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Although they didn't get quite as much air time as "Joe the Plumber," autism and families with special needs children were a surprisingly prominent focus of the final debate between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain on October 15.
McCain raised the issues first in answer to moderator Bob Schieffer's question of why McCain believes his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin, would make a better president than Obama's running mate, Sen. Joe Biden. At the end of his recitation of Palin's qualifications, McCain said: "[B]y 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." Palin, McCain contended, "understands that better than almost any American that I know."
In his response to McCain, Obama applauded Palin's "very commendable" work on behalf of those with special needs. But he went on to note that there would be no additional funding for special needs children if McCain's proposed across-the-board spending freeze were imposed.
"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," Obama said. "That is something that every family that advocates on behalf of disabled children talks about. And if we have an across-the-board spending freeze, we're not going to be able to do it."
Toward the end of the debate, in answer to a question on more federal funding for schools, Obama decried the "unfunded mandates" that have been imposed on school systems. As an example, he pointed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Obama said "we did the right thing by saying every school should provide education to kids with special needs, but we never followed through on the promise of funding, and that left local school districts very cash-strapped."
To read a transcript of the debate, go to: https://www.debates.org/pages/trans2008d.html
For a Huffington Post article titled "Last Night's Autism Debate -- Who Will Win the Special Needs Vote?, click here.
For an earlier Special Needs Answers article on vice presidential nominee Palin and special needs, click here.