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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Autism and Political Science

I am presenting a paper on autism policy at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. A link to the paper is here. (If you have trouble opening it, email me at and I will be happy to send you a copy.) Here is the abstract:

Autism has gained a great deal of attention from policymakers and journalists. But there has been little scholarly research into autism policy and politics. This paper sketches what we know about the topic and raises questions for future research. It follows the stages of the policy process.

Initiation is the first stage. Psychologists have known of autism since the 1940s, but why has it has become a major national issue only in the past decade?

Estimation is the second stage. One possible reason for increased attention is the sharp rise in the reported prevalence of autism. But such data raise another question: how much of the increase reflects changing diagnostic criteria and how much is “real”?

Mobilization is the third stage. Emerging issues attract the attention of existing groups or spawn the formation of new ones. In the case of autism, why do these groups form? How and why do they clash or cooperate?

Selection and implementation are the fourth and fifth stages. The policy response involves education, health care, and disability policy at the national, state, and local levels. To what extent do policymakers in these fields work together -- or do they work at cross-purposes? What interest group pressures affect policymaking?

In the evaluation stage, policymakers reckon how well a policy is working. Are they tracking how much help is reaching people with autism? And is this assistance producing good long-term outcomes?