Today is the eighth annual World Autism Awareness Day. Many people, companies, and organizations are raising awareness by “Lighting It Up Blue.” Light It Up Blue is a campaign started by the organization Autism Speaks to increase autism awareness and raise money. I will not be participating. The worldwide influence of Autism Speaks has been detrimental to autistic people. Over the last decade they have spread fear and misinformation about autism, targeted parents, and marginalized actually autistic people, all in the name of finding a “cure.” They say that “autism speaks,” and, “it’s time to listen.” Well, I say that it is time for Autism Speaks to listen. Here are several reasons why you should not support Autism Speaks:
1. Autism Speaks depicts autism as a health crisis
Autism Speaks consistently treats autism as if it is a disease and a problem, rather than a natural expression of the human genome. Autistics are portrayed as problems to be cured, rather than a distinct minority group. One of the most flagrant examples of this is the 2009 video “I am Autism.” Produced by Autism Speaks, the video shows images of autistic children with an ominous voice-over that says, “I am Autism … I know where you live … I live there too … I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined … And if you are happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails.” It is hard to know where to start with something like this. The last part is a complete lie. Parents of autistic children do not have a higher divorce rate than any other parents. The video is simply propaganda meant to spread fear. Comparing autism to diseases such as diabetes and cancer is incredibly derogatory. Autism is a distinct variation on the brain’s way of functioning, one that, like all others, has its own set of advantages and challenges. The fact that autistic people are challenged in ways unlike those of other people does not in any way mean that they are diseased. It means that they are different. Wanting to cure someone of their autism is the same thing as wanting that person to disappear and to have a completely different person in their place.
2. Autism Speaks uses offensive iconography and language in reference to autistic people
Autism Speaks uses politically correct, person-first language. They call autistics “people with autism.” Now, I understand that most people who talk in this way do not realize that it is offensive. Think about it this way: I am an American male. No one would say that I am a person with Americanness, or a person with maleness. But people do the same thing with autistic people. They also use functioning labels, such as “high-functioning” and “low-functioning.” To autistics, these labels are demeaning. Who decides how a person should function? Who determines what functioning even is? Can someone be ‘high-functioning” in one area and “low-functioning” in another? In reality, these labels are assigned based on how much an autistic looks or acts like a neurotypical, according to the person who assigned the label. (A neurotypical is a person who does not have an atypical neurology.) The meaning of these labels also changes and varies depending on who assigns them. An autistic considered “high-functioning” by one person might be considered “low-functioning” by another. Autism Speaks also uses a puzzle piece as its icon. Once again, most people do not understand how this is perceived by autistic people. The idea of the puzzle piece is that autistics are unable to “fit in” and that part of them is “missing.” Autistic people are only unable to fit in because the rest of the world is intolerant. Their behavior is seen as abnormal and unhealthy, when in reality it is harmless attempts to communicate, or methods by which the autistic can cope with stress. Using the puzzle piece icon shows a profound lack of sensitivity and understanding for the experience of autistics.
3. Autism Speaks supports ABA therapy
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy is a kind of treatment that is meant to modify behavior. A full discussion of ABA therapy is far beyond the scope of this article. However, I will try to explain the basics. True ABA therapy is not what many people think. Because ABA is the only autism treatment that insurance companies will cover, many groups call their treatments ABA. True ABA therapy is therapy that forces a person to change their behavior using both positive and negative stimuli. Here is how it works: let us say that a child was diagnosed as autistic at the age of three. His parents start him on ABA therapy. Most ABA therapists recommend forty hours a week for young children. The therapist will ask the child to perform a socially acceptable behavior, such as eye contact. If the child fails to comply, he is punished. He is rewarded when he does the behavior. It works in reverse for behaviors that are socially unacceptable, such as hand-flapping. If the child does the behavior, he is punished. If he does not, he is rewarded. This kind of therapy is physically and emotionally devastating to the child. He is taught that his way of communicating and coping with the world is wrong. He is forced to do things that he finds uncomfortable and forced not to do things he finds comfortable. After years of this, many autistics can get post traumatic stress disorder. Although they may look “normal” on the outside, inside they are exactly the same. Herein lies the largest problem with ABA therapy. It forces a person to pretend to be someone they are not. People should be encouraged to embrace who they are, while coping with any challenges they may have. Because they support ABA therapy, Autism Speaks is clearly not interested in the rights or dignity of autistic people.
4. Autism Speaks’ structure is designed to benefit themselves and not autistics
Autism Speaks has no autistic people in any leadership position. Despite their insistence that they speak for autistics and desire to help them, they still refuse to allow any autistics on their board of directors or leadership. The people they are trying to help deserve to be represented in their leadership. Their allocation of funds is also highly suspect. Only four percent of their budget is reserved for family services. However, forty-four percent is dedicated to research. This might not sound bad, but most similar organizations use over sixty percent of their funds for family services. Also, the research Autism Speaks is conducting is for the purpose of creating a prenatal genetic test for autism. Just as has happened with Down syndrome, the goal of a prenatal genetic test would be the systematic murder of all autistic children by abortion.
Autism Speaks does not speak for autistics. They present autism (and autistics) as a disease to be eradicated as soon as possible. They knowingly offend autistics, and they support harmful, abusive treatments. Rather than wanting to help autistics, their desire is to eliminate them from the earth. I am tired of seeing people and companies continue to support this group. So please, if you were planning on Lighting It Up Blue today, don’t. Just don’t. We do not need autism awareness. We need autism acceptance.
For more information about Autism Speaks, follow the links below.
For more information about autism rights and neurodiversity, follow the links below.