Why I’m going to #BoycottAutismSpeaks

Why? Many reasons:

Firstly, Autism Speaks (AS) is perhaps the only disability rights charity in the world (certainly, the only one I’ve heard of) that is routinely and widely criticized¹ and protested² by those whose interests it claims to have at heart. The twitter trend #BoycottAutismSpeaks is merely the most recent iteration of this pattern. Their continued hateful actions towards autistic people led the only openly autistic person in a position of leadership and authority in the charity to resign in protest recently. Their resulting lack of autistic representation in any senior position of leadership is equivalent to an anti-racism organization being led and run at its most senior level entirely by white people.

AS routinely engages in dehumanizing and sensationalistic rhetoric against autistic people. Consider the recent statement made by Suzanne Wright, their co-founder, which referred to autistic people as “missing” and their families as “not living”. Consider also their I Am Autism video, freely available on Youtube, which portrayed autism as a demon coming to possess children and destroy families. These are just two examples of a pattern of hateful, alarmist, and hurtful statements and actions against autism in general and autistic people in particular.

AS routinely supports pseudoscientific “treatments” that are at best unhelpful and at worst downright dangerous to autistic people. For example, they have recently partnered with the Judge Rotenberg Center, a center that uses electric shock stronger than those delivered by a Taser to punish people with developmental disabilities, including those with autism. This treatment has been condemned by two different UN Special Rapporteurs as torture. This is not a treatment center that a charity with autistic people’s best interests at heart would partner with. Other pseudoscience AS either does support or has supported in the past without a subsequent condemnation or disavowal include “alternative” therapies such as medically unnecessary restrictive diets, and the anti-vaccination movement held responsible for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases formerly eradicated in the Western hemisphere, such as pertussis and measles.

AS spends very little money helping autistic people and their family. Less than 10% of AS’s gross revenue goes toward services for Autistic people and their families. In 2011, AS spent over 3 times as much money on compensating employees than they spent on Autistic people and their families.

AS enables the forced normalization of autistic people. Therapies supported by AS seek to force developmentally disabled individuals to act as if they do not have a disability, to perform normalcy. This is equivalent to demanding that all Deaf people communicate exclusively by talking and lip-reading, and the manner in which it is done is similar to anti-gay “conversion” therapy of the 1980s, by shaming kids for being who they are and demanding they conform to social expectations in order to earn even the barest shreds of pleasure in their life. When presumed LGBT children are treated in such a way to “normalize” their gender expression and attractions, it is justly called out as atrocious human rights abuse. But for autistic people, it’s not abuse, it’s therapy.

Autism Speaks enables child abuse

Finally, and most importantly, AS is not an organization that autistic people trust to speak for them. I am autistic. I neither need nor want AS to speak for me. I implore you not to aid an organization that has the eradication of autistic people like me as part of its vision. I implore you not to aid an organization that refuses to listen to autistic voices. I implore you not to spend your money on an organization that has supported harmful and pseudoscientific practices like shock punishment, restrictive diets, and anti-vaccination. I ask that you instead support organizations that make a concerted effort to represent autistic people and our interests, such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Autism Women’s Network, or The Association for Autistic Community, instead.

In short, I implore you to #BoycottAutismSpeaks, too.

¹Autism Speaks, I Want to Say flashblog, This is Autism flashblog (>200 posts by different authors criticizing AS), posts on Yes, That Too criticizing Autism Speaks, a post on Radical Neurodivergence Speaking criticizing them (one of many, but I can’t figure out how to link to all of them), posts at Autistic Hoya criticizing Autism Speaks, Joint Letter to the Sponsors of Autism speaks by several disability rights groups criticizing Autism Speaks, and I could go on, but I won’t. I think you get the picture.

²A protest against Autism Speaks in 2010 (Youtube Video), the protest of their policy Summit in Nov 2013, a protest in 2009, and so on.

³If you don’t understand how a parent discussing fantasies of murder-suicide of their autistic child in front of said autistic child and openly playing favorites isn’t emotional abuse, all I can say is pretend that autism isn’t in the equation and really consider what that woman is saying in the video.

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