Confusing Down Syndrome with autism?

After last night’s presidential debate, a post on a blog called Inside Autism wondered, “Does John McCain think autism and Down syndrome are the same thing? A lot of bloggers think so.”

That got me curious. After a bit of searching I found other blog posts on the subject, including this one from Brian Beutler’s Debate liveblog:

John McCain says Sarah Palin knows a lot about having children with autism. Presumably he thinks she knows more about this than anybody in the country. Presumably he also thinks autism is approximately equal to Down Syndrome.

If you missed the debate, here’s what happened. When Sen. McCain [R – AZ] was asked whether his running mate was qualified, he said:

She’ll be my partner. She understands reform. And, by the way, she also understands special-needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we’ve got to find out what’s causing it, and we’ve got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special needs children.

She understands that better than almost any American that I know.

I, for one, am willing to give McCain the benefit of the doubt on this one. I’m guessing he meant Palin understands autism because her baby son has special needs (he has Down Syndrome), plus her sister has a child with autism.

Sen. Obama [D – IL] used a question about the budget to address the autism issue.

I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs will require some additional funding, if we’re going to get serious in terms of research. That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talk about.

And if we have an across-the-board spending freeze, we’re not going to be able to do it. That’s an example of, I think, the kind of use of the scalpel that we want to make sure that we’re funding some of those programs.

My Easter Seals colleague, Katy Beh Neas, was downright clairvoyant when she blogged last year about how autism would turn out to be an issue in the presidential campaign. Messages about the care and treatment of people living with autism and other special needs can now be found side-by-side with messages about foreign policy, our economy and global warming. Who would’ve guessed?

I’ll leave you with my favorite blog quip about autism from last night’s debate. It comes from Matthew Baldwin, author of the blog Defective Yeti. I’ve referred to Defective Yeti in an Easter Seals autism blog post before. After Baldwin’s son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Defective Yeti started featuring posts about autism from time to time (in addition to the posts Baldwin already publishes on politics, movies and the like).

Only one sentence from Baldwin’s liveblog of the debate last night mentions autism, but I think that one sentence is brilliant.

6:40: At what point did “autism” become the center square on the Political Bingo card?


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  1. Katie Broome Says:

    I am currently writing a book for student teachers; a large section of this book will be dedicated to teaching children with special needs. I am looking for parents to write short testimonials that can be featured within the text. If you are interested in writing something..even a few sentences..please contact me at

    Tell me about your child’s experience in an inclusive classroom
    how you help the teacher prepare for your child’s special needs
    how hard it is to leave your child in the morning for school
    how important parent-teacher communication really is

    All of these things are so important for our teachers to know. Please help me to educate our future teachers!

    Thank You!

  2. Beth Finke, blog moderator Says:

    Yes, her nephew with autism was mentioned in a NY Times article and a piece in the Washington Post, too. That’s why I referred to that in my post:

    I, for one, am willing to give McCain the benefit of the doubt on this one. I’m guessing he meant Palin understands autism because her baby son has special
    needs (he has Down Syndrome), plus her sister has a child with autism.

  3. Mike Says:

    I read somewhere that Gov. Palin’s sister has a child with autism.

  4. Matthew Cloud Says:

    One of our children has Down Syndrome. Senator Cornyn’s office made sure that a beaureaucratic loophole was fixed so that my son received the services he needed. Not only did it help our son it also helped several hundred others looking for help that next week. What did we do different maybe than some others? We went to Washington and met with his liason Anne Idsal on health care issues. Not only did they help him, but they introduced us to a healthplan that was finally affordable for us to use. It was all done by legislation that Cornyn and McCain had fought to improve competition in insurance companies and force insurance companies to cover all health care needs. Oddly enough the previous week Cornyn had been filibustered by the Democrats on a bill he had proposed to allow anyone to buy health insurance from any state…. They do listen and they do act. I have been watching McCain’s service for 15 years and have seen him to be a man of conviction. A man I can trust. As far as the confusion between Autism and Down Syndrome, in our own experience not only with our son but with others my wife, Nicole, and I have helped over the past 20 years we have seen that there are many similar behaviors. I don’t believe that was why McCain mentioned Palin and Autism. It is more that just like our own experience we find many problems cross over. For instance my wife has Epilepsy and I have “Restless Leg Syndrome” which has not quite crossed over into Parkinson’s Syndrome yet. We have found some similar therapies to work through a variety of changes in nutritional supplements, diet, manipulations with a D.O. (not D.C.), and medicine. Of course many just want to cause problems where there aren’t just for the controversy. We prefer to find the synergies like having a behavioral therapist asses our child for Autism to thankfully in our case rule that out, but use some of the therapies irregardless to help change his behavior patterns and hopefully help him learn faster. It’s been three weeks since we started with him and we have seen vast improvements. We need to update our personal web site with all six kids, but we’re just getting healthy again after me having broke my back and my wife’s issues just now showing up. “May God Bless you all!” and look up a book called “The Magnesium Miracle”. It has changed our life for the better.

  5. ReesieKitty Says:

    Hi- I just linked here from another blog on the same subject, so if you don’t mind, I am going to repeat my comments here.
    I work at a Chicago magazine and we recently put out a new edition for parents of kids with special needs. In the past 2 and a half years, I have had the privilege of working with many different parents and advocates. I did not think for a minute that they would buy into McCain/Palin. These parents have had to advocate tirelessly for their own kids and do their own research. They watch political issues that affect their kids closely- the McCain/Palin record speaks very clearly that they are not friends to these kids. Sarah Palin’s family will have a lot to adjust to in the future. I am afraid that even with the professional help and insurance that they can easily afford, it will be a difficult reality. I don’t respect her for hauling her son out in front of crowds and waving him around like that every day. I don’t respect her for not insisting that the McCain campaign clarify his condition. Working in advertising and marketing, I believe that the use of the word ‘autism’ is not coincidental or by accident. It is a huge buzz-word right now, with a lot of media attention. I think the campaign thought that by merely using that term and repeating it over and over, they could draw support- without really knowing or caring what they were talking about. I’m glad to see it hasn’t worked. Parents of children with special needs of ANY kind are too careful and know how to do their research too well. They won’t just fall into line behind empty promises. Go to and check out Chicago Special Parent! We’re really proud of it 🙂

  6. mark Says:

    you may not know that kids with downs are more likely to have ASD than any other group of children. they may also suffer gut problems and benefit from gf/cg diets.
    keep up the goo9d work

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