Yesterday, as I was making my way through the supermarket aisles, I couldn’t help but notice how the coronavirus had prompted a flurry of anxious shoppers to engage in a buying frenzy. Raided shelves couldn’t be restocked fast enough. Shoppers were questioning whether there would be enough items to take care of their basic necessities. As I spoke with my neighbors some felt anxious and worried. It would not be surprising if after a few days of this insanity, people start complaining of dizzy spells, stomachaches, and chest pressure. Under present circumstances all of these feelings may be new to you or me; however, they are not new to minorities facing socioeconomic challenges.
Minorities usually bear the brunt of having a lower income level, poorer education, and unemployment. They live in communities that lack safety and are high in crime. For them anxiety is not a response to acute circumstances, like taking precautionary measures against the coronavirus. Minorities are borne into anxiety. In their case food insecurity is not about an insufficiency or shortage of food but rather about an unequal distribution of resources. Through no fault of their own, people facing socioeconomic challenges are at risk of a wide variety of health problems including low birth weight, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and cancer. All of these risk factors add to a higher mortality. It almost seems that minorities never get a lucky break.
Several studies now claim that race and class contribute to disparities in autism diagnoses. Autistics borne to minorities tend to have limited access to health care, receive fewer diagnostic tests, and may never obtain medications to treat their chronic health disorders. Rescuing these children requires addressing socioeconomic disparity. It is not sufficient to treat any presenting disorders but, rather, modify the predisposing factors.
When thinking about the vast reality of disabled children we have to cross the divide between our own situation and those living in poverty. This way of thinking helped formulate the United States as a nation when in the preamble to the Constitution we pledged to promote, “the general welfare” of our people, and made it a core reason why we constituted ourselves as a nation. Congress was therefore granted the ability to spend money (from taxes) in ways that were only limited to those that benefited the welfare of the whole nation (http://www.learntheconstitution.com/social-welfare.html ). The Constitution was amended based on the 1936 Butler case so that general welfare was properly understood not as collective needs but also those of certain states or certain people (e.g., the poor or the disabled).
Poverty is not about negatives and stereotypes (e.g., minorities, drugs, welfare). Poverty is about lack of educational opportunities (including childcare), teaching appropriate skills for a given grade level, having teachers that have the time to care for their students, implement appropriate subjects like music and have laboratory equipment, and about the availability of after school and summer programs. Poverty is about lacking a decent place to live. Indeed, waste management industries are constructed near poor neighbors, not rich neighborhoods. There is no “affordable” housing when you are very poor. Disabled children from disadvantaged neighborhoods may not be able to play outside as they are told it is dangerous. However, their disabilities also may prevent them from playing outside in schools, a virtual double hit on their socialization skills.
In Greenvile SC, where I live there is a program called “Our Eyes Were Opened” (http://oewo.org/) that teaches you to think with the community and not for them. It teaches you to develop roots in your community by working together as a team. Our Eyes Were Opened provides for poverty simulations, poverty tours, teen job fair simulations and medical access simulations. While the government takes its time to take care of our disabled and poverty-stricken children, it is our duty to do justice and walk humbly side by side with our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
Casanova MF. Autism Updated: Symptoms, Treatments, and Controversies. Amazon Publishing, 2019.