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Does John McCain Think Trig Palin Has Autism?

| 11 Comments

Well, finally!

Senators Barack Obama and John McCain dug into the topic of education during their third and final debate last night, even devoting a little bit of time to children with disabilities. Hooray!

I'll be digging more deeply into their comments in other posts, but I think that a lot of people were left scratching their heads at McCain's statements that seemed to suggest that having a baby with Down syndrome gives his running mate, Sarah Palin, special insight into autism.

Early in the debate, as McCain described Palin's qualifications for office, there was this:

She's a reformer through and through. And it's time we had that breath of fresh air coming into our nation's capital and sweep out the old-boy network and the cronyism that's been so much a part of it that I've fought against for all these years.


She'll be my partner. She understands reform. And, by the way, she also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we've got to find out what's causing it, and we've got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children.

She understands that better than almost any American that I know. I'm proud of her.


Later on in the debate, as the two candidates tussled over education policy, McCain added:
Now as far as the No Child Left Behind is concerned, it was a great first beginning in my view. It had its flaws, it had its problems, the first time we had looked at the issue of education in America from a nationwide perspective. And we need to fix a lot of the problems. We need to sit down and reauthorize it.


But, again, spending more money isn't always the answer. I think the Head Start program is a great program. A lot of people, including me, said, look, it's not doing what it should do. By the third grade many times children who were in the Head Start program aren't any better off than the others.

Let's reform it. Let's reform it and fund it. That was, of course, out-of-bounds by the Democrats. We need to reform these programs. We need to have transparency. We need to have rewards. It's a system that cries out for accountability and transparency and the adequate funding.

And I just said to you earlier, town hall meeting after town hall meeting, parents come with kids, children -- precious children who have autism. Sarah Palin knows about that better than most. And we'll find and we'll spend the money, research, to find the cause of autism. And we'll care for these young children. And all Americans will open their wallets and their hearts to do so.


More than a few bloggers on both sides of the aisle thought McCain might be confusing the two disabilities. But, though most people know that Palin's son Trig has Down syndrome, fewer may know that she has a nephew with autism. Hopefully, McCain knows that too, which is why he framed his responses the way he did.


So there is a familial relationship there, but the question voters have to answer is, does Palin know more about this topic "than most?" What do you think, readers? And does it matter that of all the disabilities that could be discussed in that venue, autism ended up with the starring role?

(Let me also take the opportunity to plug a new widget on my blog that allows you to search the blog for past items. It's on the lower right, under the list of "Blogs I Follow." Using that search engine, you can find all of my past entries on the candidates, including links to their proposed disability policies.)

11 Comments

What does Gov. Palin know about special needs? About as much as anyone else dealing with autism or Down Syndrome in their family or their classroom. Less than someone who has had a child with Down Syndrome for more than six months. Last night, he said she is more qualified than "almost any American" he knows. Is he really that out of touch? Maybe so. Last week he said she is "uniquely qualified" to find a cure for autism. Read more about their statements and positions at http://specialneeds08.blogspot.com

Yep, pretty hard to figure out what Sarah Palin's unique qualifications are with regard to either special needs or autism--and I don't know that I would qualify her yet on the legal or educational needs/rights of down syndrom, based on her experience.

But, his remark on Head Start kind of struck me. Is he saying that if we reform Head Start it will keep kids on track beyond third grade? Wouldn't it make a bit more sense to reform what is going on in elementary schools? Or at least those elementary schools that serve former Head Start students?

McCain got it wrong about Head Start. He cited a flawed, stale 40-year-old study to attack the program. See the facts at http://www.nhsa.org/press/News_Archived/index_news_101608.htm.

I just think it is shameful for McCain to run on a campaign which says that they will advocate for special needs children and then they do not mention in what way they will be advocates. Families with special needs children do not need the wink or nod from politicians to "support" them. They need health insurance plans that provide decent coverage so families don't go bankrupt paying medical or therapy bills. They need decent early intervention programs where research based therapy is provided. They further need more educational support. It seems that it is always a fight to get your child's needs met- each and every day. Until I hear how they are actually going to support that, I will be disgusted when I hear from the McCain campaign that they will advocate for special kids. I am much happier with Obama as he has a real health plan that he is proposing. That's at least a start- and a big start.

This a continuation of two of the many concerns I have about the McCain/Palin ticket - -
1) Contradictions (or lies?)
McCain has mentioned several times (and during debates) that he would "freeze the spending budget" across the board. So, how then, will he engage in more research for Autism and find a cure?? Seems to me that it's just another desperate attempt and grabbing an "audience" for votes. He certainly hasn't done anything to help our special needs children, nor education as a whole in AZ - it's ranked 48th in the country!

2) Judgement, stability, certainty.
On judgement - is Sarah Palin the most qualified candidate for the VP position? And, how could he make such a statement about S.Palin"better than any American" about Autisim?? Seriously...this is a frightening choice and many are extremely concerned that McCain would make the selection (risking any chance of his own health issues re-arising; and putting our country at risk).
On Stability - There's an aweful lot of "jumping around" here in this campaign - McCain seems to roll into each day...each week like a rootin'tootin' cowboy "shooting" out one attempt at gaining more voters after another, but without any serious thoughtfulness or planning put into any new attempt - it's very impulsive and irresponsible. His love of the game of Crapps is truly the metephor for the campaign.
On certainty - first, regarding whether McCain was referring to Sarah Palin's son or nephew ..... given most people are NOT aware of any special needs nephew, I personally believe he was erroneously referring to her son, Trig and made a BIG boo-boo by mistaken Down Syndrome for Autism. And, if so, then again, what "certainty", and what care has he really put into thoughts of what and how he will help ANY existing issue in our country - and we have many!

