Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why This Parent of a Special Needs Child Is Voting for Barack Obama

There have been a number of essays and editorials about the presidential race, considering in depth the positions of Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, which I would recommend: The New Yorker and The Los Angeles Times are two that endorse Obama which clearly lay out the case—in general, for a change in direction for the United States, and specifically for Obama's leadership.

I cite those examples for two reasons: First, I don't decide whom to support based on one issue, whether it be autism or something else. And second, this blog post is going to hit just a few highlights. Still, when it comes to this blog's readers—mostly parents and family members of people with autism spectrum disorders—there are several reasons to add Autism Bulletin's voice to those supporting Barack Obama for president, and Joseph Biden for vice president:

1.) The Role of Government in Our Lives

No one I have met in this journey as a parent of a special needs child plans to use government services more than anyone else. We became parents, and then we learned that we had a special needs child. It happened, and most of us have learned that no matter how hard we try, we need help. It's not our fault we need help, but we do.

The government can help, in many ways: through the work of educators teaching our children new skills, in early intervention programs, in school settings and at home; through supporting healthcare programs that augment those school- and home-based services; for autistic adults who require support to live in our communities.

We're in tough economic times, certainly, and it is difficult to imagine a great expansion of social services in the coming years. But listening to Obama and McCain during the campaign, the conventions and the debates, it is clear to me that a Democratic administration would be better for our kids and our families.

I say this having heard the pledge by Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, to be an advocate for special needs children in the White House. But I have trouble reconciling that pledge with a historic position by the Republican Party to want to eradicate the Department of Education. I have trouble seeing how a Republican administration would support government research dollars going to help people with autism, when John McCain promises to cut spending across the board. (I also recall stories like that of Mike Bernoski, a parent who was thrown out of Republican Joe Barton's Congressional office when Bernoski sought to discuss the Combating Autism Act.)

And, more importantly, it's clear that Obama has both education and social services at or near the top of his agenda. When he has to make tough choices, he has indicated that he will prioritize education and healthcare goals. He is a better choice.

2.) The Healthcare System in America

Advocates for people with autism spectrum disorders have done heroic work in recent years around the country, state by state, to win more health insurance coverage for our families. There's more work to be done.

John McCain's healthcare proposal seeks to apply free market principles to the nation's healthcare system. It would allow people to shop for health insurance across state lines, which leaves in doubt state governments' requirements to cover citizens according to state laws. At the least, it would appear to undercut the role of states and appears to threaten the gains the advocates for our families have won.

In a market-based model, there are always winners and losers. The question then comes up: what role will the government play when people all over the nation, including people with disabilities, are losing?

During the debates, a moderator asked the candidates whether healthcare in their view was a right or a responsibility. McCain said he sees healthcare as a responsibility. Obama said he sees healthcare as a right for all Americans.

I have read and heard media reports which suggest Obama's healthcare plan projections are rosy, that they won't work exactly as he says by expanding the existing employer-based system, and that the economic meltdown will throw his plans off track. Those points make sense. But I come back to the principle: Obama is right that our government needs to find ways to care for everyone. McCain is wrong to trust the market to solve the problem.

3.) The Role of the Courts

Parents of disabled children have brought cases to the federal courts, seeking for example, the right to advocate for an autistic child when they can't afford a lawyer. We should expect more cases, as questions about what our society should do to treat people with disabilities, to allow them to live, learn and work in our communities and nation as full participants.

The president's right to appoint judges, to the Supreme Court, and to other federal benches, is another reason I am supporting Obama. I trust him to appoint judges who will be open to the fact that in today's America, we face issues, challenges, medical conditions and disabilities that require careful consideration and fair treatment.

4.) Awareness Is Not Enough

I have been astonished by the degree to which politicians have mentioned autism during this campaign. John McCain, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton—each has spoken about it, citing the need to support families dealing with its challenges. It feels like autism advocates have won an important awareness battle.

But awareness is not enough. It's not enough to say you know about the problem. You have to be willing to do something about it. Obama's domestic priorities of education and healthcare come closest to addressing the issues that parents of kids with disabilities face.

No one, especially in these uncertain economic times, can predict what is going to happen. But after listening to these candidates, studying their histories, watching how they conduct their campaigns, noting their choices of vice presidential nominees, advisers and prominent supporters, I have concluded that Barack Obama is the best choice for president: for our country, for our families, for our future.


Anonymous said...

I believe the flaw in your thinking is that the Federal government is in the best position to provide for our disabled children. Yes, the Feds have most of our money with the biggest budgets but that does not make them most appropriate to solve the problem. I see the impacts of NCLB every day when dealing with the public schools. It is grim situation where the states are trying to win back money taken from us by the Feds and thrown into large coffers spent on a huge bureaucracy. I hope one day that American realize that the lure of the federal backing of our education system is not the prudent approach for the future of our local communities.

I'm sorry, but I don't believe either candidate's position is appropriate on this topic for a long term solution to our education systems. (And yes, its a bunch of systems, not one big one)

Anonymous said...

