Washington, DC (September 23rd, 2009) - The autism community reacted in horror today to Autism Speaks’ new “I am Autism” campaign, presenting Autistic people as kidnap victims and burdens on their family members and communities.
“I am autism. I have no interest in right or wrong. I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams….And if you’re happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain,” says the “I am Autism” video, released yesterday and created by Academy Award-nominated director Alfonso Cuarón and Grammy-nominated songwriter/producer Billy Mann.
“This is the latest in a series of unethical fundraising strategies adopted by Autism Speaks,” said Ari Ne’eman, an adult on the autism spectrum and President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), “This type of fear mongering hurts Autistic people, by raising fear and not contributing in the slightest to accurate understanding of the needs of Autistic adults and children.” ASAN’s Columbus, Ohio chapter has already made arrangements to protest Autism Speaks’ upcoming local fundraising walk and other ASAN chapters will be making similar arrangements shortly, said Ne’eman.
In addition to relying on fear and pity mongering to raise funds, the Autism Speaks video repeats frequently referenced claims of higher than average divorce rates amongst parents of Autistic children. However, a 2008 study conducted by HarrisInteractive for Easter Seals in cooperation with the Autism Society of America found divorce rates for parents of Autistic children lower than those for families with no children with disabilities. The video also relies heavily on the idea of rapidly increasing autism rates. Another new study, released the same day as the video, by the British Government’s National Health Service found that autism rates among adults are the same as amongst children, indicating that the popular “epidemic” claim of rapidly increasing autism incidence is likely false.
“This video doesn’t represent me or my child,” said Dana Commandatore, a parent of an Autistic child living in Los Angeles, California. “Whatever the challenges that autism may bring, my son deserves better than being presented as a burden on society. Autism Speaks’ misrepresentation makes my life and the life of my child more difficult.”
“Autism Speaks seems to think that parents' embarrassment at their kids' meltdowns is more important than autistic kids' pain,” writes Sarah, an Autistic blogger at the blog Cat in a Dog’s World, “Autistic people deserve better than what Autism Speaks has to offer.”
The new video is reminiscent of the December 2007 NYU Child Study Center “Ransom Notes” campaign, which consisted of faux ransom notes claiming to be from an anthropomorphized disability which had kidnapped a child. Those ads were withdrawn after two and a half weeks, due to widespread outcry from self-advocates, parents and professionals and the condemnation of twenty-two national disability rights organizations, led by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. The Ransom Notes controversy was reported on by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Good Morning America, The Washington Post and other major media outlets. ASAN announced plans to work with the cross-disability community on a similar response to Autism Speaks’ campaign.
“The voices of real autistic people, and of families who do not subscribe to the presentation of their family members as something sinister and criminal, clearly do not matter to Autism Speaks,” said Paula Durbin-Westby, an adult on the autism spectrum in Virginia, who serves on the board of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “Our community is furious about Autism Speaks’ continued exploitation and will be taking action.”
Selected initial responses to Autism Speaks’ “I am Autism” campaign from bloggers in the Autism community follow:
Club 166 (Parent): http://club166.blogspot.com/
“The above video takes up where the Ransom Campaign ended, and goes on from there. Not content just to dehumanize autistic individuals, the Autism Speaks video goes on to paint a picture of horror using the most vivid imagery it can find-your marriage will fail, you will go broke, you will never be able to function in society at all, etc…
Two years ago the NYU Child Study Center claimed ignorance of the way that autistic (and other disabled individuals) felt. The response at that time was heard throughout the country, even in major national media. I wonder what excuse Autism Speaks can possibly come up with this time.”
Turner and Kowalski (self-advocate): http://turnerandkowalski.
“I am Autism Speaks
I will steal your voice and make sure you can never speak for yourself.
I will steal your parents’ money and spend it on a residence on Park Avenue.
I will use demeaning language to degrade, pity and marginalize you.
I have declared war on you.”
“This is horrific. I cannot believe that these people thought it was OK to demonize a developmental disorder in this way, behaving as though autism were something separate from the people who have it, like a wart or a blight or a boil that should be burned off or lanced and drained before it infects someone else or destroys your marriage, rather than what it really is, a differential neural construct that is just as much a part of the people who have it as their eye color. Is there any other developmental difference or genetic disorder that could be vilified in this way with an assumption of impunity? Dyslexia? Schizophrenia? Tourette's? Depression? Chromosomal disorders? Doubt it.”
“Autism Speaks seems to think that parents' embarrassment at their kids' meltdowns is more important than autistic kids' pain. They're wrong in that, and they're also wrong to suggest that donating money to Autism Speaks and trying to find a "cure" is the only way to solve this problem. Because while Autism Speaks-funded scientists play with genes in their laboratories, real autistic people are living our lives and will continue to suffer serious anxiety in many public places. Instead of writing another check to Autism Speaks, I suggest actually trying to figure out why an individual autistic person may be experiencing these difficulties. And taking steps on both a personal and societal level to ensure that public places are more accommodating of autistic people.
Autistic people deserve better than what Autism Speaks has to offer.”