Let me preface this by saying that you should not infer or assume any special expertise just because someone is an autism parent. I offer my opinion for exactly what it is worth: the experience of a man who loves his kids and wants to protect them.
My colleague Matthew Chapman’s excellent article, “As a man on the spectrum, Clinton’s support of autism rights means so much to me,” is a must-read, and I urge you to do so before continuing here. I wanted to share my point of view as a parent with two autistic kids, but as a man who is living the experience that many people with Autism Spectrum Disorders cannot describe even if they wanted to, Matthew’s opinion matters more than mine.
My oldest son is 26 years old, and has gone from being a non-conversational autistic child into his teens, to an adult with a master’s degree, a lucrative profession, and a completely independent life. As Matthew so eloquently explained, my son Justin had to overcome roadblocks due to his autism, but would no sooner “cure” it than cure his drive or his intelligence.
My youngest son Liam is ten years old, and has very limited verbal communication skills, similar to those that Justin displayed at that age. No two autistic kids are alike, though, and so Liam’s abilities may never develop the way Justin’s did, or maybe they will. In some other ways, Liam is more advanced than Justin was at his age. There just really is no telling.
Matthew very skillfully evoked the experiences of someone at his end of the spectrum, but unfortunately, it falls to me to clumsily describe what life is like for Liam, because he cannot do so in a way that we could understand.
My best guess is this: imagine that you have been dropped off in a country where you do not speak the language, no one there speaks your language, and there is no translating dictionary. Now, imagine that discrepancy extends to all or most of your five senses. That is a little of what it is like for Liam, multiplied by the vulnerability of childhood and the years of emotional consequences. The world is naturally an extraordinarily hostile place for him, and all I can wish for is to make it less so.
As if that onslaught were not already enough to deal with, people like Liam face an array of perils that go beyond the challenges of their disability. Prominent media figures routinely spread misinformation and outright lies that foment bigotry against autistic people, and some of the worst culprits actually happen to be parents of autistic kids themselves. There are even media figures and members of the autism parents community who excuse the murder of autistic kids under the guise of “mercy killing.”
People at Liam’s end of the spectrum are also at the mercy of law enforcement training, because they won’t obey commands, and they might make a “furtive movement” or two. Liam might need to have someone like me or his mom or Charles Kinsey, the black man who was shot trying to protect his autistic behavioral therapy patient, to look out for him for the rest of his life.
Like Matthew, I am mightily impressed by Hillary Clinton’s policies on autism, but that is not why I think Liam needs her to be president. Those policies face strong resistance from Republicans who will do anything they can to deny her a victory, so it could be a very long time before any of them have an impact on Liam’s life.
No, what moves me about Clinton’s approach to autism is that it shows she understands the most important thing about fighting for people: listening to them.
These are not the policies of someone who decided that they needed to capture a niche segment of voters, and regurgitated whatever the most popular talking points were. Far from it. She has ignored some of the loudest voices in the autism arena, and instead has focused on doing what I would do: making life better for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Whether her policies are adopted or not, it is clear to me that Hillary Clinton gets it.
I would vote for her anyway, but knowing the depth and breadth of her knowledge and commitment on this issue, knowing that she is listening to people like my adult son and to parents like me, that is a gift.