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Mental Health

Everything Wrong With Autism Speaks

Since we have entered Autism Acceptance Month, I have seen multiple profile pictures light up in support of Autism Speaks. However, many people do not know or research what this company does to help the community. In 2009, the organization released a widely offensively video titled “I Am Autism.” In the video, the company used scare tactics on parents to make having a child diagnosed with autism would ruin their family life.

Recently, they partnered with “Sesame Street” and created a tool kit for parents with children who have autism. The toolkit may seem unproblematic initially, but a section that walked parents through the stages of grief. It looks like the organization that created this kit sees the disorder as something negative and expects parents to grieve over their child’s diagnosis.

Moreover, only 3 percent of their donations are for family services. A whopping 39 percent goes to lobbying, 32 percent goes to research and 24 percent goes fundraising.  Furthermore, a large part of that research goes to “prevention,” such as genetic testing. Also, Autism Speaks has 28 people on its board of directors. However, only two of these individuals are autistic. The executive pay is also extremely high as some make upwards of $395,000 per year.

The company has also stood against empowerment and self-advocacy. In 2014, they lobbied to kill an amendment to The Autism Cares Act, which would have included them in the research done on them and the policies created about them. This act gives millions of dollars to companies like Autism Speaks, but none to the actual community.

More recently, Autism Speaks has changed its logo to a rainbow gradient rather than light blue to show inclusivity and diversity. Their logo still contains a puzzle piece, which has rather ableist origins. However, their actions still reflect the opposite. While they have acknowledged that the first-person language prefers many, they refuse to see the damage they have done to this community. 

This company is what thousands of neurotypical people promote but fail to realize that this company speaks for individuals with autism without including them in conversations. Furthermore, it still pushes a “cure for autism,” which is complete and utter garbage. The best way to support individuals with autism is to listen and understand them rather than pushing an imaginary cure onto them. 

Many organizations create a positive impact run by adults with autism that would benefit from support this April, such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and Autistic Women and Non-binary Network. These companies collaborated to create a book for parents with children that have autism. Moreover, they also have both publicly spoken out against Autism Speaks. The Autistic Women and Non-binary Network have even called the company a hate group.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network pushed to change April from “Autism Awareness Month,” which was previously driven by Autism Speaks, to “Autism Acceptance Month.” As April continues, I urge you to research the places you support and donate to, as we see not all are ethical.

Kaitlyn Austin is a senior majoring in Political Science with a concentration in Civil Rights.
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