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I got roped into watching the debate last night. I won’t comment too much on it, but one thing stood out for me, and it had less to do with the debate itself than with the reactions I witnessed on Twitter. At one point, President Obama spoke about Medicaid. Thankfully, the New York Times snagged the quote:
“Referring to possible cuts in Medicaid, he said, ‘that may not seem like a big deal when it just is, you know, numbers on a sheet of paper, but if we’re talking about a family who’s got an autistic kid and is depending on that Medicaid, that’s a big problem.’”
The point the president was trying to make was that Medicaid benefits matter to those affected by the autism spectrum. So what was the tweeting point? The president didn’t express himself in the way many people feel is the politically correct way. Too many of the comments boiled down to (pardon my paraphrasing) he should say child with autism, not autistic kid.
I’m a writer, so yes, language means a great deal to me. However, intention and content matter more. Can we really afford to haggle over semantics in the face of such a huge issue? I don’t think we can.
Our family is fortunate enough to live in an area where Gus has had access to his services through first the county, then the school district. But as he gets older, those services dwindle. At some point, he will likely need to apply for Medicaid. There are an awful lot of areas where people don’t have access to those services. Gus is making amazing progress in middle school, but I can’t say he would be doing as well if he hadn’t had such a strong foundation during the elementary years. If we had no access to services or to Medicaid…I shudder to even consider where he would be now. We would never have been able to afford those supports for him on our own. Many families—too many families—end up bankrupting themselves trying to meet the needs inherent in life along the autism spectrum.
Frankly, I care less about the language. I want to know that the help will be there for the individuals who need it now and for us if/when we need it later. We need to focus on the real issues, not on labels. What someone intends to do to help my child is more important than what he calls my child.
To be fair, some responses echoed mine—that while the president’s words may or may not have been everyone’s preference, his desire to keep Medicaid benefits available should be the conversation.
In terms of the semantics, for the record, my son is an “autistic kid” and “a child with autism,” but most significantly is not a label. He’s just Gus. And I want his needs to be met no matter what you call him.