On Tuesday, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg answered a parent’s question about support for autistic students with an affirmative message that called for autism acceptance and avoided stereotypes and fear-mongering.
Buttigieg sat down for an interview with Supermajority, where he answered a variety of voter-submitted questions, covering topics such as family separation at the border, voter rights for women and people of color, health and education equity, and his plans for better supporting neurodiverse people on the spectrum.
“I’m interested to know your plans for how we can better support students in the educational system that have autism,” parent Lauren asked Buttigieg. “I have an almost 18-year-old who has autism and I will note … it’s rather discouraging the public schools are not very supportive and frankly they’re breaking a lot when it comes to not following [individualized education plans (IEPs)].”
In response, Buttigieg agreed education programs need to do a better job supporting autistic students, as well as suggested many people need to reframe how they think about autism — it’s not an “epidemic” to be “cured,” but rather, a neurodiverse identity that should be recognized, honored and supported. Buttigieg said:
IEPs need to be adapted to support children with autism. Also more broadly, the federal law, IDEA, that creates opportunities for children with different abilities needs to be fully funded. It hasn’t been and that’s impacting our education system. We need to make sure that educators and administrators are trained in how to support kids with autism because it’s way more kids than you would think, and we’re learning about this as time goes on [and] more diagnoses happen and more parents and kids come out of the shadows.
Buttigieg also shared his husband, Chasten Glezman, used to teach theater classes for autistic students, in addition to working with students on the spectrum in his middle school classroom. The presidential candidate said the experience of seeing his husband’s work “shows me just what is possible if you have teachers equipped with the right kind of insight and expertise and frankly just the right resources to help support these kids well.”
His informed and affirmative stance on autism earned Buttigieg praise from many autism advocates.
“This speaks to the improved understanding of autism and autistic people among elected officials,” advocate Ari Ne’eman, past president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told The Hill, adding:
Ten years ago, politicians talking about autism diagnoses usually framed autism as a recent epidemic. Now, we’re seeing discussions that recognize that we’ve always existed and are now being recognized more than before as stigma goes down and diagnostic tools improve.
— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) September 17, 2019
This isn’t the first time autism advocacy was mentioned on the campaign trail. In August, presidential candidate Andrew Yang gave a shout out to parents with kids on the spectrum. One of Yang’s sons is autistic. Buttigieg highlighted recognizing the needs of people on the spectrum, and their families, can make a big impact.
“There are so many contributions that people, kids and adults, with autism can make but we’ve got to unlock their potential,” Buttigieg said. “It is so important. That’s something I’ve learned about a lot from families that I spent time with on the campaign trail.”
You can watch Buttigieg’s full interview below:
Posted by Supermajority on Tuesday, September 17, 2019