I have to respectfully disagree with your opinion. We have a child who is severely autistic. He was poisoned by drugs given to me while in labor, which made him more susceptible to environmental toxins such as the mercury laden vaccines injected into him as a 13 month old.

So in some small way, I agree with you...because of the manner in which my son became autistic, I believe the CDC and FDA is culpable, and therefore should provide compensation to children injured via vaccines.

Where we disagree is where you believe the government should 'take care' of our children. We are a working family who pays nearly $1000/month in medical insurance premiums, yet our son's therapies are not covered by insurance in Oklahoma.

The Free Market has not worked with regard to insurance coverage in Oklahoma for autism diagnosis and treatments. This is why we are changing the laws to mandate insurance coverage.

Obama wants our healthcare to become socialized "spreading the wealth". Socialism is not what our country was founded on. Look at any country with socialized healthcare and you can see it takes months just to get in to see a doctor for a checkup. People in Canada come to the US for most ailments. My husband grew up in North Dakota and people who were suffering from a heart attack were driven to hospitals in ND rather than go to one in Canada.

No a socialized society is not what we want for our children. And this is coming from a family who is teetering on bankruptcy and makes far less than the $250k that Obama says is safe from any distribution of wealth. As a mother I'm scared to death of Obama. Scared our children will grow up not wanting to do better because no one will be rewarded for hard work because everyone's wealth will be distributed among the 'people'.

I ask all of you who want a socialistic country and believe the government is supposed to take of you; I suggest you move to Switzerland, Russia, or Cuba....
Robyne Rohde, Edmond, Oklahoma

Michael Goldberg said...

Thanks for posting your comments. I appreciate you having different points of view, at the same time we agree we also want what is best for families coping with autism spectrum disorders.

My editorial here is about making a choice in this election. It is not about who is to blame for the rise in autism cases, or whether the government can solve every problem. It cannot. And yet, when I make this choice, I am seeking to back a candidate who can make a positive difference going forward about the issues most important to our country. That includes issues like education, special education and our nation's healthcare system.

As for a free market approach to health insurance, it sounds like you are making an argument for more coverage for people with autism, that is, more regulation, as opposed to free market approach to healthcare. Please take a moment to study the candidates' plans; I think you might end up agreeing with me on this issue.

I can't address your fears. I just know that I am tired of having politicians telling me I have to be very afraid about something when I go to vote.

Nina Liakos said...

A well-reasoned and thoughtful article. I was voting for Obama anyway, but I agree with your position that an Obama administration is much more likely to support people with special needs, as well as people in the middle and lower classes and working people, than a McCain administration would be. Thanks for putting it so neatly.

Anonymous said...

In reading and trying to understand the logic that you have listed, I'm concerned that many issues regarding Obama's policies and values were completely overlooked.

While I agree that children with autism will require more assistance, time and money than most 'normal' children, the idea of having the government taking the lead on promoting the cause is a cause for concern. There's a difference between sharing responsibilities and eventually handing them over to another party. The justification for Obama's administration clearly outlines government's role in the primary care of our children.

Once the State has their hands in the pot, where do they draw the line? What if the State decides since they are now the primary caretakers funding billions into research, health coverage and education programs that since they have taking out free market and free choice that laws and regulations are not put into place regarding autism. These might include mandating pregnancy screenings for autism (Remember Obama is a staunch Pro-Choice supporter), requiring certain medications or therapies for autistic children, incorporating certain schools or other educational institutions to teach our autistic children. So much for our input on what is best for our kids at this point. Think about it.

Anonymous said...

Your article was very well written. I'm a mother to a 7 yo diagnosed with PDD-Nos. I like you voted for Obama because I felt he was the better choice, but also because I believed McCain and Palin were pandering. Her son's diagnosis of Down's Syndrome is not the same as ASD and I flet like they were trying to use autism to get votes.

I'm glad that Obama was elected.

Enjoyed your blog.

Anonymous said...

I am a special educator in Texas; actually working with families who have children on the spectrum. I see, each and every day, the frustration and anguish they face during and after school. However...unlike the majority of educators whose livelihoods depend upon more - not less - students walking through the doors of the public schools; I couldn't be a more ardent supporter of a voucher system which puts the decision on how a special needs child should be educated into the proper hands: the parents.

But...I'll go a step further. EVERY child in a public school could benefit from an IEP...who's to say that only special needs students are to be singled out as the only recipients? How is this fair to the rest of the public school population?

It's frankly not. That's why all parents should be able to decide how they want their children educated; public, private, will definitely change the scope of an antiquated system; and lessen the pressure on the public admins.

However, as a realist I also know it means job and lifelong careers will vanish almost overnight. Leaving thousands rushing to the doors of private schools to make a living - or other venues entirely.

Not something anyone in my profession wants to look forward to. a logical's the right thing to do. When little else is working given the lack of appropriate funding and forethought from state leaders.

Just my .02 from the trenches.

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