The remarkable 2008 presidential election meant different things to different people, but a great number shared in a sense of hope that positive change was possible. Some autism advocates view the failure of the Bush and Clinton governments to recognize an autism epidemic akin to Reagan's failure to recognize AIDS. In November we bolted upright to hear the issue of autism raised for the first time in a presidential debate - not from the press, but from the candidates themselves, each pledging to do more to find answers to the questions of autism.

Though classic autism likely existed before the modern need for a clinical definition emerged, there is general recognition that diagnosis rates have skyrocketed over the past two decades for unknown reasons and are now often quoted at 1 in 150. However, even those alarming numbers are outdated. More recent studies have shown rates of 1 in 94 in New Jersey, 1 in 88 amongst military families, 1 in 28 amongst Somali immigrants in Minnesota, and a very recent UK study showing rates of 1 in 13 amongst children of mothers who took a particular epilepsy medication while pregnant. There remains no acknowledgement that autism is occurring at a higher true rate than in the past, and any contributing environmental influences are absolved in that omission.

If you look back on the family tree to our materal grandparents generation, there are no identified or suspected cases of autism. Likewise, the rate of autism was zero amongst their 4 children, and zero again amongst their 27 biological grandchildren. However, in the generation of approximately 92 biological great grandchildren, autism has appeared in the families of 3 of their 4 children at a rate of 1 out in every 10 boys.

On November 4th 2008, the nation elected a man who earlier had put his arm around my nephew and had a 3-5 minute conversation with my sister on how autism has affected our family. According to my sister, "He was interested, informed, and mentioned that he had a cabinet member with a child with autism and that there will be more funding for services along with the Combatting Autism Act.  I encouraged him to look into environmental issues as well."

The next morning I pulled together these thoughts on my drive to work.

My non-verbal 6yr old son Ben was unusually restless the night before the election and dragged me downstairs repeating an utterance that sounded a lot like an approximation for "Obama". You have got to love and be moved by the message of hope that is Obama, and in that spirit I am offering an autism verse to the "Yes We Can" song, a declaration of a
hopeful people. (The You Tube clip is at the end of this post.)

We have a chance to educate a new President this morning, and we will summon our energy, creativity, compassion and love and teach him about autism.

Yes we can.

We will give him a lesson in science and statistics without institutional politics, and lay out a path to answer our most pressing questions, the questions of our childrens' future.

Yes we can.

We will persevere against the obstacles that until now have denied our very existence. We will introduce our children to the world, in numbers and names and faces that can no longer  be ignored.

Yes we can.

In the not so distant future, our work will bear out and we will hear a message from the top.

Through our struggle against the lies of omission, in the days ahead we will come to hear our President declare a worldwide crisis of humanity, a festering planetary epidemic, an age of autism.

Yes we can.

With that message clear we can focus not on getting to Mars, but on bringing our children  home.

Yes we can.

We will find the causes of autism and reverse the waves that are crashing down upon us.

Yes we can.

We will research the remedies of autism so that as parents we do not have to rely on hope  alone.

Yes we can.

We will take away the self-serving assurances and chase out the snake oil salesmen of all  types with the truth, because our children deserve better.

Yes we can.

We will beat back this beast and put it in its cage, and together the reward of our struggle  will be that we will see our children recover and walk free again, and talk free again, and live free again.

Yes we can. Yes we can. Yes we can.

"We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics who will
only grow louder and more dissonant in the weeks to come. We've been
asked to pause for a reality check. We've been warned against
offering the people of this nation false hope.

But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been
anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible
odds; when we've been told that we're not ready, or that we shouldn't
try, or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a
simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people. Yes we can."

-President-elect Barack Obama