Is Obama Pro-Choice? And What if Autism Were Contagious?
On Media: Paul Offit and the Right to Opt Out

Alaska Autism Mom to Barack Obama: Will You Listen

Speak_outManaging Editor's Note: You can call the Obama campaign at 866-675-2008. It might take two or three tries to reach a person. Tell them you read about Obama's "Vaccination Selection" opinion on Age of Autism. Or email them at

By Jill Nordtvedt Lenhard

After reading Claudine Liss' piece on Senator Obama's stance on selective vaccination, I was inspired to write to him as one more voice in this complex debate.  Posted here is the letter I just sent. 

September 9, 2008

Dear Senator Obama,

I am the mother of a 5 year old son with autism, and I am depending on you to be a leader in defeating this health crisis by finding out what is causing this terrible condition.  I am inspired by your stance on many issues, and especially your desire to end the divisive nature of politics in our country.  I have been registered as a nonpartisan voter in Alaska for 20 years, but this year I changed my party affiliation to Democrat in order to cast my vote for you in our statewide caucus last winter.  Alaskans supported you overwhelmingly in that vote. 

However, I am greatly disheartened to read today on that you are against selective vaccination.  Children with underlying conditions such as mitochondrial disorder that have been linked to the development of autism (as in the Hannah Poling case) should be allowed to receive vaccines on a selective schedule.  Parents and physicians should be allowed to make individual choices for children who may have immunological and/or genetic risk factors.  Given the continuing questions about vaccines and autism, it is vital that our country study the safety of vaccinations to determine if they have played a role in the explosion of autism and other neurological disorders in our children.  Definitive studies comparing populations of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children and the autism rate have NOT been done.

As a resident of the State of Alaska, I have had the opportunity to speak directly with Governor Sarah Palin about autism and the problems our state has faced in providing appropriate early intervention services.  Our small town of Petersburg, Alaska has an alarming 1 in 75 autism rate among its children.  Governor Palin was receptive to my comments and ideas, and she later increased the funding per intensive special needs student for our school districts statewide.  She listened well on autism education issues; will you also listen when it comes to autism and healthcare? 

You can do this in the following ways.  First, please fully fund the Combating Autism Act and direct funding toward well-designed studies that will completely answer the questions surrounding vaccinations and autism.   

Second, please educate yourself fully on this subject by hearing extensively from both sides so that you can make informed decisions about how best to treat and defeat autism.  Talk to people who have begun to question the safety of vaccines, such as Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former head of the NIH.  Many, many parents, including my husband and I, were skeptical of the vaccine-autism connection until we began reading extensively on both sides of the issue.

Third, please bring about a change in the way that autism is treated by the mainstream medical community and the insurance industry.  In many cases, mainstream treatments such as speech therapy are not covered by insurance if the person has autism because the condition is not "an illness or an injury" in its current medical definition.  Our insurance, which covers up to 60 speech therapy visits per year, refuses to cover our son's speech visits because he has autism.   In addition, other effective medical treatments are not recognized by mainstream physicians.  Many, many families, including ours, were driven to try "experimental" biomedical treatments because their doctors would not assist them with the health issues that children with autism face, such as chronic bowel disease.   These biomedical treatments are not covered by the majority of insurance plans, including ours.  The fact that these treatments provide real improvement for many people with autism is directly linked biochemically to the possibility of vaccine damage.  I did not want to believe that vaccines may have caused my son's autism, but now that he is improving with biomedical intervention I am forced to consider that the contents of vaccines may have damaged his immune and biochemical systems in such a way that he developed autism.  (For an explanation of this theory, please see the Defeat Autism Now medical text Autism:  Effective Biomedical Treatments by Drs. John Pangborn and Sidney MacDonald.  The text is written for physicians.)

Families affected with autism desperately need a strong, unifying leader to fully expose the causes of this condition and bring about a sea change in the way that it is treated by the medical community and the insurance industry.  I believe you can be the leader who defeats autism, and you will gain a huge following if you take on this issue in an informed, courageous way.

Thank you very much.


Jill Nordtvedt Lenhard

Jill teaches English as a Second Language at Petersburg City Schools in Petersburg, Alaska, population 3,200.  She also teaches online Linguistics at Washington Academy of Languages/Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Washington.  Her husband, Matt, is the music teacher  for Petersburg's school district.  They have three children, Nathaniel, 9, Eva, 7, and Iain, 5.  Iain has autism and has just started Kindergarten with a wonderful, dedicated team of teachers at the local elementary school.



Mary Beth,

Unfortunately we're damn if we do (more vaccine mandates?) and if we don't. If we had stronger government oversite maybe we wouldn't have injected our children with poison for the last 20 years. Look where caving to big business got us. In a toxic hell that's where.

Jenny Carrera

I have asked both parties, Democratic & Republican, about their position on Autism, but I haven't got any answer back from any of them. Actually, I haven't got any answer back from any politician I have called or emailed to ask for the Autism coverage bill in Illinois. I just heard that one of the Sara Palin's nephews is autistic & her youngest son has Down syndrome. I just hope (if she gets to be VP, of course!) she'll fight to get more insurance coverage for this issue. I think it's time to get nationally the Autism Coverage Bill. I'm not Republican either Democrat, but I think we (parent of children with special need) need that the federal government passes a bill to get more funds for treatments...

Mary Beth

I know many of you are personally invested in Obama but for the life of me I can't figure out why people think more government is going to solve this problem?? We all want more choices for how we treat our children. We want to vaccinate if we want or not. We want more of our insurance money to cover the things that affect us personally. We want the choice to use non FDA approved OTC biomedicals. As soon as you ask government to get involved you are opening another whole can of worms. I want someone who recognizes there is a problem and then I want them to sweep government OUT of the way!! All I'm saying is if you want more government it will extract a price. Namely in control and taxes. I reject both! I want control of how to handle my child's issues. I know them best. I don't doubt Obama is a caring father and feels deeply about certain humanitarian issues. I just personally think you have a better chance of bending the ear of someone who lives it. Did you also know that Sarah Palin has a sister who has a child with autism?


Exactly what I was looking for...a phone number! I was on Obama's site yesterday looking for specific information about vaccine/autism...anything.

Tell me there won't be a college kid on the other end of the phone line?

Thank you for this information. I do believe that the campaign trail is basically lip service but it will tell the true merit of a persons character - if they can venure down the autism road of discovery.

Catherine H

This letter was really very well written!
I also live in Alaska, and I'll admit right out front that I am voting for Obama...but, I have already found some serious fault with Sarah Palin on her policies that I want to put on the table here.
I have multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS), also called environmental illness and sick building syndrom, and I deal with chemical exposures and really horrible results all the time, so I am on Social Security Disability and Medicaid as a result. Through surveys sanctioned by Dept. of Health in 4 other states, including California, and Georgia,we know that about 2% of any population is already seriously harmed by the use of chemicals (including vacines). For that reason, I am really aware of how chemicals intereact with humans, pets,the environment,and our schools, and I look for ways that I can advocate for safer air, water and consumer products...including housing and household products (carpeting, paints and cleaning agents).
Last May, as an advocate for the Alaska MCS Association, I asked Gov. Palin in a letter to make May MCS awareness month in Alaska so that we could begin to get the word out on how to live without so many chemicals, and especially where to find support for those already harmed by them. This includes our advocacy to the schools and to hospitals.
She sent this letter over to her appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services to be vetted, something I understand was not normally done for proclaimations,and it was refused on the grounds that the medical establishment couldn't, or wouldn't say what causes MCS. That made Alaska the only state in all 50 that didn't have May as MCS awareness month. I might add that both years Palin has been Governor this was the case.
Since this is recognized by Social Security and other agencies, this is very alarming to those of us whose lives are already derailed. I figure this was connected to her denial that man is really contributing to Global warming, and her reluctance to face down Exxon or the courts over their shameful disregard for the chemical harm done to our environment and those who helped clean up the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Those people who cleaned up the spill almost 20 years ago are now bringing children into the world with birth defects from the exposures they had to petro chemicals while cleaning up after the mess and several are seriously harmed by those same chemicals and now have MCS. Worse still, is the indication that this is epigenetics...where the harm shows up in suceeding generatons. I might add that Alaska is blessed with a really high number of toxic waste sites thanks to the military presence in this state over the years and has the highest number of birth defects of all 50 states.
We know that the indications of environmental harm are far worse in the northern Global areas, and that our leaders have to begin to change public policies now...that would include vacines. Palin is not wanting to take action, recognize the harm or support education of advocacy groups to those already hurt. This is very serious, in my book and not worth the support as a possible President.


I totally agree with Pamela. The last thing I need for my daughter is more government control of her health care. In Pennsylvania those with developmental disabilities are eligible to participate in Medical Assistance. While this is beneficial as a supplement to private insurance, just try getting them to pay for an appointment with an out-of-network physician even when your own in-network provider is clueless and completely screws up a procedure. It took four appeals before I could get authorization for just one out-of-network visit. PT, OT, and speech are severely limited. Adaptive equipment is all but impossible to obtain. I expect more of the same with any other government-controlled health plan.

When it comes to big government, the only "choice" you're going to get is abortion on demand. Other than that, expect mandated vaccination schedules and cookie-cutter "one size fits all" autism services.


