Monday, April 3, 2017

Autism Speaks: Are They Really That Bad?

Hello, and welcome to day three of my Autism Acceptance Month post series!

For those of you who missed yesterday's post, #RedInstead: Why Not Blue?, which was published several hours late due to technical difficulties, in it I explained why I do not approve of, participate in, or endorse the Light It Up Blue campaign.  My main reason for not supporting the campaign is its association with Autism Speaks, a group that many Autistics consider a hate group and that I firmly believe does far more harm than good to the Autistic community.

My views of Autism Speaks are, unsurprisingly, regularly challenged.  I've recently been told that my attempts to dissuade local businesses from participating in campaigns associated with Autism Speaks is "an insult to all [Autistics]" because "attention to the cause is good."  I'm not entirely clear on whether or not the person in question realized that I myself am Autistic, but, regardless, their complaints were not unprecedented, and I've heard that type of objection more than enough times to realize that many people believe Autism Speaks is doing more good than harm simply by directing massive amounts of attention to the existence of Autism and Autistic people.

So, is Autism Speaks really that bad?  Does the awareness they raise justify the harm they do?

My answer, of course, is that Autism Speaks really is that bad, and that no amount of awareness can justify the harm they've done and continue to do to the Autistic community.  That may seem harsh, but you have to take into account the type of awareness they raise.  Autism Speaks' brand of awareness is not consistently positive, or even neutral.  It frequently involves fear-mongering and dehumanization, which, for obvious reasons, are negative things to incorporate in awareness campaigns.

Here are two notable examples of the aforementioned awareness campaigns that incorporate fear-mongering and/or dehumanization:

In their infamous I am Autism advertisement Autism Speaks declared that Autism works "faster than pediatric aids, cancer, and diabetes combined," and that it will "make sure that your marriage fails," "bankrupt you," "fight to take away your hope," and "plot to rob you of your children and your dreams."  The whole advertisement is an anti-Autism/anti-Autistic nightmare, but those quotes really stood out in terms of how abhorrently ableist they were.  It was clear throughout the entire ad that Autism Speaks didn't mean for Autism to be viewed as an integral part of who Autistics are, but rather as an external entity that steals "normal" children from their families and takes joy in ruining lives.  If that's not a blatantly obvious example of fear-mongering then I don't know what is.

In another video produced by Autism Speaks entitled Autism Every Day a woman named Alison Tepper Singer discussed a time at which she contemplated driving off a bridge with her Autistic daughter, Jodie, in the car.  Singer claimed that it was "only because of Lauren," her non-Disabled daughter that she didn't do it.  No one made any real effort to point out that killing your own child is wrong, regardless of that child's neurotype.  No one tried to shield Jodie, who was in the room and able to hear everything that was said, from hearing that her mother had contemplated killing her and that it was only her mother's commitment to her neurotypical sibling that kept her alive.  They acted as if she could neither understand nor feel.  If that's not dehumanization then I don't know what is.

What else has Autism Speaks done wrong?

Producing multiple negative awareness campaigns isn't the only thing Autism Speaks has done wrong - not by far.  I really doubt that I can even cover all of their ways in which they have failed/harmed the Autistic community in a single blog post, but I've put together a list of some of their more memorable failures (the vast majority of which they haven't apologized for and some of which are still ongoing issues) here:

  • Autism Speaks featured the Judge Rotenberg Center, an infamously abusive "school" for Disabled people, as a resource for Autistic people and our families.  (Source)
  • Autism Speaks stole an Autistic activist's intellectual property and lied about it repeatedly.  (Source)
  • Autism Speaks threatened an Autistic teen with completely unwarranted legal action for making an online parody of their website.  (Source)
  • Autism Speaks allocated only 4% of their funds to providing family services (only some of which were even helpful to Autistic people) in 2010.  (Source)
  • Autism Speaks allocated exactly the same percentage of their funds to family services in 2013 as in 2010.  (Source)
There are many more failures attributable to Autism Speaks, but hopefully the above list gives you a good idea of what I'm talking about when I say that Autism Speaks does more harm than good.  If not, visit the post on medium.com A Roundup of Posts Against Autism Speaks and read as many posts as it takes to figure out what the main problems with Autism Speaks are.

Stick around for more Autistic-written, Autism-related content, and feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.  Thanks for stopping by!


Image Description:  The words "Autism Speaks: Are They Really That Bad?" are printed in sketchy letters on a semi-transparent white square that's centered on a background of multi-colored flowers.

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