Autism Speaks diminishes lived experience

April has come. It’s rainy. It’s spring. It’s supposedly warm. For some people, it might contain a special event, like a birthday or an anniversary. But for those of us on the spectrum, April is a time in which our iden­tities are under nearly constant attack, during which we consistently feel the need to justify our own existence.

For those of you who are unaware, April is “Autism Awareness Month,” a time when or­ganizations seeking to better lives of autistic individuals spend considerable resources to rally public support. In order to support these efforts people often wear blue or share vague, meaningless Facebook posts showing “solidar­ity.” At the center of it all is Autism Speaks.

Autism Speaks was founded in 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright after the diagnosis of their grandchild. Currently, Autism Speaks is the largest autism-related organization in the world and, among the autistic community, by far the most despised.

Autism Speaks condescends autistic people. Instead of seeing themselves as community members that wish to further the interests of the whole, organization leaders view them­selves as above the community, helping those who cannot possibly help themselves. They are the saviors that will rescue these hopeless imbeciles.

Their very name is emblematic of this problem: “Autism Speaks,” a play on the idea that many on the spectrum cannot speak. Of course, us autistics are completely incapable of making our opinions, our thoughts, our in­terests known in any way and are in need of non-autistics to translate for us.

The distasteful, condescending logo sends another powerful, ignorant message to the public: the name implies that everyone on the spectrum is nonverbal, which is obviously not true.

Communication means a lot more than speech. We have accepted that, for the most part, when it comes to the deaf community. They speak through sign language. They were not always allowed to communicate this way, but it is now accepted by most people. But when it comes to autism, there is an idea that if you cannot communicate verbally, you are a “low-functioning autistic” and are in some way broken.

Autism Speaks moves forward with this misconception. And therefore, it is their goal to cure autism. This is not something most au­tistic people want.

Some might be confused by that. If autism is a disability, why wouldn’t people want a cure to be found? But it must be asked, what is a disability? According to the dictionary, it is “a physical or mental condition that limits a per­son’s movements, senses or activities.”

Would autism be included in that definition? I’m not sure. Certainly, there are those on the spectrum who do not speak. But is their ability to communicate limited in some way? I would argue no. Rather, society’s ability to under­stand them is limited. Therefore, I would argue that the disability is not autism, but ignorance; and that the victim is not the individual, but the world at large.

Some might ask, “But doesn’t autism make life more difficult? And, if it makes life more difficult, shouldn’t we be searching for a cure?”

For some, this may be a compelling argu­ment. After all, isn’t it best to make life more convenient, easier? Isn’t a cure the best way to move past societal ignorance?

I would compare autism to homosexuality. Homosexuality is not considered a disease anymore. But at one time, in fact a very recent time, it was considered a form of mental illness that ought to be treated. Today most people know better than to compare homosexuality to a disease, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who described homosexuality as a mental impairment that prevents people from getting aroused by the opposite gender. Yes, there may be ignorant bigots who still claim this, but most of them aren’t quite medical ex­perts, to say the least.

Yet that doesn’t change the fact that homo­sexuality can cause an individual great suf­fering. Although that’s not inherent in homo­sexuality, it is frequently a result of societal intolerance.

But that is not a reason to attempt to cure homosexuality. Why are we trying to fix peo­ple who aren’t broken? Why don’t we instead put an end to the institutions in place that cause intolerance? At Vassar at the very least, shouldn’t this be universally agreed upon?

A cure for homosexuality and a cure for au­tism is cut from the same eugenicist cloth. Au­tism Speaks uses this cloth a produce a society of hatred and ignorance towards autistics.

This cloth is exemplified in the fear-mon­gering rhetoric used by Autism Speaks in its marketing techniques. Its advertisements de­mean and degrade autistic people.

Take, for example, these excerpts from a video Autism Speaks produced titled “I Am Autism”: “I am Autism … I know where you live, and guess what? I live there too … I hover around all of you … I work faster than pediatric aids, cancer and diabetes combined…and if you are happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails … Your money will fall into my hands … I don’t sleep … I will make it virtually impossible for your family to easily attend a temple, a birthday party, a public park without a struggle, without embarrassment, without pain … You have no cure for me … I am still winning, and you are scared, and you should be … You ignored me, and that was a mistake.”

Note that instead of focusing on the chil­dren, these excerpts focus on the way that Autism Speaks intends to scare parents into giving them money. They create a sense of ur­gency. Autism Speaks is not a representation of autistic voices, they are a sham, intended to steal money from scared parents.

Autism Speaks is, at best, the most elaborate con ever created. At worst, it is a hate group designed to discredit those with autism. They demonize those they claim to represent in order to steal your money. And they use that money to cure an imaginary disease, to fix people who don’t need fixing and to spread more ignorance and fear. Autistic people have no need for Autism Speaks. We can speak for ourselves.

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