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Sarah Palin: Special Needs/Autism Advocate or Savvy Speaker? September 10, 2008

Posted by hopeauthority in Autism, Children, Family, Health.
Tags: , , , , , ,

It isn’t often that I get to sit and watch TV… unless Noggin counts.  With autism, there’s always something to be done–no rest for the weary, as they say. So as I covered textbooks last week, I happened to catch Sarah Palin’s speech at the RNC.

And I was surprised by the effect five simple sentences had on me:

“Sometimes even the greatest joys bring challenge. And children with special needs inspire a special love. To the families of special needs children all across this country I have a message.  For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House…”

What a mixed bag of emotions she dealt me with those words.

My first thought was “She understands my plight. She’s got my vote!” Then I wondered… if I really  believed her (and boy did I want to believe her!)… could I vote based only on one single issue? Sure there’s many out there who vote strictly based on one issue that they are most passionate about, like the right-to-life issue or the gay marriage issue.  But I think most folks (myself included) weigh the candidates’ positions on many issues before deciding who’ll get their vote.

I admit my next two thoughts weren’t very nice. I waffled between “What the hell is that baby doing out so late at such a loud, crowded, germ-ridden function?” and “She doesn’t have any idea– yet–how hard raising a special needs child will be”. It was almost like she hadn’t yet earned  the right to be our champion…like she doesn’t have the special needs battle scars yet.

Then I thought: Who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? It’s not like there’s a bunch of other candidates with special needs children throwing us a bone.

Sure, I hate the price of gas, am worried about the economy, and have my opinions on the war. But we live with autism 24/7 and the toll it takes on the whole family. We need real help and real programs and more research to support our children and our families as a unit. And I worry that any progress that has been made could be cut back as a casualty of the economic crisis. So, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have a friend in high places.

Is the autism community at a point where we consider our cause to be the single most important issue in a presidential campaign?  Is having a “special needs friend and advocate” in the White House enough –all by itself–to warrant your vote?



1. Mark - September 10, 2008

Yes, we need real help and real programs and more research — and everything Palin has said and done in public office suggests that she is not likely to increase federal funding in these areas. Read her positions, the Republican platform, and McCain’s pitiful record on autism before casting your vote. Check out http://www.specialneeds08.blogspot.com

Don’t discount your views on the economy, the war, and the price of gas. The best thing for families like ours (I have a 4-year-old with autism) is to get the country back on track — not continue Bush-Cheney policies for another four years.

2. pattirenner - September 10, 2008

Maybe it’s a start.

All political parties aside… On the scale of “getting it,” let’s see now… a mom on the ticket who brings real life experience to these challenges (albeit limited at this point), who offers a unique and personal perspective. Or someone guy who also gives a great speech, but may be less personally motivated once the election is over. I think with Palin, it goes beyond promises made to get elected. Perhaps it’s valuable to have someone behind the scenes who really does have a personal stake in crafting the right policy.

3. pattirenner - September 10, 2008

Love this blog, by the way! Thanks for offering your perspective.

4. asdmommy - September 10, 2008

I have to say first that I am a pretty liberal Democrat, so the McCain/Palin ticket is not one I would even consider – even less so after Palin was added.

That being said, I appreciated her comments about special needs children, but I wondered exactly what that meant. Does it mean she’ll advocate for increasing funding for IDEA? Does it mean she’ll advocate for treatments/therapies being covered by insurance? What, exactly, does that mean? She didn’t really say, and I was left to think that it was simply a comment made that doesn’t really mean anything except we’ll all feel connected to her because she’s there.

Additionally, I have found that people without SN kids can be better advocates and more understanding than those with at times. So I’m not prepared to “like” her simply because she has a child with special needs. It makes her more interesting to me, and I’ll watch her more, but it doesn’t make me like her as a political candidate.

5. hopeauthority - September 10, 2008

I knew this could be a hot topic, and as much as I am not one to engage in major political debates (and would never tell anyone how to vote), this is this first time “special needs” has come up in a presidential campaign and I wanted to explore how parents of such kids feel about the weight one issue should be given.

I am impressed by how focused and thorough Mark’s site appears to be on the candidates’ past records on special needs issues. It appears that Obama’s record is outlined there but McCain’s is not because Mark has not yet uncovered anything to report. In the spirit of fairness, he invites anyone with specific information on the Republican candidates’ special needs records to forward him the information so he can post that as well.

I am hopeful that as the election draws near, more information on both sides’ positions regarding special needs will become available…including some specific agendas.

But the interesting question regarding the special needs issue may then be:

Do you vote for the party who supported some special needs legislation in the past, though that party seemingly doesn’t have a particular passion for the cause? Or do you vote for the party that may not have initiated such legislation in the past, but has a compelling personal reason to do so now?

To be fair, most people who crusade for a cause don’t do so until it touches their own lives. (After all, I didn’t start this blog to help parents of children with autism until AFTER autism came into my life.)

Like I said, it’s a hot topic. And I appreciate everyone’s views on it.

