By Katie Wright
Alex wanted to wear a tie for the first time in his life. He was also wearing special new slacks and a blazer. Alex is a handsome young man severely affected by autism. He and his mother Elizabeth, traveled all the way from CALIFORNIA to make their pre-approved comments at the public session of IACC.
Elizabeth and other Moms in attendance had to submit pre-approved questions to IACC in order to be allowed to make comments. OK, why the need to “pre-approve” comments? Are IACC meetings in danger of being crashed by strangers? Is this really such a hot ticket? Why can’t parents just sign up and be told what time to be there? Why is IACC censoring public comment? Who is IACC charged with serving? Uninformed bureaucrats who do not really care about our kids or is IACC there is serve the autism community?
Elizabeth had explained to Alex that they were going to talk at an important meeting and Alex even rehearsed speaking into a microphone. Because no seriously affected autistic person can sit in silence for the 6 hour duration of the meeting, Elizabeth and Alex had to take many walking breaks. They knew it would be their turn to speak at 3:30. 3:30 was also the published public comment time on the IACC agenda website.
As any Mom reading this knows, tremendous effort is required to time everything just right in a formal situation. Bathroom breaks, snacks, water and walking breaks were all carefully orchestrated in order to be at the IACC podium, ready to go at precisely 3:30. Elizabeth and Alex did their part.
Apparently, Tom and some others were in a rush to wrap it up. I suppose they had more important things to do. Rather than sticking to the schedule (a fairly important issue anyone who knows anything about autism should understand) Tom decided to announce time for public comment at 2. Of course all the Moms and their severely affected sons were not in the conference room then, so Tom and Della, IACC’s assistant, decided to end the meeting 2 hours early. Things are going so great with the autism- why continue the meeting? What could there possibly be to talk about? Shortly thereafter Elizabeth, Alex and other ASD family members walked into a nearly empty committee room.
Della was still there and informed the families that the meeting was over, public comment was announced early, they missed it, too bad. Della told the families that they should have been seated and ready to go anytime over the course of the 6 hour meeting! So, rather than apologizing for shafting autism families, this was really Elizabeth’s fault? Does Della even know anything at all about autism? Are she and Tom remotely aware of how utterly impossible it is to ask a severely affected ASD teen to sit silently for 6 hours? Do they care? What was the purpose of the published schedule if it was only going to be tossed aside when it suited Insel? The greatest irony is that these mothers brought their severely affected children so the committee, who are overwhelmingly bureaucrats, not parents, could see what a struggle it can be for these children to function.
Elizabeth did not want the day ruined for Alex. He had worked so hard to be ready. Elizabeth led Alex to the microphone so he finally make his comments- to an empty room. And then she clapped for her son.
To his credit Tom Insel did telephone Elizabeth and apologize.
Elizabeth graciously accepted his apology and spoke to Insel at length about the deficiencies within IACC. Insel listened as Elizabeth stated there is insufficient parent representation on the panel and most committee members appear wholly unfamiliar with issues affecting kids on the severe end of the spectrum. The committee operates with no sense of urgency and seems, at best, indifferent to public input. Insel promised to remedy these issues, specifically by placing this issue on the agenda of the next meeting and never again canceling the public comment segment. Insel is also seeking to have Katherine Sebelius attend the next IACC, so she too may recognize the urgency of the situation. It is in everyone’s interests for Insel to follow through with these promises. Let’s hope that is what happens.
Katie Wright is Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.