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McCain courts the autism vote

Posted Oct 15 2008 11:53pm

If you watched the U.S. presidential debates tonight, you heard the “A” word a few times. Yep, Autism.

Senator McCain, who tripped up early in the campaign by giving credence to the thimerosal debate (and, yes, tripped up is accurate since he backed away fast from that stance), is courting the Autism community’s vote.

In discussing his running mate’s credentials to be president (should Mr. McCain for some reason stop being president), Mr. McCain stated:

She’ll be my partner. She understands reform. And, by the way, she also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we’ve got to find out what’s causing it, and we’ve got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children.

She understands that better than almost any American that I know. I’m proud of her.

I wish Mr. McCain had more contact over time with the disability community. “She understands that better than almost any American I know”...I guess since she has a child with special needs and a young relative with autism, she has some experience, but wouldn’t it be nice if Senator McCain knew someone in the autism research community? (a guy can dream, can’t he?)

Actually, I really liked the way Senator Obama brought this back to one of his themes in his reply:

I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs will require some additional funding, if we’re going to get serious in terms of research. That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talk about.

And if we have an across-the-board spending freeze, we’re not going to be able to do it. That’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.

For those who didn’t watch, there was discusssion earlier in the debate about a Senator McCain’s proposal for a spending freeze. Senator Obama made the point clear: cut smart, not blindly.

That said, I also liked how Senator Obama brought in the entire disability community. Yes, it was still child focused, but he did talk about “other special needs”.

I like how he sees research as a priority.

Senator McCain later stated:

And I just said to you earlier, town hall meeting after town hall meeting, parents come with kids, children—precious children who have autism. Sarah Palin knows about that better than most. And we’ll find and we’ll spend the money, research, to find the cause of autism. And we’ll care for these young children. And all Americans will open their wallets and their hearts to do so.

I wonder how many autistic adults were in his audiences? I wonder how many people with other disabilities (or family members with other disabilities) were in the audience.

Senator McCain may have thought that he was winning my vote, but he just lost it. Yes, disability issues, especially autism, play a role in my choice. But, this looks too much like pandering to the vaccine-autism crowd while doing the politician’s two-step around the

I.e. it was “let’s use code words about the epidemic and vaccines to gather votes”.

I really hope I am wrong, but that was my read.

Senator Obama’s response really did speak to me, though. Focusing on funding research—and research for other conditions besides autism—spoke to goals that match mine, rather than an attempt to buy my vote.

The Los Angeles Times has a full transcript of the debate already.

Also, AutismStreet gathers his thoughts and types faster than I. There is a good treatment of this subject there.

here’s a taste:

She understands that autism is on the rise? Really? Can she clearly convey the distinction between more diagnoses, and an actual increase in prevalence? Does she understand diagnostic substitution? What about the broadening criteria and the changes in the very definition of autism? Does she really understand this? Or, is McCain pandering and simply parroting anti-vaccination and anti-autism advocate fundraisers’ “autism epidemic” rhetoric?

[added material]

I want to repeat: I really hope I am wrong about Senator McCain. Even if he loses the presidential bid, he is a Senator and someone we need to help in the probable lean years ahead—and beyond.

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