April is Autism Awareness Month, which means that it’s more important than ever to be aware of the means with which we can help the autistic community gain visibility, acceptance and support. One way we can do this is participating in charitable initiatives and volunteering our time in the community. One way we should not do this is by supporting the popular charity, Autism Speaks.
Despite contributing the puzzle piece symbol that is practically synonymous with causes for autism, Autism Speaks is an extremely harmful charity when it comes to advocating for autism and autistic people.
One of the main principles of the disability movement is “Nothing About Us Without Us,” yet Autism Speaks has no autistic people on their board or in their leadership.
The only person high enough in a leadership role was John Elder Robison, the author of “Look Me In The Eyes: My Life With Asperger’s,” who quit in 2013. Autism Speaks claims in their mission statement to “[fund] global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a possible cure for autism.” But how can an organization hope to achieve this with no input from the very group of people they claim to represent?
In addition, the concept of curing autism is a very dangerous one. Autism is a developmental disability and the search for cures usually involves abusive ABA therapy and erroneous anti-vaccination movements, both of which Autism Speaks have supported.
Autism Speaks’ mission statement goes on to claim that they will “find the missing pieces of the puzzle,” showing that “they don’t really value autistic people as fully human people. We are puzzles and we are missing pieces of ourselves, and we must become neurotypical in order to be respected by this group.”
With this mentality, Autism Speaks is also infamous for supporting the parents and families of autistic children, but never the children themselves. In one of a few harmful media pieces released by Autism Speaks, the short film “Autism Everyday” details the struggles of parents who have to raise an autistic child. Most of the video is focused on the things the parents had to surrender in order to take care of their child and how difficult their lives are, with almost no regard for how their children feel. The most disturbing part of this film is when one of the mothers claims that her non-autistic child is the only thing keeping her from driving her and her autistic daughter off the George Washington Bridge.
This disregard for the group of people they are actually advocating for also became noticeable when they blocked the inclusion of the Schakowsky Amendment, which calls for the inclusion of autistic people in autism support and advocacy groups, among other movements that promote diversity and inclusivity. Autism Speaks also brings in around $70,000,000 a year, of which only 3 percent goes back to families and autistic people.
Autism Speaks is a harmful and dangerous organization that does not positively affect the autistic community. If you are interested in providing support for the autistic community, organizations such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and the Autism Women’s Network are better charities to turn your efforts to.
For more details on the harm Autism Speaks inflicts, click here.