From fatherhood to advocacy

Senator Eric Schmitt's personal journey fuels his fight for autism

June 14, 2024
Senator Schmitt standing in congressional hallway with his wife, two daughters and son

Among the many titles U.S. Senator Eric Schmitt has held over the course of his political career, being a father is what truly defines him. The Senator and his wife Jamie have two daughters and a son, Stephen, who has autism. It was Stephen’s diagnosis of Tuberous Sclerosis–a rare genetic disorder that causes tumors on major organs and associated with autism–that propelled Schmitt into public service. He wanted to be a voice for people like his son.

Now 19, Stephen is a young adult on the spectrum, living with epilepsy, and nonverbal, requiring near-constant care. Senator Schmitt's personal experiences have fueled his advocacy and shaped his political career.

The Senator’s commitment to representing his son Stephen and others facing similar challenges was on display as he spoke to advocates at Autism Speaks’ Advocacy Forum & Hill Day last year. From advancing autism insurance reform in Missouri to championing legislation that helps families save for disability-related expenses, Schmitt has noted how his work is deeply influenced by his journey as a father.

Autism Speaks is grateful for the Senator’s partnership with autism organizations throughout his career to drive policy solutions that improve the lives of those with disabilities. We look forward to continuing to work with him on legislation, such as the recently introduced ENABLE Act, to create a world where everyone, including Stephen, can reach their full potential.

Cherish every single moment, even the difficult ones. Individuals with autism bring so much joy and love to those around them. Embrace it and let their positive energy motivate you to do good.

Learn more about Senator Schmitt’s journey as an autism dad in this special Father’s Day Q&A:

Can you share what it’s been like raising an autistic child?

Stephen hugging his dad on the couch

Stephen is an amazing kid and having him in my life has made me a better person. Anyone who has an autistic child knows that there are challenges, and it can be really difficult, but coming home and seeing the smile on Stephen’s face while he waits for me to walk up the stairs makes everything worth it. I wouldn’t trade having Stephen for the world.

How has being a father influenced your political career?

Stephen was my inspiration to run for office in the first place. When Stephen was first born and then diagnosed with Tuberous Sclerosis, I was working at a law firm. That moment, when Jaime [my wife] and I got the diagnosis, it changed everything. It really puts your life in perspective, and you come to this discerning moment. When I first ran for the State Senate, I wanted to go into public service and fight for people like Stephen. To make life better and easier for people like Stephen. At every stage in my public service, I’ve made it a point to work on behalf of people with disabilities, and now that I’m in the United States Senate, my conviction remains the same. It’s incredibly important to me that I use my position to advance legislation and efforts that benefit people like Stephen.

You’ve recently introduced legislation on ABLE Accounts. Why is this issue so important to you and the autism community?

ABLE Accounts are an important resource for the autism community, and I know that firsthand. When I served as Missouri’s State Treasurer, I launched the Missouri ABLE program, and Stephen Schmitt was account number one. I worked hard to grow the ABLE program and to let Missourians know that this program exists to help individuals with disabilities. With certain provisions in the ABLE program set to expire, I knew it was critical to ensure that ABLE accounts remain a resource for families of those with disabilities. I’m hoping that the Senate will vote and pass this legislation, which has bipartisan support.

What message do you have for other fathers in the autism community this Father's Day?

Cherish every single moment, even the difficult ones. Individuals with autism bring so much joy and love to those around them. Embrace it and let their positive energy motivate you to do good.

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