Autism Speaks

By Skylar Mostoller, G10Featured artwork by young artist David Barth; a thirteen year-old boy with autism from the Netherlands. 

Autism Speaks is the number one autism charity organization in the United States. Commended in their efforts to support the autism community, the organization collects millions of dollars per year through donations and charity drives to help fund their research in diagnosing and treating autism at a younger age. But, despite what many believe, this organization is doing its best to try and tear down the foundation that the autism community took so long to build.

Before getting into the subject, let’s start with some basic information on the subject. 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability  that can cause significant social, communication and behavioural challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

As stated by the CDC

Autism Speaks, despite their “goals” to try and better the community and help out those diagnosed with autism, doesn’t abide by their own words – in fact, they do the exact opposite of what they said they’d do.

Back in the early 2000’s, the organisation released an ad by the title, “I am Autism.” This commercial was supposed to help provide information about the autistic community and bring attention to what autism is. Instead, this villainized the disability as something that ruined lives for the diagnosed and their support systems. The commercial followed the point of view of different kids diagnosed with autism, with a voice-over of “autism personified.” The voice-over provided a supposedly relevant insight as to, “what autism is,” and how it affects a child’s everyday life.

Here’s a small section from their transcript,

“I will make it virtually impossible for your family to easily attend a temple, birthday party, or public park without a struggle, without embarrassment, without pain. You have no cure for me. Your scientists don’t have the resources, and I relish their desperation. Your neighbors are happier to pretend that I don’t exist—of course, until it’s their child.”

A small section from the transcript of the commercial

Does this really put autism in a positive light? Clearly, the organization isn’t too keen on considering real, human people on the spectrum.

Then there’s the infamous logo; a puzzle piece. Originally, many thought that it was just to represent that autistic people were, “missing a piece of themselves,” because of their disability, which by itself is offensive, but it came to light that it reflected another one of their beliefs – the belief that autism is only a child’s disorder.

This organization fully believes that autism is something you can grow out of, and that it’s nothing but something that affects a child – meaning the moment they hit puberty, it’s gone, despite many medical practitioners proving this wrong.

This the only time that Autism Speaks tried to ignore medical practitioners. The organization completely agreed with the anti-vaxxer theory that vaccines gave children autism. In fact, they funded research to help support this and funded multiple anti-vaxxer groups and organizations publicly up until 2015 when they came under fire for helping a false and completely ridiculous theory. 

This controversy led to many people believing the theory and refusing to get vaccines for measles, causing a major outbreak in 2019. Over 140,000 people died due to hesitancy or refusal of getting vaccinated. This is not to say the organization directly caused this outbreak, but had a large impact on its occurrence. 

Despite all of this, families continue to blindy fund and hence lend support to the organization. Whether it’s because they’re not aware or if they do agree with their views, Autism Speaks is still the number one Autism Charity Organization in the U.S. despite all of the other, more positively impactful alternatives.

Here are a few examples of better organizations to donate to;

Autism Coalition for Research and Education, Inc. uses their donations to fund research towards diagnosing kids at a younger age so that they can get the help they need sooner rather than later. 

The Organization for Autism Research uses their donations to fund teachers and assistants that have proper training to help individuals with autism in an educational environment.

The National Autistic Society uses their donations to fund in-home and in-school support for individuals with autism and helps adults with autism as well to have a good working and education system that would benefit them. 

And there are so many more. For more examples, please look at 20 Autism Charities Worthy of Your Donations 2020.

For more information about Autism Speaks, or even about Autism in general, here are a few other sites to look at;

Autism Speaks: they don’t speak for the spectrum 

Horrific Autism Speaks “I am Autism” ad transcript

Identity-First Language 

What is the correct way to talk about autism? There isn’t one

Why Autism Speaks Doesn’t Speak For Me

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

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