By Mark Blaxill
John McCain's surprise decision for his Vice Presidential running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, has shaken up the 2008 presidential election race. Since Palin, who has served only two years as Alaska's governor, is not well known, her selection as the Republican candidate for Vice President has raised a number of questions. The most obvious and important question is being asked widely: is she ready to be President should something happen to John McCain? In the meantime, this telegenic, 44 year old mother of five has made history as only the second woman in American history to be selected as Vice President for a major party ticket.
But for some of us, the selection of Sarah Palin has a special resonance. Palin's younger son, Trig, born on April 19, 2008, is barely 4 months old now. Trig has Down's syndrome, a disorder that began at conception when he received two copies of his 21st chromosome from either his mother or father (close to 90% of the time, the extra copy is maternal), leaving him with three copies of this chromosome instead of the usual two. This genetic condition, formally known as trisomy 21, affects roughly 1 in 800 American children today, but as many as 1 in 27 children born to mothers who, like Palin, give birth at age 44.
For readers of the Age of Autism, this 4 month child is worth watching. Because trisomy 21 is not just the cause of Down's syndrome, it is also a genetic susceptibility factor for autism.