mandate and I will work until we find a solution”.

He went on to answer a few questions before his team scooped him up and took him inside his host’s home. My guest and I were so engaged in conversation we didn’t even notice that most of the group had departed. When we looked up the crowds had disappeared. I looked up and there stood Senator Obama with his team in tow. He stopped and I showed him a picture of my son and he said “I know this is tough I’m familiar with Autism and we will help”. He then faced the beach. His team began to direct him to the exit for his next stop and he raised his right hand in a motion of no, wait and he said “Hey guys I’m at the Ocean, It’s a beautiful day, I just need a minute to look at the water”. It was in that moment that I was the most moved. For all the busy plans and elections to win, this man knew the importance of appreciating this planet and the simple joys of the moment. That’s when he had my vote and my heart.

A little over a year later, it’s time to vote and I’m anxious and excited. I am excited because if Obama accomplished nothing other than showing that in America anything really is possible. A little known African American Senator can run for president and get the nomination of the Democratic Party. With the right stuff “one of us- any one of us” can unite millions of Americans and get them organized in a way this country has never seen and let the world know that as a country we are no longer collectively bound by the real and perceived limitations of racism. This is something every American should be proud of, I sure am.

As a parent of a special needs child I believe if we can overcome racism as a country we can overcome "ableism" and create better lives for our children.


  1. That's a good story except one sentence from President Obama. It made me uncomfortable reading that he said he was "sorry" regarding your son. Parents of children with disabilities don't need pity. We need support.

  2. Wow, what a great story. Thanks. I am a huge Obama fan, I voted for him and I am thrilled he won, it's great for our country for all the reasons you described--and great for the world, which celebrated when he won.