Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kristina Chew on John McCain's Autism Policy

…or, as the case may be, on his lack thereof.

As many of us noticed, McCain went out of his way to kiss up to the antivax crowd during the third presidential debate, in addition to his usual assortment of wingnuts and conspiracy theorists. Although McCain gave the distinct impression that he doesn't even know the difference between autism and Down syndrome, his ignorance didn't stop him from declaring that federal spending was needed to find the cause of autism—that is, when he wasn't promising an across-the-board spending freeze. (Obama was quick to point out that very obvious contradiction. You go, Barack! And here's a teensy hint, John—just about everyone whose fashion choices don't include a tinfoil beanie has figured out by now that autism is caused by genes, not vaccines.)

McCain's clumsy attempt at pandering failed to appeal to many parents of autistic children, as reporter Claudia Kalb mentioned in a Newsweek web exclusive interview with Kristina Chew of Autism Vox, who noted that McCain's comments "seem to betray a lack of knowledge or understanding about the kinds of things that autistic children need… He's sentimentalizing the children, but not looking at how we can help them, how we can teach them, how we can make things better." Another topic discussed in the interview was the tendency of politicians and others to overlook the needs and concerns of adults with disabilities.

That observation was certainly accurate. John McCain has overlooked people with disabilities so thoroughly in the course of his presidential bid that—with only two weeks to go before the general election—his own campaign admits that he hasn't even bothered to prepare a disability policy statement. That says far more about his attitude toward American citizens with disabilities than any platitudes spoken in a debate ever could.

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  • Did Ms. Chew suggest that an autistic adult might be a better person to interview than herself in regards to the needs of autistic adults? Or do we continue to be happy with the crumbs we are given? I'm sick of this crap of non-autistics speaking for autistics.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:24 PM  

  • Anonymous: Ms. Chew did not speak for autistic adults but simply noted the lack of public awareness of autistic adults' existence. The scope of the article was limited to parent reactions to political pandering.

    The author of the article, Ms. Kalb, is aware that we can speak for ourselves. She interviewed Ari Ne'eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network earlier this year. Although that article contained some annoying stereotypes, it also included a discussion of neurodiversity.

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:45 PM  

  • i'm wondering if we are in fact going to be better off or worse off with the government programs obama is proposing that are supposedly going to help disabled people become more independent. i ask the same question of mccain's plan if cutting programs will help or hurt us in the long run of becoming more independent. the reason i ask is because i don't want to have a self fulfilling prophecy, set forth by autism speaks and the like, where we down the line become a burden and dependent to the government because of the social programs obama wants to put in place. i ask this because i don't want neurodiversity sending us backwards unintentionally.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:54 PM  

  • "Ms. Chew did not speak for autistic adults but simply noted the lack of public awareness of autistic adults' existence. The scope of the article was limited to parent reactions to political pandering."

    You assume that being autistic and being a parent is exclusive, which I don't think you meant to say. However, who better to do an interview with than an autistic parent in an article dealing with parents' reactions to political pandering and autism? Did Ms. Chew suggest that the interviewer approach an autistic parent as the "perfect" subject for the scope of the article? Or do we assume that the two are exclusive? This is one of the things that I detest about the current state of neurodiversity.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:06 PM  

  • I'm personally growing very tired of non-autistics professing to know what autistics want and/or need. I'm reasonably certain McCain would jump on any bandwagon that he thinks would gain him popularity. I don't think he could be more out of touch if he'd spent the last twenty years on another planet.

    By Blogger Stat Mama, at 9:19 PM  

  • There's an interesting discussion in the comments on a post on Perseveration.org about whether affirmative action would help or hurt autistics.

    Obama has suggested on occasion that he might prefer a class-based approach to affirmative action, rather than basing it on race or disability or other intrinsic differences.

    Many of Obama's disability proposals are not about creating new social programs, but instead are about improving the funding and enforcement of existing social programs that were ignored by the Bush administration, as well as amending existing programs to make them work better. He is quite pragmatic in many ways.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:19 PM  

  • CS: I agree with you that more interviews with autistic parents would be ideal, and I certainly wasn't suggesting that being autistic and being a parent are mutually exclusive. When I wrote that the scope of the article was limited to parent reactions, I meant that it was not about the needs of autistic adults. I don't think that necessarily implies exclusion of autistic parents' reactions to pandering.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:27 PM  

  • wouldn't that change minds and really boost "awareness" and shake some preconceptions the public has if autistic parents were the ones interviewed? As long as we don't insist on the press to stop treating parenthhood as something exclusive from autism, then we contribute to the very inaccurate picture of autism. People like Ms. Chew could help open those doors, but I'm afraid its not part of her conscienceness. That is part of my criticism.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:02 PM  

  • All points taken and thank you. I have been thinking about the issues as (like Sarah Palin) a mother of a special needs child, and therefore have a limited perspective.

    By Blogger kristina, at 11:44 PM  

  • How many prepared statements does John McCain need to prepare? You gave us a link in the past, ABFH, in which McCain said he was committed to autism research and helping people with autism do well in life. Does he need to prepare a statement every week?

    By Blogger James Pate, at 4:56 PM  

  • James: I assume you're referring to the statement McCain submitted to the Autism Society of America, in which he suggested that the existence of autistic people was a national crisis, a huge economic burden, and a cause of bankruptcy and divorce for our parents?

    To put it mildly, I wouldn't call that an adequate substitute for a comprehensive national disability policy analysis such as the Obama campaign prepared last year.

    By Blogger abfh, at 5:05 PM  

  • Yes, that's the one, but I think you quoted it pretty selectively. That statement had a lot of good things in it, too.

    By Blogger James Pate, at 9:23 PM  

  • Mr Pate, there is a big difference between preparing a comprehensive statement on disability that will form the basis of a government's political action in that regard and writing a letter to a specific charity dealing with a specific disability. If McCain stands up and says, "I sympathise with people who are challenged by disability X," this does NOT MEAN that he has designed a policy to help people with disability X. It means that he's uttered a platitude. A platitude that is couched in rather objectionable language, too.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 8:57 PM  

  • And what's Mr. Obama's plan? Spend here, spend there, fully fund this? Even I can come up with that.

    By Blogger James Pate, at 6:27 PM  

  • "And what's Mr. Obama's plan? Spend here, spend there, fully fund this? Even I can come up with that."

    and he will need money to do it. funding idea and similar 'support' programs isn't going to come from thin air. he's going to get the money by raising everyone's taxes, which means that the auties (among others) that are working, and those that are trying to make it on their own, are going to have less money in their paycheck in order to fund these government programs, new or otherwise. programs, i believe, hurt more than help people by making them more dependent on government and crushing their work ethic and making them less happy (i realize some auties cannot work, i'm talking about those that can work with little or no outside assistance). this could down the road, lead to autism extermination due to 'being a burden to the economy', and many auties could be helpless because their work ethic was weaned off by the government.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:25 PM  

  • Important points, Anonymous, but John McCain is also big on government spending for autism.

    By Blogger James Pate, at 11:50 PM  

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