From the late 1980s and early 1990s, awareness about autism increased because of the hard work by families, professionals, and self-advocates. As a result, the community became powerful enough to influence the U.S. Congress. Since those eras, more methods like Affinity Therapy and Lego Therapy has been accepted and old methods like Applied Behavior Analysis improved to help future generations.
While the community is filled with divisive issues such as whether autism is a variation of the human condition (Neurodiversity) or whether a cure possible, I am proud about the progress made and the determination of this community. As someone who is majoring as a disability specialist, I am excited to work for the autism community. Despite this excitement, I have a fear in the back of my mind. It involves the current political climate of the country and the possibility of autism policies becoming more partisan, instead of something legislators in both parties generally support.
I first want to go over my experiences, which has got me to this point. Back in the fall of 2015, I took an Intro to Human Services course and I was blind to politics during that time. I had the course’s textbook, which made the case for Democrats being the good guys who supported universal healthcare and Republicans supporting a “survival of the fittest” mentality. I legitimately believed that Republicans were insane and never cared for individuals with autism.
As I connected more to my peers, I made a close friend who is conservative. He challenged my thoughts and he had a connection to my field, which strengthen the friendship. He was the seed who made me think critically and I decided to learn more about the Republican perspective.
For the last year or so, I became involved in my town’s Republican Town Committee, attended some rallies and debates to gain a good understanding. For each time I gained a connection, I noticed a trend of lawmakers who happened to have a connection to autism and they were happy to have me sending events over to them. In another course I took, I looked at a book called “No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement” by Joseph P. Shapiro. That book was about the buildup and passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. What stood out in that book was learning that it was a Republican, former President George H. W. Bush, who signed ADA into law.
Those experiences and my own maturing led me to three conclusions. One is that Republicans are not the enemy and are just people who want to help their community. (Sure, you have some crazy ones, but that’s common to any group.)
The second conclusion is that you can persuade any lawmaker to support the autism community. All it takes is a simple meet up at your house with other parents to change someone into an autism advocate.
The third conclusion is that autism bills have always had a history of being bipartisan. The ABLE, or Achieving a Better Life Experience, Act of 2014, which amends Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 to create tax-free savings accounts for individual with disabilities was co-authored by Rep. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ander Crenshaw (R-FL). Even in the era when the ADA was created, it was both Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Bob Dole (R-KS) who worked together on that bill.
With that knowledge in hand, I am very nervous about this current climate. I see it all the time on my Facebook feed where one person believes that compromise is impossible, and others calling people who disagree evil. It makes me sad, now knowing that making this issue hyper-partisan would be a complete waste of stress and time. Would this really be a good idea for autism issues to be partisan?
If this status changes into something ugly because of the current climate, then we have failed the autism community. I do not ever want to see this in my lifetime. I want to protect the bipartisan status of autism policies to secure the possibility that more advances will be made.
Andrew Arboe is a college student who lives in Farmington.