UPDATE: I have tweaked the argument below to center on the Teach for America Model rather than the Peace Corps model, and created a petition which I encourage you to sign.
If I had an opportunity to discuss autism with First Lady Michelle Obama, here's what I'd want to talk about:
We need an Autism Corps, modeled after the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.
There are hundreds of thousands of children and adults with autism diagnoses who need day-to-day support now, and their ranks are swelling. There aren't enough trained professionals to serve them all, and even if there were, many families can't afford them. I can't imagine how those families go it alone, managing their lives without external support -- especially those whose children have moderate to severe diagnoses. Mine is one of the luckiest autism families around; we have access to and funding for the highest quality services, yet we still have plenty of scorched-earth days.
Michelle and Barack Obama have launched a campaign to encourage service, while millions of energetic and idealistic young adults want to work but can't find jobs, and our president has said that he "...believes we must work to guarantee that Americans with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] can live independent and fully productive lives and to assure that their families understand and are able to support a loved one with ASD."
Let's put that all together. Let's create a federally-funded organization dedicated to training volunteers to work with kids and adults with autism. Autism Corps workers could help individuals with autism gain skills and independence, and have recreation opportunities. They could give their families -- all autism families, not just those who can pay for or know how to get services -- some sorely-needed respite. They could make it possible for parents who would otherwise be full-time caretakers to work outside the home. They could supply balance to families who never thought they'd find it. They could make a real difference for families approaching the breaking point.
This is not to downplay the importance of autism discussion, approaches, and research. But those are already on White House and Federal radars. "The Autism Society has invited First Lady Michelle Obama to participate in [their annual conference's] July 24 keynote panel on public policy and autism." This is good news for autism awaress in general, and I hope the panel will be recorded. President Obama has welcomed science back to the White House, which hopefully translates into good news for evidenced-based autism treatments. And the US Dept of Health & Human Resources has publicly released its Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder Research, which bodes well for future autism research, and answers.
While autism and people with autism shouldn't be demonized, we need to be frank: having a child with autism is more stress than some families can handle. Those families have needs that take precedence over panels and promises and research; they need help getting through the day. They need an Autism Corps. I would hope our First Lady (and her husband) could both recognize and support this idea.