Sunday, September 27, 2009

ASAN Protests Against Autism Speaks

Yesterday ASAN-Portland held a protest at an Autism Speaks walk in response to the "I Am Autism" video, which has infuriated not only Autistic people and our friends and family members, but also disability rights activists across the world with its inexcusable depiction of Autistics as stolen children who ruin their parents' lives.

Portland TV station KOIN 6 reported on the protest as shown in this video:

The station then followed up on the story by interviewing Elesia Ashkenazy, ASAN-Portland Chapter Director. The interview was the lead story on the 11 P.M. local news. You can watch it here:

FOX 12, another local Portland station, also reported on the ASAN protest. This video, which includes a brief statement from Elesia Ashkenazy, also has been made available on YouTube:

Another protest against an Autism Speaks walk will be held in Ohio two weeks from today, on the Ohio State University campus in Columbus. It is expected to draw a larger group and more media coverage than the Portland protest. If you are available to show your support for ASAN on Sunday, October 11 starting at 8:00 AM, please contact Melanie Yergeau at to let ASAN-OSU know that you will be there.

Friday, September 25, 2009

News Coverage of Autism Speaks Controversy

Disability Scoop has just published an article on the widespread condemnation of the "I Am Autism" video by Autism Speaks throughout the cross-disability community. Numerous advocacy organizations either have signed on to a joint letter prepared by ASAN President Ari Ne'eman or are reviewing the letter and considering doing so. The open letter—soon to be released—calls on Autism Speaks' donors, sponsors, and supporters to end their involvement with an organization that uses fear and stigma as fundraising tools and, instead, to find other groups more worthy of their support.

The article further reports on Autism Speaks' defensive response to the criticism of "I Am Autism," which the organization—only days after it presented the video to much fanfare at a highly publicized United Nations event—is now attempting to portray as just a personal expression by two fathers.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Taking Action Against "I Am Autism"

ASAN is planning further action against Autism Speaks in response to its appalling "I am Autism" video. The following letter to our community from ASAN President Ari Ne'eman details some ways in which you can get involved.


As many of you are aware, Autism Speaks sunk to a new low yesterday - even for them! The "I am Autism" campaign repeats the same tired old lies as the NYU Child Study Center's Ransom Notes ads, which our community successfully stopped in 2007, and goes even further, presenting Autistic people as useless burdens on society, on our families and on the world at large. “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 video campaign. Full text is available here. As we did in response to the "Ransom Notes" ads, we are preparing a joint letter from the disability community in response to these horrific statements, which we hope to have available early next week. If you are connected to an organization that might be interested in signing on to such a letter, please e-mail immediately.

In addition, we are encouraging people to act immediately by joining ASAN in writing singer Bruce Springsteen, scheduled to participate in an Autism Speaks fundraiser in November, to end his newfound association with this organization that devalues our lives and speaks about us without us. You can contact Springsteen's publicist at or by phone at 718-522-7171.

Finally, as we mentioned in our initial press release this morning, ASAN Activists and allies are preparing to confront Autism Speaks fundraising in their own communities. If you would be willing to organize a protest in your community, whether you are a self advocate, family member or other ally, please e-mail us at There has never been a more important time for our community to assert our voice.

Thank you and, as always, Nothing About Us, Without Us!


Ari Ne'eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Autistic Community Condemns Autism Speaks

ASAN issued the following press release today condemning Autism Speaks' unethical and offensive "I Am Autism" advertising campaign. Please repost and redistribute widely.

Press Contacts:

Ari Ne’eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Phone: 732.763.5530


Autistic Community Condemns Autism Speaks’ “I am Autism” Campaign
“We are the true voices of Autism,” say Autistic adults; Campaign spreads stigma, prejudice and inaccurate information; ASAN vows protest of upcoming Autism Speaks fundraisers

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 CuarĂ³n 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):
“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):
“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.”

Emily (Parent):

“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.”

