Hillary Clinton's autism plan suggests times are changing

Emily Willingham

Hillary Clinton’s got an autism plan, the only candidate so far to release one. Indeed, when I reached out to and checked into various campaigns earlier in the season, I found that few had any plans whatsoever related to mental and developmental conditions. At the time, Clinton had only a couple of briefings addressing alcohol and substance abuse.

The reception of her autism plan has been mixed, eliciting polemics from some and praise from others. I fall somewhere in between. Her “wide-ranging initiative” emphasizes screening, employment, research, services and legal protections. Some of it is what you might expect: push for insurance coverage, ensure early screening, promote awareness. Some of it is perhaps less expected.

What stands out about Clinton’s initiative (besides her being the only candidate so far to offer one) is the language. As a contrast, I begin with quotes from 2007 and 2008 statements (collated here) Clinton made about autism policy when she was running against Barack Obama:

"I am very concerned about the possible links between autism, the environment and other chronic diseases.

As President, I will provide a total of about $700 million annually to address autism. That funding will go toward expanding research to identify causes of autism."

And in response to a question at the time of whether she believed that there was an “autism epidemic”:

"Yes. Today, one in 150 children are diagnosed with autism, for a total of about 25,000 each year. In sum, about 1.5 million Americans and their families are affected by autism today. This national health crisis is costing the United States at least $35 billion each year. I have long been a strong advocate for individuals and families impacted by autism.

"But while we are carrying out the research that will lead us to gain a better understanding of this disorder, we cannot forget those who are and who have been living with this disease today–the families who are desperate for assistance and help with a disorder that so often shuts off individuals from the world around them."

Compare those comments from seven or eight years ago to the language of her 2016 plan. Clinton’s new plan doesn’t characterize autism with words like “cure,” “epidemic,” “disease,” “crisis” or “suffer.” She even uses “disorder” only once, in giving the official name of the condition, and never mentions “cause.” The first section covers screening and awareness but emphasizes capturing underserved, underdiagnosed populations such as African American and Latino children and even mentions a need to better capture women and girls who are autistic. I’ve never seen a candidate do that before, and it shows that someone on Clinton’s staff did some serious homework on this one.

She focuses the treatment section on “habilitative services” and ensuring access for everyone, regardless of which health insurance they carry, with a special subsection addressing increased awareness of what TriCare, which covers military families, offers.

Continue reading this article on Forbes.com here

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