Great job Jill, I started a call in plea yesterday for the same reason however I would like to point out that Obama has given many assurrances in terms of IDEA, Combatting Autism Act, education and early education efforts. As well as environmental toxins and removing mercury from vaccines. However the choice vaccine question is the one that we need answered as well as seeing if he even knows the biomedical piece. But I do not believe he is equipped with the information to answer these questions as it is apparent that he has not seen the science on our side. My plea was in the comment section of Claudine's piece. I am pleaing he meet with someone in our community who can supply him with the necessary science, a parent well versed in the science and politics involved. Possibly Poling or another seasoned parent. I've gotten great responses from Obama's staff so far but no definite meeting (at least not yet)


Great letter Jill.

Stepping into a conversation about political ideology is dangerous territory but I think evaluating a candidate's basic philosophy is critical to understanding how they might stand on a particular issue and Obama concerns me philosophically because he is in favor of more government in our lives. More government always means less personal freedom and less personal "choice."

A good example is his health care plan. If we turn to government to provide our access to health care through insurance we are allowing government to put stipulations on the care we receive and after all government interference in our right to make choices about vaccination is what we are all working to change.


I am an independent, prefer to focus on the issues at hand, and tend to ignore "party" alignments. As the mother of an autistic daughter (PDD/NOS), I tend to watch those issues closely. And as a management consultant, I know that past performance is usually indicative of future behavior. Combat Autism 2005, signed into law in 2006, was co-authored by Sen. Dodd (D), with early co-sponsorship by Sen. Clinton and Obama. Bush signed it into law in 2006, then in 2007 withheld funding due to cost cutting measures. It is my understanding that the funds are currently being directed according to the original bill's provisions.
Although McCain states that he co-sponsored this bill, I can find no evidence to that effect besides his own statements. (Perhaps someone can find in public records?) He was not a co-sponsor of record moving it through the senate in 2005. The measure passed the senate unanimously in 2006, so perhaps we can assume that what he means is that he did not vote against it.
In 2002, $100 million for autistic schools of excellence was tagged onto a defense appropriations bill . Sen. McCain spoke eloquently against including funds for autism on this particular bill. His speech is public record. Perhaps understandable since the purpose of the bill was defense funds, yet please note: there is NO record of Sen. McCain speaking to the issue of autism in public from that speech in 2002 until the RNC last week.
All three dem presidential contenders had provisions for autism built into their healthcare reform platforms. Clinton has spoken out repeatedly (as recently as March 2008) on the need for funds, research and education to support the autistic population. Obama's PLAN for autism is detailed, and extensive. You can find it on his website, or the Autism Votes! site, which gives impartial space for both candidate views. McCain does not offer a detailed plan, and only provides statistics and information on autism that you can easily find on any related site.
Having followed the politics of autism for some time, I can offer perspective that the democrats have an extensive history of focusing on this issue.
If autism is a high priority issue for you (and yes, this election is ONLY about issues-- nothing else) then I would encourage you to check out how each candidate plans to help your child, you, and your family.
If your preferred candidate does not have a plan you like in place today, has no experience getting things done for people with disabilities, and hasn't given it much thought until now-- what leads you to believe that will change post election?


If you look at the money Obama promises in his first year to autism research and programs for children with autism One Billion dollars. McCain does not promise any funding.

The only problem with Obama is that he listens to Autism Speaks. This is what I hope to change while working for his campaign. I would be working on behalf of my nephew with autism because my sister does not have the time.

It might be easier to change thinking from inside the campaign rather than be on the outside looking in.


Encouraging Newsweek stats today. May both candidates fight to outdo each other here:
Newsweek Fact check:

We've been flooded for the past few days with queries about dubious Internet postings and mass e-mail messages making claims about McCain's running mate, Gov. Palin. We find that many are completely false, or misleading.

Palin did not cut funding for special needs education in Alaska by 62 percent. She didn't cut it at all. In fact, she tripled per-pupil funding over just three years.

No Cut for "Special Needs" Kids
It's not true, as widely reported in mass e-mails, Web postings and at least one mainstream news source, that Palin slashed the special education budget in Alaska by 62 percent. CNN's Soledad O'Brien made the claim on Sept. 4 in an interview with Nicolle Wallace, a senior adviser to the McCain campaign:

O'Brien, Sept. 4: One are that has gotten certainly people sending to me a lot of e-mails is the question about as governor what she did with the special needs budget, which I'm sure you're aware, she cut significantly, 62 percent I think is the number from when she came into office. As a woman who is now a mother to a special needs child, and I think she actually has a nephew which is autistic as well. How much of a problem is this going to be as she tries to navigate both sides of that issue?

