Suddenly I feel like one of the popular kids.
In her speech at the Democratic Convention Hillary Clinton said, “I will always remember the single mom who had adopted two kids with autism. She didn’t have any health insurance, and she discovered she had cancer. But she greeted me with her bald head, painted with my name on it, and asked me to fight for health care for her and her children.”
Then there was John McCain at the Republican Convention. “I fight for Jake and Toni Wimmer of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Jake works on a loading dock, coaches Little League, and raises money for the mentally and physically disabled. Toni is a schoolteacher, working towards her master’s degree. They have two sons; the youngest, Luke, has been diagnosed with autism. Their lives should matter to the people they elect to office. They matter to me. And they matter to you.”
Recently we got the news that Barack Obama sat down with the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice. And by now everybody knows that Sarah Palin has a child with Down's Syndrome, and in her acceptance speech promised that the parents of special needs children would always have an advocate in the White House.
There is no other way of saying this: We have caught the attention of the people in power. Great job, everybody!
But like the new kid in school who finds he’s suddenly running around with the popular crowd, there are dangers.
The people who lift you up have motives of their own, and not all of them are benign.
The democrats want to use autism as tool in their quest for greater health coverage. But unfortunately it was the health coverage we already had, and those wonderful vaccines our plans encouraged us to get for our children that caused this problem. And besides, will any existing health plan cover things like chelation, B-12 shots, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, or even more out-of-the-box therapies like stem cells? I think not. Thanks for your concern, Hillary, but it’s not enough.
The republicans want to use autism as a tool to show they’re compassionate people. And don’t we make the perfect victims? I mean, we were perfectly content living our lives, going to jobs, getting married, deciding to have children, and then, wham! Our plans got turned up-side down, and if we weren’t sinking into depression, we were emptying our bank accounts to try and improve the future of our children. Outside of being thrown in a North Vietnamese prison camp for five and a half years, how much more heroic can you get? Thanks, John McCain, for vowing not to forget us. But you need to do more.
When I was in college my friends thought I’d become a political columnist. I didn’t have the burning partisan fire to enter politics, but I always admired the political passion of those who did. My daughter’s godmother was the main fund-raiser for the democratic congresswoman in our district when she knocked off the republican incumbent. My best friend growing up was recently asked to be on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Even when I disagree with people, I admire their courage in standing up.
So I say thank you to Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Barack Obama, and Sarah Palin for bringing us to the party. Because of you, more people are thinking and talking about autism. That’s a great, positive step forward.
But if you want my vote, you’re going to need to do more. Our victory is not achieved by getting mentioned in the speech of a political candidate. Our victory is achieved when the truth of what has happened to our children is revealed to all and the best minds of science are turned to finding out how to help our kids.
That’s when you get my vote.
Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor for Age of Autism.