Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Autism Speaks Does Not Speak for Us

The article below is an updated version of a previous post on the ASAN Central Ohio blog. It may be copied for use on protest flyers and other materials.

Autism Speaks and the organizations that merged into it, including the National Alliance for Autism Research, have provided many grants to fund genetic studies and other autism-related research. In 2005, grant recipient Dr. Joseph Buxbaum predicted a prenatal test within 10 years.[1] Autism Speaks' co-founder Suzanne Wright made the organization's eugenic aims equally plain, to "eradicate autism for the sake of future generations."[2] There is a page on Autism Speaks' website supporting the efforts of James Watson and others "to identify autism susceptibility genes."[3] Watson resigned in disgrace from his position as the Chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory after making grossly racist remarks,[4] and he has long advocated genetically enhancing children and eugenically exterminating people with cognitive disabilities, which he characterizes as "curing stupidity."[5]

Autism Speaks created a video in 2006 entitled Autism Every Day, which the producer admitted was staged to show negative images.[6] In one horrific scene, a mother described her thoughts of murdering her autistic daughter while the child was actually in the room.[7] Soon afterward, two board members of Autism Speaks said in a magazine interview that they sometimes hoped their autistic son would drown in their backyard pond.[8] Television ads by Autism Speaks have compared the odds of a child being autistic to the odds of a child being struck by lightning, [9] or killed in a car wreck, implying none too subtly that a child might as well be dead as autistic.

Two prominent figures at Autism Speaks, communications executive Alison Tepper Singer [10] and scientific advisor Dr. Eric London,[11] resigned in 2009 because they objected to the organization's complicity in perpetuating the groundless urban legend about vaccines and autism, which has led to reduced vaccination rates and tragic deaths of young children from vaccine-preventable diseases.[12] Dr. London warned bluntly in his resignation letter that "[i]f Autism Speaks' misguided stance continues, there will be more deaths…"[13]

Although Autism Speaks claims to speak for autistic people, it does not have—and never has had—even one autistic person on its board of directors or in its leadership. This is far out of line with the mainstream of the disability community, where individuals with disabilities work side by side with family members, professionals, and others to achieve quality of life and equality of opportunity. Autism Speaks' exclusionary attitude toward people with disabilities is clearly shown in a video entitled Neighbors,[14] which suggests that autistic children will have no friends unless they are taught to suppress their autistic mannerisms by means of behavioral therapy. The underlying message is that people with disabilities cannot be accepted as they are.

Over 60 disability rights organizations have signed a joint letter[15] condemning Autism Speaks' exclusionary practices, use of fear and stereotypes as fundraising tactics, and draining funds from families and communities as shown by Autism Speaks' 2008 annual report,[16] which makes clear that only four percent of the organization's funds go toward providing services to families. Autism Speaks is notorious for high executive salaries.[17] The joint letter expressed community outrage following Autism Speaks' release of a video called I Am Autism,[18] which narrates in a spooky horror-movie tone, "I am autism... I know where you live... if you’re happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails... I will bankrupt you... I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams..." and numerous other offensive statements characterizing autistic people as terrible burdens and stolen children.

[1] MSNBC, Feb. 23, 2005;
[2] Parade Magazine, Jan. 27, 2008;
[5] Sun-Herald, March 2, 2003;
[6] WireTap Magazine, July 11, 2006;
[8] Town & Country Magazine, August 2006;
[10] Newsweek, Jan. 19, 2009;
[11] Science, July 10, 2009;
[12] Discover Magazine, June 2009;


Catana/Sylvie Mac said...

I just Stumbled this for wider readership.

r.b. said...

Watson might have the brains, but he ain't got a bit of heart. Isn't he bright enough to see where that kind of thought leads?