Sarah (Self-advocate):

“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.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Self Advocacy at Ohio State University

By Melanie Yergeau, ASAN-OSU Chapter Director

On the afternoon of Monday, September 21st, the Ohio State chapter of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) worked a table at the student involvement fair, a community event that boasted over 500 student and community organizations. The members of ASAN-OSU distributed informational handouts during the event, including a flyer entitled "Why Autism Speaks Does Not Speak for Us," authored by Meg Evans of ASAN-Southwest Ohio. Members also solicited signatures for a petition against the upcoming Columbus Walk for Autism Speaks and OSU President E. Gordon Gee's continued support of the walk. In keeping with themes of self-advocacy and protest, on display at the ASAN table was a poster with prominent slogans such as nothing about us without us; we're people, not puzzles; and autistic people can speak for themselves. ASAN-OSU also distributed candy in ziploc bags with ASAN labels attached.

At the event, ASAN-OSU distributed approximately 450 flyers to community members, students, faculty, and staff. The signature tally on the pledge to President Gee has reached 31, not counting ASAN-OSU members, and the chapter anticipates that this number will increase over the next week. Additionally, ASAN-OSU members held many conversations with supporters as well as non-supporters of the neurodiversity movement. For instance, one woman wearing a Walk for Autism shirt, when approached with a flyer, refused to take one and claimed that Autism Speaks needed all available support, implying that ASAN-OSU's efforts are a distraction. Additionally, many women throughout the course of the event -- most of whom were wearing pink Alpha Xi Delta t-shirts -- refused flyers, one even making fun of the ASAN name (claiming that the group misspelled "ASIAN"). Of note is that this particular sorority has chosen autism awareness -- and, more specifically, Autism Speaks -- as its local and national philanthropy project. Several other students, including a number of student athletes, engaged in similar taunts when passing by the ASAN table.

A few autistic individuals, as well as several students with autistic relatives, stopped by the table and expressed relief at ASAN's presence on campus. ASAN-OSU has also begun to develop relationships with other human rights-oriented groups through this event.

In order to continue the efforts made at the involvement fair, ASAN-OSU/Central Ohio has recently begun a new advertising campaign directed toward the Autism Speaks walk. Arrow-shaped flyers bearing slogans such as "Walk if you support eugenics" have been affixed to countless walk recruitment flyers, as can be seen in the attached images. Upcoming events include the group's first fall meeting, which will occur on Thursday, October 1st at 5:45pm at the campus Barnes & Noble. The group will also protest the autism walk on Sunday, October 11 from 8:00am to 12:30pm and is actively looking for volunteers; if you are interested, contact for more details. Between now and the walk, the group anticipates distributing flyers and soliciting petition signatures in heavy foot-traffic areas near campus.

Finally, a note of thanks: ASAN members in attendance at the involvement fair were Melanie Yergeau, Hillary Spears, Stephanie Ballam, Whitney Brooks, and faculty advisor Cynthia Selfe. Several other ASAN members contributed to the success of the event, creating flyers and other take-aways, and included Jeffrey Strasser, Noranne Cochran, Justin Rooney, Kristin Rohrbeck, and Natalie A. Finally, many other non-OSU ASAN members made significant contributions in terms of promotional materials and advice, including ASAN President Ari Ne'eman, ASAN-Southwest Ohio director Meg Evans, and ASAN-New England director Andrew De Carlo.

Melanie Yergeau at the ASAN-OSU table

"Walk if you support eugenics" arrow sign

"Walk if you support stereotypes" arrow sign

Friday, September 11, 2009

White House Meeting on Health Reform

Advocates from the cross-disability community, including Ari Ne'eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, recently attended a meeting at the White House with health reform staffers to discuss the proposed inclusion of a Community First Choice Medicaid State Option in the final health reform legislation. The proposal, which is intended to lay the foundation for later enactment of the Community Choice Act, is widely supported in the cross-disability community.

Dan Fisher, Andy Imparato, Ari Ne'eman, Marty Ford, Suellen Galbraith, Bob Williams, Kelly Buckland, and Mike Oxford outside the White House after the health reform meeting.

Photo by Dan Fisher