Ellie McFarland | @El_FarAwayLand
With the arrival of April is the arrival of Autism Acceptance Month. Autism (also called ASD) is a neurological condition which affects speech, the senses, and perceptions. Autism Acceptance Month is about treating autistic people like regular members of society, with decency and respect. It calls attention to the way educators, caregivers, the world mistreat autistic people. Further, it seeks to open up a conversation on how to better make spaces that are welcoming for autistic people. It raises awareness about the abuse neuro-atypicals suffer. Yet, when you search “Autism” on google the first three results are links to the long-standing hate group Autism Speaks.
What is Autism Speaks?
Autism Speaks, sometimes called “Autism $peaks”, “AS” or “A$” is a “charity” dedicated to funding and conducting research on autism. They also put forward resources to setting up struggling families with housing and other resources. But, working to put up children in homes, setting them up with therapy, and conducting research on autism does not absolve Autism Speaks from the charge of being a hate group.
First, we must define what exactly a hate group is. The SPLC defines a hate group as “an organization that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” Although the SPLC hasn’t been consistent in enforcing this definition, it does describe Autism Speaks. AS ignores the voices of real autistics. It describes autism as tragic and frightening, paints autistic children as burdens, and advocates eugenics and a “cure” for autism. It caricatures and misrepresents autistics, promoting masking and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy as viable treatments for autism.
AS Ignoring Actual Autistics?
There is a lot to unpack as far as Autism Speaks goes. One of their core issues is that they ignore or even actively dismiss the voices of actual autistic people– especially autistic adults. In 2017, AS only had 2 autistic board members on a staff count of 28, one of which quit because of the toxic environment. The other board members are at best parents or family of autistic people, and at worst are representatives of major corporations. AS also doesn’t make a habit of inviting autistic people to speak at their conferences, or to give opinions that go against their established narrative. They sweep away the existence of autistic adults and “High Functioning” autistics as if they are not impacted enough to know anything about the struggle of “real” autistics.
That is nowhere near the worst of what Autism Speaks is guilt of. A step up from talking about autistics without including autistics is the way they both baby-glove and take advantage of the parents of autistic children. They describe autism as an “epidemic on the rise” as “Dangerous” and as “tragic”. In an especially harmful video produced by AS called “I am Autism”, threatening music plays over a menacing voice which said, among other things, that autism strips people of their worth. It says that autism destroys happy marriages, it presents autism as a malicious disease on par with AIDS. AIDS. According to AS, autistic children are embarrassments and pain. To AS, autistics are shells of people, hollowed out by a disease.
AS Belittling Autistic People and Babying Parents
It wouldn’t make it any better, but Autism Speaks doesn’t even focus on the children supposedly wrecked by autism. Less than 2% of their revenue goes toward family resources like therapy or housing for low-income people. Hence why Autism $peaks is an alternative name for the organization. The vast majority of their income goes towards research and “awareness”. This “awareness” mostly involves PSAs like “I am Autism” and costly merchandising.
AS treats the parents of autistic children like victims who are too weak to properly deal with their children. AS has in part contributed to the phenomenon of “Autism Moms”. This is wherein a mother (or other guardians) of an autistic child victimizes themselves and objectifies their child for social pity points. AS is often one of the first resources practitioners give to parents of autistic children. It tells them right off the bat that they are in one of the world’s worst situations. What are these parents supposed to do but believe it?
Wasting Donated Funds on Eugenics
One half of the money not going towards helping needy families goes to autism research. In theory, this is a good idea. There are some questions that scientists do need to answer about autism. Why do so many autistics have gastrointestinal issues? Are autistic people more likely to be trans? Why do autistics have sensory issues in the first place? Are autistics more likely to develop self-harm behaviors due to depression? Why do dyslexia, ADHD, and OCD so often overlap with autism? Yes, there are questions the autistic community has been speculating on for years. Research would be quite beneficial in this area.
Too bad precisely 0% of those questions are being answered by Autism Speaks. Their research goes to almost exclusively into mapping the human genome to screen for the genetic causes of autism. This research works in conjunction with the research and gene mapping of Down’s Syndrome. There are procedures where a doctor screens for Down’s and can abort the fetus within the first trimester. In Iceland, Down’s has almost disappeared. The ethics of this are fundamentally different than the ethics of aborting an autistic fetus, as they are fundamentally different states of abnormality. But this is an indication that AS will push this strategy to screen for autism in fetuses. Autism Speaks advocates for a cure for autism, which is a neurological structure in almost the same way “A type” vs “B type” personalities are. It is not curable.
Perhaps most damning, when they can’t eradicate autistic people, they advocate abuse to the autistic people already here. One of the services they promote is ABA therapy. ABA is a therapy which implements “Autistic Masking”. It reportedly does little to improve the situation of autistic children, and a speech therapy class can replace the positive effects. ABA combines speech therapy with stim blocking and sensory exposure. The creator of ABA, Dr. Ivar Lovaas, said “forcing a child to act “normal” will then turn the child naturally normal.” ABA is akin to gay conversion therapy, and in its earliest form, implementing the same electro-shock techniques.
Autism cannot be cured, but Autism Speaks keeps trying. The whole situation stinks to high-heaven of Hitler’s eugenics. AS does not see autism as a trait, but as a heavy burden a parent is forced to bear on their child’s behalf. The burden is not autism, it is how people treat autistics. It is the bullying and the abuse that causes autistic children to experience a much higher rate of depression. It’s therapies that don’t work, it’s the lack of real research, it’s underfunded special ed programs. The burden is the stigma and the hate, and it falls on the child like an avalanche.
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