Such a move might have made Palin look heartless or hypocritical in view of her convention-speech pledge to be an advocate for special needs children and their families. But in fact, she increased special needs funding so dramatically that a representative of local school boards described the jump as "historic."

According to an April 2008 article in Education Week, Palin signed legislation in March 2008 that would increase public school funding considerably, including special needs funding. It would increase spending on what Alaska calls "intensive needs" students (students with high-cost special requirements) from $26,900 per student in 2008 to $73,840 per student in 2011. That almost triples the per-student spending in three fiscal years. Palin's original proposal, according to the Anchorage Daily News, would have increased funds slightly more, giving intensive needs students a $77,740 allotment by 2011.

Education Week: A second part of the measure raises spending for students with special needs to $73,840 in fiscal 2011, from the current $26,900 per student in fiscal 2008, according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

Unlike many other states, Alaska has relatively flush budget coffers, thanks to a rise in oil and gas revenues. Funding for schools will remain fairly level next year, however. Overall per-pupil funding across the state will rise by $100, to $5,480, in fiscal 2009. ...

Carl Rose, the executive director of the Association of Alaska School Boards, praised the changes in funding for rural schools and students with special needs as a "historic event," and said the finance overhaul would bring more stability to district budgets.

According to Eddy Jeans at the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, funding for special needs and intensive needs students has increased every year since Palin entered office, from a total of $203 million in 2006 to a projected $276 million in 2009.

Those who claim that Palin cut special needs funding by 62 percent are looking in the wrong place and misinterpreting what they find there. They point to an apparent drop in the Department of Education and Early Development budget for special schools. But the special schools budget, despite the similar name, isn't the special needs budget. "I don't even consider the special schools component [part of] our special needs funding," Jeans told "The special needs funding is provided through our public school funding formula. The special schools is simply a budget component where we have funding set aside for special projects," such as the Alaska School for the Deaf and the Alaska Military Youth Academy. A different budget component, the Foundation Program, governs special needs programs in the public school system.

And in any case, the decrease in funding for special schools is illusory. Palin moved the Alaska Military Youth Academy's ChalleNGe program, a residential military school program that teaches job and life skills to students under 20, out of the budget line for "special schools" and into its own line. This resulted in an apparent drop of more than $5 million in the special schools budget with no actual decrease in funding for the programs.


"Illinois ranks at or near the bottom in per capita spending in almost every category when it comes to caring for disabled adults—a record that critics call "shameful" and "embarrassing.""


Need I say more??


I am for McCain all the way, he has publicly shared his true feelings on autism/vaccines/pharma. BUT the worst thing we can all do now is hope for McCain and ignore Obama. This would have been my tactic a decade ago when I was more emotional driven than intelligent. At first I was wondering why this lady would bother to write to Obama, but this is what we NEED to do. We need to breathe down his throat until we are noticed. If he gets elected, good lord...I just hope he doesn't.

Sam's mom

This does need to be a non-partisan issue in oreder for us to be more effective as a whole. While I wholeheartedly agree with that strategy, it is NOT as if this is NEW NEWS to Senator Obama.


Hi Jill:

I hear ya! I seriously doubt Opharma will hear us (credit AL over at Autistic Living for this new name).

Here's something AL posted there too. From Aaron Smith's article entitled, Big Pharma opens wallet to Dems.:

"Obama maintains a slight edge over his Democratic rival, with $181,000 in Big Pharma donations through Jan. 31, compared with Clinton's $174,000, according to the center. McCain is far behind with $44,000."



Check it out!


Would you mind linking to this on I would love to share it but believe as a parent of a child with autism, it would be more powerful coming from you. I think this letter is really fantastic and shines a much needed spotlight on the candidate's views on autism.

I know the parents of children with autism on our site would also be really interested in learning about your interaction with Sarah Palin. Personally, I don't trust her and believe she needs to define how she will be an advocate (programatically) for children with special needs. But that's just my politics.


Excellent letter. I hope Obama will respond to you and to all of us at AoA soon.

Jan Harmon


You are on the right track. If I were you... I would be tempted to vote for McCain/Palin. Primarily because you have had the opportunity to speak directly with Gov. Palin. However, I believe that Sen. Obama's healthcare plan and his stances on the economy makes him a better bet.

He seems to be very thoughtful and knowledgeable. He will do the right thing.

Your letter was wonderful.



Wonderful letter Jill.

If he ever replies would you please give him the real deal on Autism Speaks as well? That is something else he needs to be enlightened about.


Great letter Jill.

Anyone can call Obama's campaign headquarters and voice their concerns to a staffer.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)