Autism Awareness Month is coming to a close. Despite all of the “angels” that are out there in the world who are seeking answers to the why and how of autism or who educate children and adults with autism, I am left with a sense of foreboding. Perhaps it is a reflection of my own mortality viewed through the prism of my daughter who is autistic and who is now a young adult.
My daughter is part of the initial and growing wave of rapidly aging individuals diagnosed with autism. She lives in a state and a society which is completely unprepared, and perhaps incapable, of dealing with her needs. I wake up in the night, wondering what her life will be like when my wife and I are gone. It is at those moments that fear creeps in.
Autism affects one out of every 110 children born in this country. The National Institute of Mental Health, among others, describes the situation as a national health emergency. But unfortunately, despite this crisis, California is a state with limited and shrinking resources. California’s budget crisis, which for many is just an abstract concept or political game, has a very human face for me – it is my daughter. She is at that stage in life where she is being “transitioned” out of the school system into a world that consists of limited programs and long waiting lists. While she has been accepted in an independent livings skills program at a community college next year (the only such community college program in the state and located 300 miles from home), with the current and impending state budget crisis, I have serious doubts about the long term viability of that program.
The genesis and ongoing reasons for California’s budget crisis are multiple in nature and compound on one another. It is a function of term limits and gerrymandered districts. It is a function of the common good being sacrificed for political expediency and individual political career advancement. It is the fault of the Republicans and of the Democrats – the lack political courage and common sense is clearly a bipartisan affliction in California. It is the fault of past governors who were more concerned about their image and keeping their job than actually doing their job. It is the intimidation and bullying by out of state political pundits, state party operatives, and mediocre talk show hosts who instill fear in the souls of insecure and ambitious politicians. It is the fault of those who pursue their own personal political ambitions at the expense of a legislative process that should be responsive to the needs of Californians. It is us. And what is certain is that nothing will change or improve any time soon.
The Sacramento kabuki budget dance has become a full time spectacle. While the Legislature and the Governor go through their budget “drills” the one certainty in all of this process is that my daughter’s opportunities become fewer and her life less certain as a result of an impotent political system. And she is just one of many like her. What a horrible process this has become.