Sarah Palin is NOT an expert on children with special needs and the political correctness or whatever it is that has designated her one is seriously annoying me. What are people thinking?
Yes, Sarah and Todd Palin have a son with Down Syndrome. Yes, they knew about his disability and chose to continue the pregnancy anyway. I respect them for that decision--it is the same one I would have made. That said, though, they are not experts on children with special needs. They had such difficulty with the reality of their unborn child's disability that they didn't tell anyone about it before his birth, not even their own children, leaving everyone around them unprepared. Telling their family ahead of time would have been a kindness, would have given everyone time to get past the dream of the 'perfect child' and allow them to learn about Down Syndrome so they could be ready to welcome the new family member, just as he was, in all his individual delightfulness. They would have been ready to help Todd and Sarah with their new son, able to understand where the new parents would need extra support to care for their entire family.
And now, they've been parents of a special needs child for all of five or six months. That hardly makes them experts. At that age, babies are still mostly sleeping, eating, pooping machines, disabled or not. Sarah and Todd Palin haven't had to deal with the school system yet, haven't sat through endless IEP's (Individual Education Program meetings, required for each special needs child); they haven't dealt with their son being teased and harassed by his peers, with public transit systems or extracurricular activities not set up for their child. I doubt if they're having to struggle with bureaucratic red tape and obfuscation and intransigence, respite care programs, extra therapy costs, etc. No way they're experts, Trig's parents or not.
Sarah Palin doesn't have a history of helping special needs children. The only thing I've read in relation to Sarah Palin and special needs children prior to the birth of her son was that she had cut the budget for the Alaska Special Olympics. Some devotion to special needs children. And she decided it was a good thing to run for Vice President, knowing that she had a child who was going to need extra support and assistance, not less. That decision does bother me. It bothered me when John Edwards didn't leave the primary race when Elizabeth's cancer recurred, this time untreatable. His children were going to need him in the next four or eight years; getting snatches of his time between his dealing with domestic and foreign issues wouldn't give them the parenting they were going to need. Being President or Vice President is more than just a full-time job, it's a LIFE, a life that doesn't leave the usual time for family.
And what is the deal with autism being the apparent disability of the month? Does John McCain not know that Trig Palin has Down Syndrome, not autism? Does he not know they are very different disabilities? Every disability is distinct. Autism isn't Down Syndrome isn't paraplegia isn't hearing impaired. They aren't all the same thing and they don't have the same needs. Even with one label, there are differences. T-10 Asia score D paraplegia isn't nearly the same thing as T-3 Asia score A paraplegia, and quadriplegia is another issue entirely. Autism ranges from totally disfunctional to mildly disabled. Down Syndrome comes with a whole range of physical health issues that may or may not be present in each individual and the development delays range from relatively mild to profound. My KidOne has a mild hearing loss, just enough to where she needs to make sure she has her good ear towards teachers and doesn't sit all the way in the back of the room; that isn't nearly the same as a profoundly deaf child being taught ASL and lip-reading.
KidThree is a complete (Asia Score A) T-9 paraplegic. I've gotten very, very good at dealing with that particular disability. I can push a wheelchair almost anywhere, I understand the physical needs of her care, I know what she can and can't do. When I walk down the sidewalk, my eyes automatically look for barriers. I don't see morning glories or palm fronds across the sidewalk as beautiful things, but as dangerous, hostile things that force my daughter out into the frightening situation of sharing the bike lanes with manic bicyclists and preoccupied drivers. Steps and porches and staircases appear in technicolor when I'm out in public; elevators and ramps glow in neon. I bless people who hold doors and clear paths, and curse those who pretend they don't see the girl in the wheelchair coming towards them and stand determinedly in her way. I know what to demand from the school system, that my daughter be able to get into the classrooms unimpeded, that she have a proper writing surface, and that her 'seat' be on the side of the room where her good eye is towards the teacher (in addition to other things, KidThree is congenitally legally blind in her right eye--it's tough to be a premature drug baby), but I haven't had to deal with aides, tutors, or cognitive impairments. My daughter hasn't grown up with this disability, it was recently thrust upon her, so I haven't had to deal with helping a child develop a strong sense of self in a society that values unattainable perfection so highly.
I am not an expert on special needs children, and neither is Sarah Palin.