When my daughter Samantha Elisofon spoke at the United Nations for World Autism Awareness Day, she was asked to address the lack of services for adolescents and adults on the autism spectrum. What did she think ought to be done to remedy the situation? We were given this question in advance since it was NOT easy-peasy—even for Samantha’s neurotypical mom. Also, comments had to be pre-screened for approval. Our first attempt failed miserably because we wanted to speak our truth, which meant being critical of the president and his Education Secretary. Politics are a no-no at the U.N.; Samantha was NOT able to say the undiplomatic: “Get rid of Trump and DeVos and all of the billionaire types who have no moral compass.” (Okay, diplomacy is not our strong suit).
Here’s what Samantha was allowed to say instead:
“We need to find leaders and policy makers who understand and support our families. We also need more housing options and employment programs that target people in the middle of the spectrum. We can’t live with our parents forever. Also, our parents need more support so they stay healthy, and families don’t suffer so much financial and emotional strain.
“A broader variety of businesses must welcome and train different individuals on the spectrum. In my case, Hollywood needs to hire actors with autism to play leading roles (not just walk-ons) instead of casting neurotypical actors and exploiting the current interest in autism.”
The follow-up question was a no-brainer. “Do you see a role for parents like your mom and other family members?”
“Absolutely, positively,” Samantha replied with a big smile. “Without people like my mom working to set up a theater company for me, and other parents investing in small businesses, young adults with autism will continue to be unemployed or limited to low paying jobs that neurotypical people find boring. My mom helped create EPIC Players to train me to be a professional actress, but many other parents have set up small businesses to help their kids pursue their interests and build employment skills, like LuvMichael, a granola bakery, and YesSheCan for young women to sell gently used American Dolls.”
Now that the U.N. is behind us, and I’m free—at least for the moment (!!!)—to be critical of our current leaders in my own corner of cyberspace, here’s my honest answer about what should be done to address the lack of services for people with autism. The first action we need to take is to STOP cutting the few supports and services that do exist for people with autism and other developmental disabilities. And there’s no way around it. People like our president and the evil, ignorant Betsy DeVos MUST be removed from office. Until then, the democratic Congress and lawmakers MUST prevent DeVos (shouldn’t that be spelled Devil?) from cutting funding to our most vulnerable children. Whoever heard of a cabinet member responsible for children’s education cutting funding for the Special Olympics? Really? Even our Bully-in-Chief who has publicly disparaged the disabled, wouldn’t abide such an outrageously stupid and politically unpopular idea.
Who else besides a passionate autism mom cares to write about these cruel budget cuts? Look no further than The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/opinion/disability-budget-cuts-trump.html
To be fair, DeVos does not discriminate against special education students alone. Our Secretary of Education believes that class sizes for neurotypical children should be LARGER, not smaller. Who knows where she got the harebrained idea that giving children LESS individual attention would improve their educational outcomes? Maybe she should completely eliminate funding for all schools, and make her job obsolete. Then she could go back to full-time self-enrichment and profiting from her investments in charter schools.
Here’s DeVos’ defense: “There is no evidence that the Federal taxpayer investments in existing professional development programs or class-size reduction have meaningfully improved student outcomes. In fact, students may be better served by being in larger classes, if by hiring fewer teachers, a district or state can better compensate those who have demonstrated high ability and outstanding results.”
Aside from the above statements being blatantly untrue, DeVos is sounding a lot like Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake.” We’re not talking about starving French peasants in pre-revolutionary France of the 1700s, and the USA is not (yet) a monarchy. We live in 21st century America where we are (for the moment) still a democracy. Cutting the education budget and depriving America’s most vulnerable children—the poor and developmentally disabled—of high-quality education is both immoral and a waste of our country’s precious resources (people). Apparently DeVos and her boss prefer to cut taxes for themselves and their wealthy cohorts than to invest in America’s future.
The Marie Antoinette approach did not work out well for the queen. She was executed. I’m not looking to decapitate anyone. But swift impeachment would be a good start.