6. AutismParents.NET! - September 10, 2008

[…] Sarah Palin: Special Needs friend? […]

7. asdmommy - September 10, 2008

It is interesting – I am intrigued by watching SN parents’ posts on it – everyone is all over the map either condemning her or congratulating her. It’s no doubt a hot topic. I guess a politician’s views on a topic like this one wouldn’t sway me to vote for them simply based on those views, but they could sure sway me to vote against them, if that makes sense. And I guess just because she has a child with special needs and may be interested in drafting policy, it may not be policy I agree with. Let’s face it, we are all, as parents of children with special needs, all over the place in terms of our opinions on these issues as well. Just because we have kids with some of the same challenges doesn’t necessarily mean we feel the same way – look how much of a division there is in the autism community alone in terms of vaccines, DAN! treatments, ABA therapy, inclusion, etc. So I guess I’m skeptical, given how much my views and Ms. Palin’s differ on other issues, that I’d feel like she really was an advocate for what our family wants and needs.

But thank you for posting so nicely about it. So much of what I’m seeing is so extreme in both directions, and it just seems pointless. We all think what we’re going to think, and arguing and screaming about it doesn’t do any good.

This is from the woman who is so sick of politics and the nastiness. I have come to believe that for me, voting for President is voting for the lesser of two evils. I think they should all be only allowed to talk about themselves and their beliefs and not about each other! LOL! Then I’d like it. As it is, I’d like to write-in a candidate’s name. I’m not sure what name that would be, but it’s definitely none of the ones on any of the tickets! 🙂

8. tntstanifer - September 10, 2008

Well, those sentences brought tears to my eyes. Of course, I’m a big cry baby to begin with. My son was diagnosed with autism just before his 3rd birthday. He is 5 now. I hate debating and I hate politics. But, my heart feels hope when I think of all this woman could do for our special children in the future. I don’t see how it could hurt our cause!

9. hopeauthority - September 10, 2008

What a great point you make about how divided we are as a community. If you asked each of us what we’d want from a candidate if given the chance to tell him/her in a one-on-one meeting, our responses would likely be as different as our children and our experiences. This is unlike the more black-and-white issues of right to life or gay marriage. (You’re either for or against those.)

Gee, I hope the candidate’s aren’t smart enough to figure that out…cause if they do, their special needs platforms may go right out the window.. if our only value to them is as a BLOCK of voters.


10. asdmommy - September 11, 2008

Good point, good point. Pretty funny, actually. We’ll have to pretend we all get along. Hee hee 😉

11. Katy Parrish - September 13, 2008

As an Alaskan mother of a 17 year old young man who experiences autism and hydrocephalus, and the former Director of the Alaska Parent Training and Information Center (OSEP – AK PTI), I am pleading with America to really examine Sarah’s record in Alaska. The only “special school” that received significant increases to it’s budget this year is the Alaska Youth Challenge Academy which is a military youth academy for youth with behavioral challenges. There have been no significant increases to early intervention services (children have to wait for months to get therapy…clearly violating IDEA), programs for children experiencing FASD have been cut and parents in rural Alaska wait months to see therapists in the schools. Intensive needs funding has increased thanks to the brave parents who have pushed by filing complaints NOT thanks to the Sarah. To date, she has NOT been a friend or advocate for families raising exceptional children in Alaska. In fact, today Alaska is years behind in methodology and access to services compared to most states. It wasn’t this way when my son was a baby in the early ’90s. He didn’t have to wait for early intervention services and I am convinced that is one the main reasons why he will be attending college in two years and studying abroad in Sweden in four.

Anchorage School District reports that the incidence rate for autism is 1 child in 85. Despite that amazing statistic, Sarah didn’t increase funds for early intervention programs and support services for families with autism despite the fact that her sister is raising a child with autism. Ironically, the current money for autism in Alaska came from an earmark from Senator Ted Stevens.

PLEASE DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE YOU VOTE! We can’t afford to rely on corporate media to give us the truth about either candidate. Furthermore, as important as this issue is, our current national deficit, the never ending illegal occupation of Iraq, building a renewable energy infrastructure and media reform are critical issues that Sarah has no real experience addressing. In fact, she left Wasilla in debt, sent her son off to an illegal war on September 11th, is advocating to drill for oil in ANWR and as far as media reform, knows how to read a teleprompter quite well.

12. hopeauthority - September 13, 2008

Thanks Katy for your input. I am not that political, but I thought this was such an important issue to examine that I posted on it so a dialogue could develop and we all could learn more about the candidates’ records on special needs issues.

Congrats on your son being able to go to college. I can only imagine how hard your fight on his behalf must have been when he was little and most people hadn’t even heard about autism, much less had systems in place to help him. As a mom of a 6 year old with autism, I so appreciate hearing from the parents who’ve walked in my shoes already. The pioneers! And I love hearing from the ones walking with me now too!

Thanks for giving everyone who reads your post a real day-brightener. There’ll be lots of parents cheering for him!

And we’ll be watching as info on the candidates continues to become available…

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