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Hillary Clinton Outlines Plan To Address Autism

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There are a lot of issues on the presidential campaign right now - ISIS, gun control, health care. And Hillary Clinton just added one more - autism. At an event in Iowa this week, Clinton announced a plan to fund research and support people with autism and their families.

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HILLARY CLINTON: A lot of those families are just at their wits' end trying to figure how to get the services, to figure out what to do for schooling and then, as a child becomes a young adult, what to do for housing and employment. I want to be the president who helps families in our country deal with some of those issues.

MCEVERS: Ron Fournier wrote about Clinton's plan for National Journal, and he also has a personal connection to this story. His a son Tyler has Asperger's. Ron, thanks for being on the show today.

RON FOURNIER: Thank you so much for having me on, Kelly.

MCEVERS: This is not really an issue that's gotten a lot of attention from presidential campaigns. I mean, how big of a deal is this announcement for autism advocates and for parents like you?

FOURNIER: Huge, huge.

MCEVERS: Really.

FOURNIER: Let me just talk about it just as a parent. When you first find out that - especially a son or daughter is - has autism, you know, first comes the tears, and then comes the fear. And then comes, really quickly, a feeling that you're alone, that nobody you know has dealt with this, that you don't really know what it is. It's a scary word, and it's a broad spectrum. And what she has done for people, the community - is saying, you know, you're not alone; at least I'm going to talk about this.

MCEVERS: What do you think about the substance of the plan?

FOURNIER: Well, again, if you take it without any skepticism or cynicism, which I can only do if I talk about it as a parent, it's impressive in the sense that it addresses - there's - oversimplifying, there's two general camps that parents tend to fall into. You can be the kind that want a lot of research to go into finding a cure or prevention of autism. There's a lot of people that that's their main and sometimes only focus.

And then there are folks who are more interested in finding ways that you can support people with autism, that - somebody like my son - he doesn't want to fight his autism. He wants help in dealing with his autism. If you could offer me - and I'm just one parent. If you could offer me a cure for my son's autism, I wouldn't take it because the way he's wired is what makes him so uniquely different. But I understand that not every parent is in the same boat. And apparently, so does secretary Clinton because her plan really does address the concerns of parents at both of those camps.

MCEVERS: So let's get to the skepticism now, though. I mean, you've covered Hillary Clinton for some time. You've been pretty critical of her in the past. I mean, what do you think about this as a campaign move?

FOURNIER: Yeah. And just, again - and more recently, I've been very critical of her on the email issue. I think that showed a lack of accountability and honesty. On this one, I think, in fairness, you've got to recognize that she has always been an advocate for children and families even before she moved up higher in the political spectrum. When she was back as a first lady in Arkansas - even before she was first lady of Arkansas, she was involved in these issues, working for the Children's Defense Fund. So there's a consistency here that I think gives her some credibility politically.

On the other hand, the Clintons, and Hillary in particular, can be awfully political and, you know, manipulative. And it can't escape their attention that because of the way we look at autism, and scientific community is changing, that more people now know somebody who has autism. So this is just - purely cynically, this is a great way to connect with voters.

MCEVERS: So her plan calls, among other things, for, you know, more access to insurance compliance with Medicaid, more outreach on autism, a national campaign, help for people with autism to transition from school into adult life. I mean, how likely do you think it is that this could actually happen?

FOURNIER: Probably not very likely because one, all of that is very expensive. Two, you would have to get a polarized Washington, D.C., working together to get it done. And three, you know, it's fair to have doubts about her ability to be able to bring a fractured Washington together. So my guess is it's not very likely, but even then, just the fact that she's put it on the national agenda is a big first step. And I hope I'm wrong. I hope she can get it done.

MCEVERS: That's Ron Fournier. He has an upcoming book about raising his son. It's called "Love That Boy." Thanks so much.

FOURNIER: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.