Hillary Clinton was First Lady from 1993 – 2001. During that time, the autism rate jumped from 1 in 500 to 1 in 250. The autism rate increased again while she was a New York State Senator (1 in 110) and when she served as US Secretary of State (1 in 50). The latest autism numbers from the CDC tell us that 1 in 45 are affected.
Autism was not on my radar in the early 1990s. I didn’t give it a second thought in the early 2000s either. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s when my son, Ronan, was showing signs of the spectrum disorder that I fully immersed myself into reading everything I could about autism. In the hopes of helping other families, I shared much of what I learned with others.
From message boards to private emails to face-to-face meet ups at local and national autism conferences to being asked to write for autism-specific publications, I’ve shared a lot about autism in the last ten years. During that time, I don’t ever remember Hillary Clinton being part of, let alone a personal champion for, the autism community. In fact, it wasn’t until the last week of 2015 that I ever thought to use Hillary Clinton and autism in the same sentence, and that only happened after I saw a Bloomberg Politics teaser. I had my reservations that her plan wouldn’t be more than just a nice gesture, so I, like so many others, waited patiently to see what the presidential hopeful’s thoughts on autism would be.
I saw the plan, and as the parent of a child with regressive autism, I’m not impressed.
I reread the plan in its entirety and noticed something. Teresa Conrick gave a synopsis of the plan, and she, as well as another parent also knee-deep in autism advocacy, made the same observation that I did. Nowhere in Hillary’s plan does it include autism prevention.
To really address autism, I think that Mrs. Clinton should’ve included prevention of the potentially life-long, debilitating disorder. That’s the type of autism my son has. His, which we believe is a result of vaccine injury, includes a host of on-going medical issues – seizures, vision issues, expressive speech delay, and fine- and gross-motor delays to name a few. If those medical issues continue, which we pray they do not, Ronan will remain severely affected. He will continue to be non-verbal. He will not develop into an independent, fully functioning adult, live on his own, hold down a job, date, marry, or have children of his own.
Admittedly, all of that can be depressing to think about, especially when some of what Ronan deals with could’ve been prevented. Had I known then what I do now, I have no doubt that my son could’ve been spared. He wouldn’t need the intensive round-the-clock care that he currently requires. With the setbacks we’ve seen this year, he, quite honestly, may require round-the-clock care indefinitely.
As a mother who worries for her children’s children, and as a knowledgeable woman who is sought out for advice by young women who are starting down the road to motherhood, I think that prevention of autism should be at the top of the list of anyone’s autism plan. It’s a shame that Mrs. Clinton didn’t think to add prevention. Of course, if prevent had been added, Hillary’s proposed autism plan would have to be modified. We could begin to do away with early screenings if autism prevention was a priority. Prevention might then relieve the need for insurance coverage of autism services. Mrs. Clinton’s plan does include some talk of the adult population, a population which now includes far less than the current pediatric population does, but had she paid closer attention to autism when the rate began to skyrocket in the 1990s, the need for a national autism plan very well could be obsolete. We would not need an initiative for a work program, too. And, eventually, prevention of autism may ultimately eliminate the need to study the adult population,
While part of me is glad that Mrs. Clinton finally said something about autism, another part of me is skeptical. She got our attention. She used all the right buzz words. She brought up autism on the national level, but she did that during an election year. Did she bring up it as a stepping stone? Is Hillary talking about autism for her own gain? Because after reading her mediocre plan, that’s exactly what it feels like she’s doing.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.