Thursday, October 16, 2008

Post Debate: McCain and Special Needs Children

This morning, as I've read through a series of blog posts about last night's debate I was struck by one issue in particular. A number of writers took different angles on some strange stuff in John McCain's talk about Sarah Palin, special needs children, autism, etc. Now, before I dive into recounting the more interesting information I've run across, let me say that I think any extra attention given to these issues is laudable. Autism, from everything I know is a serious and growing problem in the U.S. and I hope we can all agree that research and work on understanding, treating, and hopefully someday curing some of these ailments is, in my estimation, a clear need.

That said, I came across a couple points I thought were worth conveying, first from my friends over at Purple State Blog, who posted the following insightful question during a liveblogging of the debate:
McCain keeps saying Palin's son has autism, but it's Down's Syndrome.
Oops? Maybe. He did focus largely on autism, perhaps because autism is currently getting attention from a greater number of parents than Down's is. Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan's blog this morning has an even broader and more nuanced critique of what we saw last night, provided by the parent with a 12-year old autistic daughter:
McCain’s most out of touch statement of the evening for me was his claim that Sarah Palin, with her four month old child with Downs Syndrome, knows more about special needs than anyone else he knows. My 12 year old daughter is autistic and I can tell you, at four months I knew next to nothing about the joys and heartbreak of raising a child with a disability.

At four months these kids are much like typical babies --- sweet, full of hope, and we related to them the same way relate to every other child we know. Ask parents of adults and teenagers with down syndrome or autism about what they know --- it is a different world.
To close things out, NBC's First Read has a good set of questions that pull us back from what was said to what the McCain camp has actually proposed in relationship to research on autism, programs for special needs children and families (hint: it's very little). There has been much talk of Sarah Palin's empathy for and understanding of what it means to have a special needs child, but what would a McCain administration actually do. Domenico Montanaro at NBC asks:
But what does McCain-Palin specifically want to do about special education? Do they agree with IDEA? Do they want to expand rights for special-education students to private schools? Do they want to increase funding? Do they want more access, by way of funding, to special-ed advocates?

McCain also said they want to help find a cure. But how?

The NIH budget has been slashed in the past eight years. Does McCain-Palin propose additional funding, particularly for autism or Down's research?

We don't know. Nothing was or has been laid out.


Corinne said...

YES! i agree completely with the andrew sullivan quote and said the same thing to derek last night... try talking to the parents of a 45-year old with downs' syndrome--- someone who needed to be put in a state-run facility as a teenager b/c it became impossible to take care of him or her. saying that the mother of a 6-month old w/ downs syndrome knows more about what it means to take care of a special needs child is JUST absurd. ugh... was disgusted with that part last night as well.

Matt said...

I found everything that McCain said last night about autism and Palin's understanding of it to be stomach-churning. Through Kristi's work with autistic kids, I've gotten to know a lot about the syndrome and met dozens of kids that have symptoms that fall into the spectrum of things that are considered autistic. To me, what McCain said about Palin's understanding of autism just demeaned the parents who are actually trying to raise these kids. Maybe it's just because the issue hit a bit close to home but I really can't remember more ham-handed pandering than that.

I could go on and on but I'll stop there.

Stamford Talk said...

Your post and the comments say it all. I think the autism/Palin comment was the dumbest, most awkward thing McCain said all night.