Well Being

Obama and McCain on Autism

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Both Senators Barack Obama and John McCain have statements on their websites about autism. Obama's is in a section on healthcare and is entitled Support Americans with Autism; he also has a plan on Autism Spectrum Disorders in his section on disabilities. McCain's statement is also in a section on health care, with a statement about Combating Autism in America on a separate webpage.

Back in November, Senator Hillary Clinton's website was the comprehensive about autism issues. Obama's current two-paragraph statement on autism is the same as it was in November, as was his plan to empower Americans with disabilities. McCain's website did not yet contain a section on autism. McCain made his entrance into autism politics with a February reference to thimerosal and the rise in the incidence of autism. In April, Obama was quoted at a Pennsylvania rally as saying that evidence linking vaccines and autism was “inconclusive” and that further research is needed.

And now it's the end of August. Obama's given his acceptance speech and McCain has chosen the Governor of Alaska and the mother of a young son with Down Syndrome, Sarah Palin, as his running mate. Here's a closer look at what each candidate's position on autism is.

On McCain's website is a statement entitled, again, Combating Autism in America; the statement highlights the Senator's concerns about finding out why the incidence of autism has risen in recent years. (Emphases in italics are mind.)

Combating Autism in America

John McCain is very concerned about the rising incidence of autism among America's children and has continually supported research into its causes and treatment. He has heard countless stories about families' hardships obtaining a diagnosis for their children's autism and accessing quality medical treatment. He believes that federal research efforts should support broad approaches to understanding the factors that may play a role in the incidence of autism, including factors in our environment, for both prevention and treatment purposes.

John McCain was proud to lend his support to the Combating Autism Act of 2006, which he cosponsored, and worked to ensure its enactment. This law is helping to increase public awareness and screening of autism spectrum disorder, promote the use of evidence-based interventions, and create autism Centers of Excellence for Autism Spectrum Disorder Research and Epidemiology. John McCain understands that despite the federal and scientific research efforts to date, the exact causes of autism are not yet known and greater research is needed to understand this disorder. That is why in November 2007, he joined with Senator Lieberman in requesting the leadership of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal research into autism, to hold a hearing on federal research efforts regarding factors affecting incidence and treatment in order to help determine where research efforts can best be directed. As President, John McCain will work to advance federal research into autism, promote early screening, and identify better treatment options, while providing support for children with autism so that they may reach their full potential.

Early screening, better options for treatment, and doing what can be done to enable autistic children to “reach their full potential; important and essential. McCain's autism webpage does not specifically refer to services or education (and special education, IDEA, and autism are not mentioned on his page on education issues).

Again, Obama's plan on Autism Spectrum Disorders is in his section on disabilities. Here's the plan in full (again with some points highlighted in italics by me):

BARACK OBAMA: SUPPORTING AMERICANS WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS

More than one million Americans have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), a complex condition that impacts communication, socialization, and behavior. And more cases of ASD are being recognized across the country at an alarming pace. Barack Obama believes that we must do more to help support Americans with ASD, their families, and their communities. Throughout his career, Barack Obama has worked with families affected by ASD to raise awareness and to provide support to parents and families living with ASD. As president, Obama will build on these many years of advocacy and ensure that his administration prioritizes ASD research, public awareness, and lifelong support services. Obama will seek to increase federal ASD funding for research, treatment, screenings, public awareness, and support services to $1 billion annually by the end of his first term in office. Obama will also continue to work with parents, physicians, providers, researchers, and schools to create opportunities and effective solutions for people with ASD.

Record of Leadership on ASD Research and Care: As an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama sponsored legislation that became law to create an ASD diagnosis education program, an initiative designed to promote the implementation of evidence-based practices. The goal of the project is to offer educational opportunities at all levels of care, including physicians, early intervention (EI) specialists, psychologists, teachers, day care providers, parents, respite workers, and speech and language therapists. Obama has personally worked side-by-side with Illinois families affected by ASD to support efforts to build the Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research. This school and research center will bring together education, academic research, early intervention programs, and training to prepare its students for independent living.

In the U.S. Senate, Obama is a cosponsor of a measure that would expand federal funding for life-long services for people with ASD, authorizing approximately $350 million in new federal funding for key programs related to treatments, interventions and services for both children and adults with ASD.

Appoint Federal ASD Coordinator to Oversee All Federal ASD Efforts: Barack Obama will ensure all federal ASD activities occur in an efficient manner that prioritizes both research and supports for families affected by ASD. Obama will appoint a Federal ASD Coordinator to oversee federal ASD research and federal efforts to improve awareness of ASD and improve the training of medical professionals to identify and treat ASD. By establishing one top-level point person to coordinate ASD efforts in the White House, Obama will ensure that ASD receives the recognition and priority it deserves in the federal government. The Federal ASD Coordinator will also be tasked with eliminating bureaucratic obstacles that may be delaying implementation of important ASD measures and ensuring that all federal ASD dollars are being spent in a manner that prioritizes results. The Coordinator will work with state task forces on ASD to ensure effective communication and collaboration among federal, state, and local agencies.

Fully Fund the Combating Autism Act and Federal Autism Research Initiatives: Barack Obama supported the Combating Autism Act of 2006, which was signed into law in December 2006. The Combating Autism Act authorizes increased federal funding for ASD research and efforts to boost public awareness and early diagnosis of ASD. Since the bill has been enacted, however, federal funding for ASD has not increased to the levels authorized by the Combating Autism Act. As a U.S. Senator, Obama has worked to fully fund the Combating Autism Act and as president, he will ensure that his administration addresses the growing impact of ASD and other special needs on American families. President Obama will fully fund the Combating Autism Act, which provides nearly $1 billion in autism-related funding over 5 years, and work with Congress, parents and ASD experts to determine how to further improve federal and state programs.

Support Special Needs Education for Children with ASD: Barack Obama understands that children with special needs – students with visual, hearing, physical, sensory, and mental impairments – require meaningful resources to succeed both inside and outside the classroom. Obama is a strong supporter of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and supports full federal funding of the law to truly ensure that no child is left behind. The current underfunding of IDEA causes school districts throughout the country to deny necessary services to students with ASD and other special needs. Obama will also work to change IDEA’s definition of “autism” to Autism Spectrum Disorders to ensure that all children diagnosed with ASD disorders receive the
support they need
.

Support Universal Screening: While roughly 90 percent of infants in the United States are currently screened for various potentially disabling or life-threatening conditions, fewer than half the states screen all infants for the full recommended panel of 29 disorders. Many of these conditions, if caught early, can be treated before they result in permanent impairments or even death. Barack Obama believes we should screen all infants, and also that we must set a national goal to provide re-screening for all two-year-olds, the age at which some conditions, including ASD, begin to appear. These screenings will be safe and secure, and available for every American that wants them. Part of Obama's early childhood intervention plan will be directed at coordinating fragmented community programs to help provide all children access to screening for disabilities as infants and again as two-year olds. Achieving universal screening is essential so that disabilities can be identified early enough for those children and families to get the special supports and resources they need.

Work Together: As part of his commitment to open the doors of our government to the American people, Barack Obama is committed to facilitating open dialogue among Americans with special needs and their families, federal and state agencies, regional centers, resource centers, research institutions, school districts, first responders, and community members.

Special education and universal screening for autism in young children are specifically mentioned in Obama's plan, as well as support for lifelong services. There's an understanding of autism as an “autism spectrum,” and that individuals at different ends of the autism spectrumm and their families, all alike require—in varying ways—-supports and services.

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