Autism is political. It involves all kinds of government policy – from provision of education and social services, to regulation of insurance companies and medical professionals, to public funding of scientific research into its causes and treatment. The connections between government and autism reach farther than most people know. For example, many police officers and other first responders get training in how to deal with autistic people, who might react in unexpected ways during emergencies and crime investigations. Many organizations lobby policymakers and try to influence what government does about issues involving autism. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), told journalist Andrew Solomon: “We get more calls from the White House about autism than about everything else combined.”
Autism is “political” in a broader sense. Political conflict involves ideas and arguments for which the information is often murky, incomplete, interpretive, and open to manipulation. Just about everything concerning autism is subject to dispute. What is it? What causes it? How many different kinds of it are there? Who has it? What can we do about it? Is it even the right problem to be thinking about? All of these questions, and many others, are the stuff of bitter political battles. The stakes are high: according to one estimate, the national cost of supporting people with autism adds up to $236 billion per year. Of course, such numbers themselves entail controversy. An alternative perspective is that they do not represent the cost of autism, but rather the cost of discrimination against people who have it, and the failure to help them lead independent lives.
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Saturday, August 19, 2017
Why Autism Is Political
In The Politics of Autism, I write: