Problems with “Autism Awareness”
This April, you’re probably going to witness what appears to be a surge of support for autism. Puzzle pieces will pop up like weeds in the garden. Requests to “light it up blue” will glare in your face like an interrogation lamp. Fundraisers may very well flood your local area like a spring rainstorm. It’s all for a seemingly good cause: “autism awareness.”
However, what seems like an outpouring of aid is more like a destructive tsunami. These calls for “autism awareness” are not helpful, but harmful. Autistic people don’t need awareness. Instead, they need acceptance.
Autism Speaks? More Like Autism Silenced.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to find misinformation this April. You probably have questions about autism, so you decide to look up Autism Speaks. Surely they’ll have some decent information – right?
Autism Speaks says they support autistic people. They came up with this whole “autism awareness” thing in the first place. However, they’re doing the opposite. Their very name is an oxymoron: no autistic individuals serve on their governing board.
“But what about John Elder Robinson?” you ask. “He’s autistic, and he was on their board!” Key word was. In a cunning PR move, Autism Speaks pulled him on. However, Robinson soon resigned. He realized that Autism Speaks wasn’t helping his demographic. That puts Autism Speaks back to square one when it came to listening to autistic voices.
Awareness of ABA
On top of the ironic name, Autism Speaks is dedicated to “curing” autism. To do this, they promote treatments such as Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA.
ABA is like obedience school for misbehaving dogs – except it’s used on autistic people. It aims to hide the symptoms of autism, such as stimulating behaviors (“stims”), dislike of physical contact, and sensory issues. This is accomplished with negative reinforcement. A common warning phrase is “quiet hands.” If this is not heeded, cue punishment. These punishments include withholding toys, games, books, and in some cases, even food. Also, physical restraint is often used.
Does it hide the symptoms of autism? In most cases, yes. However, long-lasting trauma often comes with it. ABA also is linked to a rise in various forms of abuse. Instead of learning about personal boundaries, people who have gone through ABA are forced to endure the opposite. When their boundaries are violated in a relationship, they worry that protecting themselves and saying no will result in punishment.
Prepare for Scares
On top of the harm caused by ABA, Autism Speaks spends a lot of money on marketing and advertising. Their campaigns portray autism as a scary disease. In these campaigns, autism rips apart families and steals children. Some of their stories go so far to support eugenics – put bluntly, killing autistic people. According to these tragic narratives, it’s better to be dead than to live with autism.
Again, this is a prime example of not heeding autistic voices. Many autistic people do not wish to be cured. Autism is something they’re born with, like a certain eye color. It is not a disease they develop, like cancer. Think of it this way: if you wouldn’t kill a cancer patient, why would you kill an autistic person?
So What Can You Do?
For starters, don’t go to Autism Speaks. More than 90% of their funds go to administrative expenses, catering, and events. Instead, check out organizations like the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) – they’re run by autistic people, for autistic people. Rather than making the move to “light it up blue,” use “Red Instead.” Don’t display the puzzle piece – this is the logo for Autism Speaks.
What if you meet an autistic person? The chance of this happening is more likely than you think. Don’t be alarmed if they start exhibiting stimulating behaviors (“stimming”). Be respectful of personal boundaries. If they’re up for socializing, ask them about their special interests or what they like to do. If they’re not up for socializing, don’t force a conversation. Talking down to them or using cure rhetoric is only going to hurt them, so don’t do that. Finally, show acceptance for who they are, autism and all. Acceptance beats awareness every time.
This April, ignore the flood of “autism awareness.” Keep this information in mind. Share it with someone who wants to learn more about autism. To conclude, don’t be puzzled – support autism acceptance!