Several years ago, I attended a meeting of parents and care providers to discuss the lack of county services available for their loved ones on the autism spectrum. At the meeting, an African American medical professional told me something that still gives me pause: "Autism is a disability for the rich," she said. “Only the wealthy can afford the costs of the intensive early interventions we as parents need to help our children succeed." She continued, “As African Americans, we are disproportionately caring for our children on the spectrum as single parents, with limited means, and are dependent on institutions like our public schools to give whatever supports they can."
As I continue my three year fight for appropriate supports for my own child, I ask myself each day, “Was my acquaintance correct? No matter how diligently I try, no matter the effort I make, will I be unable to provide my own child with the help he needs because of financial and racial disparities?”
Two stories show this disparity of care, resources, and options in a way that leaves me with heartbreaking concern. A Journey into the World of Autism is a series of photographs with commentary, about an against all odds, full on battle for the dignity and civil rights of a 14 year old African American boy, Daniel Tuttle Jr. Daniel was given a diagnosis of autism when he was 2 years old. He never received early interventions or any support services. His battle for services is still being fought by a woman who is not his mother. She was his first daycare provider as an infant; when she heard Daniel's mother was out of work and overwhelmed trying to manage his care, she did not hesitate to go through the process of becoming his care provider.
Autism Lives Daily in Our House briefly outlines the story of Jack Drinkwine, a white child diagnosed with autism who is receiving intensive interventions and supports. He has teams of medical and educational professionals working with him to improve his ability to navigate his world. Jack's mother, a university professor, discusses the combination of therapies and supports paid for by a combination of funding that Daniel Tuttle's care provider could never hope to achieve.
Daniels is homeschooled and sent to a speech therapist. Daniel's only other therapy, administered by his care provider, is a GFCF diet and the basic set of the shoebox task system, the foundational exercises in the TEACCH method. Daniel's care provider continues to try to place him in a safe educational environment where he is able to adapt to the classroom and receive at least minimal services and supports. Meanwhile, Professor Drinkwine advises other parents to acquire the intensive interventions for their children that she has, never considering that many parents and care providers do not have the resources available to them that a family with two working parents- a university professor and a high ranking military officer- does.
Is this disparity of service placing African American children on the spectrum at risk for more confrontations with aversive behavioral management techniques, fewer educational and therapeutic supports and a greater risk for either institutional care or catastrophic encounters with the criminal justice system as adults? It is a chilling thought for me as I look at my dark skin and my deeply autistic son.
Please read both articles and let me know what you think:
A Journey Into The World of Autism
Autism Lives Daily in Our House
More on Daniel Tuttle Jr. from DC & NYC Photographer Eli Meir Kaplan:
Against the Odds