Jill Greene | Head Editor
March 25, 2021
April is popularly known as “Autism Awareness Month,” a time designated to bring awareness to autistic stories, communities, and individuals. People might feel inclined to show their support to their disabled friends, but any unsuspecting neurotypical might make the mistake of supporting Autism Speaks.
Founded by Suzanne and Bob Wright in 2005, Autism Speaks (AS) is now the largest autism advocacy organization in the United States. From its website, AS states that it aims to spread awareness and acceptance of autism, and it uses its donations to fund research and counseling to better understand autism and related conditions. “It’s a way for the community to come together in support of similar struggles,” senior Sydney Seefeldt said.
However, while AS might seem like a promising charity to some, the autistic community considers AS more of a hate group than an actual advocate.
One of the major problems with AS lies within its rhetoric. It uses fear and stigmatization in order to raise money, like in “I Am Autism,” their infamous 2009 ad. The ad demonstrates one of the main problems with AS’s approach: it treats autism as an antagonizing disease rather than a divergent way of thinking. By portraying autism as mysterious and frightening, AS actually puts up, rather than tears down, walls of dehumanization, unnecessarily stigmatizing the disorder even more.
Furthermore, because AS views autism as a disease, they pour funding into research looking for a cure. The problem is, there is no “cure” for autism. It’s the result of how the brain develops, and it’s present since birth. AS has since moved on to studies for prenatal tests, awarding grants for research that aims to find genetic markers and traits that cause autism. Not only does this not help the lives of living autistic people, but it can potentially put unborn autistic people at risk. Selecting children based on genetics virtually mirrors eugenicist rhetoric. And if you’re wondering, it took them until 2017, after years of fruitless research, to declare that vaccines don’t cause autism.
To top it all off AS barely functions as a charity. Only 1% of their actual 2018 budget went to supporting autistic people and their families. The rest goes towards fundraising (20%), research (27%), and lobbying (48%). It goes without saying that if you truly want to provide financial support to the autistic community, your money is better donated elsewhere.
Most of the problems with AS can probably be attributed to its executive board, which only has 1 autistic person out of 28, compared to 23 corporate executives. AS not only doesn’t serve the autistic community, they do not speak for nor represent them, either.
“I’ve seen stories on social media about parents profiting off of their kids with autism,” senior Katy Morrison said. Instead of awareness, what the autistic community really wants is acceptance. Autism does not need a cure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being autistic. We should treat autistic individuals like we would treat anyone else. So this April, don’t support Autism Speaks. Forget that stupid puzzle piece of theirs, too. Why light it up blue, when you can light it up red, instead—a movement started by actually autistic people.
Instead of donating to Autism Speaks, try other, autistic-lead organizations, such as Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN), or Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE).