Is Autism political? Should it be?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012 View Comments

This post is by Shelley Hendrix, Autism Speaks director of grassroots advocacy

Granted, as Director of Grassroots Development at Autism Speaks, I have a bias on this topic rooted in the belief that America is still America - the best country in the world. Why? Because we can identify a problem, propose a solution and with hard work, we can change our circumstances. We can change our status quo.

The status quo of our community has changed significantly in the last six years due to advocacy of autism activists at both the federal and state level. 

We now know that in 2000, 1 in every 88 babies born in America that year went on to develop an autism spectrum disorder. And yet, our country spent barely $50 million on research for autism that year. Our community pushed the United States Congress and with heavy lifting, the federal  government now appropriates close to $235 million per year to the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Defense for research and services related to autism.

Prior to 2007, just one state required health insurance companies to provide access to the healthcare treatments and therapies that people with autism need. These are treatments and therapies prescribed by medical professionals, but almost all health policies in the United States specifically excluded the treatment of autism.  With hard work and dedication of volunteers all over the nation, 32 states have now improved healthcare access for individuals with autism.

These changes came about with the passage of new laws. Autism IS political, whether you realize it, or not. 

Why? Because individuals with autism obtain assistance from a variety of public agencies at the federal, state and local level.  Because our children receive special education services which are governed by our local school boards and each state’s Department of Education. Because many of our children and adults receive services through Medicaid. Because legal reform is required to right the inequities our community has consistently faced.

We must act.

Issues of interest to the autism community are being discussed in almost every department at a federal and state level. The problem is that when these conversations take place, the issues of how they involve autism, or impact the autism community, aren’t being discussed enough considering how many Americans autism affects. We can change that conversation. And we should.

We want the conversation.

Our 1 in 88 can’t wait Our 1 in 88 can’t wait for them to start talking about it. We need leadership. We need a plan.  We need it now.

Over the last 38 days, we have posted information about Election Day around the corner on November 6th.  We have encouraged people to sign up for our Advocacy program. We have encouraged them to register to vote. We have encouraged them to talk to their family and friends and let them know why autism is such an important issue and why it should be part of this process. We have asked them to interact with candidates on social media and in person at rallies and events so that they see our community everywhere they turn.

We are not telling anyone how to vote; everyone looks at the issues of the day differently.  For some, autism is a defining experience, while for others it is not.  What we are saying is to think, engage, and go to the polls.  Make your voice heard.

Our public officials have yet to figure out this word problem: “If one person with autism has 10 registered voters who care about them and autism affects 1 in 88 children nationwide – why am I not talking about solutions for the autism community?”

It is long past time for our lawmakers to listen, but in order for them to listen we must first speak – and we have less than 50 days to do that now. 

We want a President  – a Senate – a Congress – all public officials in our country to recognize autism as the urgent public health crisis it is.

Autism Speaks encourages all Americans to ask candidates, “How will you make a difference for those living with autism?” Watch this video and share it on your favorite form of social media.

Make sure that you are registered to vote on 11.6.12.  Make sure you involve your friends and family in this incredibly important democratic process. Sign up at http://advocacy.autismvotes.org/register to find out how you can do more at a local, state and federal level. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get involved – so you can change your circumstances and make the world a better place for all of those living with autism in our country – today.