When I was in my 20s, I did a regional theatre production at Alabama Shakespeare in Montgomery, Alabama of Diary of Anne Frank, one of my favorite plays based on one of my favorite books by a young woman I so admired. It was a landmark production because it was the first time this play was performed in this area of the South. Our play was geared towards children and this was important. Most children attending performances had never met anyone of the Jewish faith and some were taught that the Holocaust was a hoax. We had educational programs attached to our production to try to integrate tolerance, acceptance and understanding. We did the production to show the humanity of the play and how it transcends hateful and ignorant teachings.
I think about those who suffered immeasurably in the Holocaust, those whose families were completely annihilated and those who survived the unimaginable and how they all must feel when they hear the hateful rhetoric of people who call the Holocaust a hoax. I would think survivors and their kin would be filled with rage — how can people be so cruel, insensitive and stupid? Or perhaps they are extremely sad knowing that the human race has not learned any lesson and the threat of genocide is still ripe? Denial of the Holocaust is degrading and insulting – meant to demean the souls who endured and torture their loved ones who were spared. Denial of the Holocaust shows ignorance at its purest form.
There are people who deny that autism is real. A conservative talk show host called autism a “hoax”. There are people who believe that autism is just an excuse to get services from the state. There are people who think that autism is over-diagnosed and kids are “just brats who do not want to listen”.
A few days ago I read a news story about Sharron Angle, GOP candidate for Senate in 2010 in Nevada. At a Tea Party convention in 2009, Sharron Angle said, “Everything that they want to throw at us now is covered under (using air quotes) autism, so that’s a mandate that you have to pay for.” The air quotes suggested that she thought autism was fabricated or not real – a hoax, a rouse to get money from the state or insurance company.
She recently defended her statement by saying “expensive government mandates falsely label other symptoms as autism because it creates this huge cottage industry that drives up health insurance cost while diluting the needed coverage for those patients affected by autism.”
I find Ms. Angle’s comments to be uneducated, ignorant and callous. Yes, autism treatment is expensive. But it is not a cottage industry. Autism is an epidemic. 1 in 110 children in the United States have autism. And if Ms. Angle had a child on the autism spectrum, she would see the need for a mandate for insurance coverage.
If Ms. Angle knew ANYTHING about autism, she would know it is a spectrum of symptoms. It is a pervasive neurological disorder. No one is faking it to milk the system of services. No one is falsely diagnosing children to create a cottage industry. Autism is a real disorder which is so mysterious and puzzling, that we do not know what causes it and we do not have a cure. But what is known is that autism must be treated aggressively, just as you would treat a traumatic injury or life-threatening disease like cancer. If we do not treat autism aggressively, a child can grow up to be an adult who cannot function in society, cannot relate to anyone or anything and who may have severe behaviors which cause serious injury.
A Nevada constituent with a daughter on the spectrum, a once die-hard member of the GOP, jumped ship and is now voting for Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic incumbent. He was so infuriated by the callousness of Sharron Angle’s comments, that he switched parties and is encouraging others with children on the spectrum to do so as well. It’s not about voting “Republican” or “Democrat” or “Tea Party”. It’s about upholding what is important to you. It must break his heart, as it does mine, to hear anyone deny that autism is fabricated or the reason that insurance rates are so high. As parents we know that this rhetoric hurts our children and their chances to be accepted in today’s society. It is hard enough to see and hear the world differently than everyone else, but to be shunned like a pariah, adds insult to injury.
And if Sharron Angle is so concerned about not spending her precious money — ACCEPTANCE AND UNDERSTANDING ARE FREE! It costs the taxpayers – and her – nothing.