So, take all of this a step further and imagine him engaging in discussion and negotiations with foreign officials representing countries that we need to either re-create good relations, or maintain peace. God save us all! It would be very unpredictable - I could not sleep nights knowing of all of the unpredictability that he brings to any situation - and instability.

We need a thoughtful, prudent, stable leader with the intelligence enough to take in the opinions (even if different than his own) of others when making big decisions, and the good judgment and foresight to assess the best possible decision.

This is a critical election...we need to make the best possible decision for ourselve...and for our children...and their children!

Each time I hear Palin talk about special needs parents will have an advocate in the White House I get upset. How long has she walked that road? Does she really understand what I have been through and presently going through as a parent of a special needs child who is autistic? Unfortunately, my husband eats up all she says.

As for Obama, I wonder how much he would do to help special needs children. I haven't read anything that really convinces me that he will do a much better job than McCain on this topic.

As an educator, both candidates concern me. I don't think either one of them have any great ideas on how to "fix" the educational system.
Since I am undecided, I will keep reading and listening so that on November 4th I can make the best decision for my son and other special needs children.

Remember that Sarah is first and foremost a conservative. Conservatives do not care about special needs children unless they are directly affected. Then they only care about their own special needs children. Sarah can afford to hire private therapists for Trig. She does not have to go through the system so she won't do anything for special education. Just recently Alaska was trying to cut back on how much money they spent on kids with severe disabilities.

Often if there is one person with a disability in a family there is another one. Down's is genetic. It appears that there may be a genetic component to autism also---often several in a family or other related disabilities or milder ones like ADHD or OCD.

Autism is very controversial and in the news right now because of the suspected link to vaccines and the number of kids being diagnosed.

I would not be surprised if McCain thought Trig had autism, but it would be very unusual for him to be diagnosed with that at his age although some people with Down's are also autistic. Usually they are diagnosed at about 3 years, mild ones older.

Down's is the stereotype of retardation for decades and autism is the disability of the week. When people think of a retarded person, the picture that comes to mind is a person with Down's. It is the most common retardation syndrome.

I once had a very dumb and prejudiced lead teacher who said one of my student's had Down's. He was as opposite from Down's as they come, having a rare disability, Cornelia De Lang. (She also said my child from Burma did not have a language in his family, that they just grunted at each other!) The Assistant Superintendent who had dealt with the CdL child's family also thought he had Down's. This can be real dangerous when the so-called professionals don't know! I could put 5 people with Downs in the same class and everything would be fine because they are usually peaceful and friendly (characteristic of the disability) but I would not put two CdLs in one class because they are often self abusive and/or aggressive and have tantrums and would probably set off an autistic student. Those characteristics are typical of people with Cornelia de Lang.

So I don't expect much more from a politician if professionals can't keep their disabilities straight.

When people talk about kids who have been to Head Start not being any better off by the third grade I always think of two factors.

1. Where would they be if they had not had Head Start? Probably way behind because they come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Instead they are keeping up.

2. They have had 3 years of what may have been very bad teaching by the third grade. The only proper comparison would be a Head Start type school through the third grade. Then you could tell if that program was better.

Apparently Head Start provides something positive because, as adults, Head Start children are often quite succesful. I met a native american woman who came through Head Start, got off the reservation and became a director over a large Head start program as an adult. The program is holistic and tries to develop confident and independent behavior in children as well as tending to their physical, cognitive and emotional needs. In the last few years giving children, especially disadvantaged ones a quality education has fallen into disfavor and replaced with testing skills and scripted curricula that can be taught by cheap, uncertified teachers. If this low quality education is all the Head Start child can get, of course he is not going to stay ahead of his classmates.

"How long has she walked that road? Does she really understand what I have been through and presently going through as a parent of a special needs child who is autistic?"- How long did you need to have a child with special needs to try to advocate or answer questions? How long do you need to teach students with special needs to try to help and ask questions? Why do figure heads and big names stand up for causes all the time? Is it not to make people listen? Do we not need global awareness? Looking for the cause, verifying the cause, or adjusting vaccines to eliminate the number of those affected is a real solution. Possibly not for your child, but children with Autism 10 years ago, whose parents paid for teachers trained in the Lomas method to come in home and work with them and work on speech therapy and other things neccessary did it alone. Further awareness must be raised! This is what is being offered by campaigns by many actors, writers, and yes politicians. Sorry, sorry if that is offensive. Awareness must occur before action can take place. I do not believe and will not belive Obama is the answer to our countries problems because Autism is on the rise. Many disabilities and diseases have faced this nations and others, we must stop them, we must work together, we must raise money. But, not the way Obama suggests.

Anonymous:

Awareness is absolutely important, as is research--which requires funding. If having a child is the sole qualification for advocacy, then I would want the person to have enough experience with their child to understand what it is to interact with systems that are poorly prepared to respond to your child's needs--but are frequently the only option. I would want that person to have had some public school experience, in addition to pre-school intervention, mostly because I have seen more positives at the pre-school level than at K-12 (usually different systems).

I think that much of the doubt about Sarah Palin--in this regard as well as others--is her inability, or unwillingness, to address any issue deeply. Her record, of advocacy or as a public servant, is quite short. To build the level of trust that is required for people to be able to say I really want her to be there as an advocate for my child, she needs to be able to talk knowledgeably about IDEIA, about how she reconciles her anti-government views with the things that she hopes to be able to advocate for for people (or children) with disabilities, about anything more substantive than how much she loves her wonderful son. The love of one's children--regardless of ability--can absolutely be parlayed into a cause to advocate for the lives of all children. But I am not hearing that, and I am not seeing evidence of it.

i do to have adhd and it sucks

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