Autism is an ailment whose precise definition is debated in the medical world, and one that is increasingly at the heart of controversy in the health and political arenas. A definitive diagnosis can be difficult to achieve: The long list of symptoms that might lead to a diagnosis crosses the policy realms of education and mental, behavioral, and physical health. Efficient care for people with autism also requires the assistance of parents, physicians, caretakers, teachers, and others.
John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College, recognizes this confluence of factors in The Politics of Autism. He takes the reader through the history of medical and political reactions to autism, describing why it is so difficult for families and patients to receive sufficient and beneficial care. Without placing blame, Pitney covers the inequality that children with autism might face in the classroom, as federal education laws have been slow to provide policies to accommodate people with this nuanced condition. Coordinated efforts at the state and local level are also needed to treat patients, according to the author. These efforts include Medicaid waivers that are extended to children with an autism diagnosis (instead of only those with intellectual disabilities) and that also provide necessary services for adults. Insurance benefits should be revised to increase covered services for adults and to cover common autism treatments, which can differ greatly from the mental health services that are typically covered. The book also discusses the future: aging with autism, changing demographics, and trends in economics and labor that will affect people with autism and their families in generations to come. Ending with requests for increased research from the academic community and advocacy from people with autism, Pitney declares that those individuals should be allowed to speak for themselves in guiding their future.