Don’t “Light It Up Blue” This April: Behind the Autism Speaks Campaign

World Autism Awareness Day, an internationally recognized day that occurs every April 2nd, was originally proposed by the United Nations General Assembly as a way to bring together international autism organizations to raise awareness for autism.

Every year on World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Speaks— a non profit organization that sponsors autism research— hosts their “Light It Up Blue” campaign. Designed to bring awareness and acceptance to people on the autism spectrum, the campaign promotes fundraisers for Autism Speaks and encourages the general public to wear blue as a show of support for the autistic community.

The campaign sounds great on paper, but in reality, Light It Up Blue is basically one giant advertisement for Autism Speaks. It mainly generates revenue for Autism Speaks as they host fundraisers that go toward their own projects, sell their own official Light It Up Blue merchandise and even the name is based off of Autism Speaks’ blue logo.

More importantly, though, Autism Speaks is one of the worst organizations dedicated to autism out there. They have a notorious history of stigmatizing autism, funding research to “cure” autism (and supporting the idea that vaccines cause autism) and using barely a fraction of their funds to directly support families with autism, even though their CEO makes hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Autism Speaks recently removed the “search for a cure” aspect of their mission statement from their website and have admitted that the research they funded don’t prove that vaccines cause autism, but they still have yet to prove their support for Autistic families in a genuine way.

Most of Autism Speaks’ revenue goes toward advertising and paying lobbyist firms, as opposed to actually providing families with the resources they need like many other Autism non-profits do. An overwhelming majority of the people on their executive board don’t have autism, but are instead non-autistic former heads of major corporations.

Instead of directly helping people on the autism spectrum and encouraging others to seek understanding and acceptance of people with autism, Autism Speaks has a long history of stigmatizing autism and painting it as something scary and unknown. Refer to this article for a full, comprehensive list of Autism Speaks’ transgressions, including their misuse of donations and their connections to neo-nazis.

At the end of the day, there are so many better organizations out there that actually support individuals and families who are affected by autism, such as the Autism Self Advocacy Network, the Autism Women & Nonbinary Network, and the Organization for Autism Research.

Autism Speaks just doesn’t have a history or present that I can get behind. I won’t be supporting Light It Up Blue this year and I encourage you to do the same.