April is the month of autism acceptance, not awareness. The idea of autism “awareness” is an idea created by the organization Autism Speaks, but it is important that we acknowledge the fact that Autism Speaks is a horrible organization and does absolutely nothing to help people on the autism spectrum. That may sound crazy, considering that Autism Speaks advertises itself as a helpful organization, but there is a lot to unpack regarding Autism Speaks and their practices.
The first thing to note is their history as an organization. Autism Speaks was founded on February 11, 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright after finding out that their grandson was on the spectrum, though the two have very little understanding of what autism ACTUALLY is. It didn’t help that, at the time, not a lot was known about autism and wasn’t really even researched that often. Considering that Bob is a businessman, as was his late wife, it really shouldn’t be such a shock that Autism Speaks cares more about making money and spreading “awareness” of autism than actually being helpful to those on the spectrum. In fact, according to the Autism Speaks 990 Non-Profit Tax Exemption Form from 2015, only 2% of their budget goes into family services, with another 32% going into “research” that does absolutely nothing to help improve the lives of people on the spectrum. If that doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, then maybe the fact that Autism Speaks only has two autistic employees will. For a company that claims to be pro-autism, their lack of autistic representation is pretty meager.
Back in 2009, Autism Speaks created the I am Autism PSA, where they claim that autism will “ruin your marriage” and “steal your child”, as if autism is some sort of demonic force. What’s worse is that this is only one example of their propaganda. Autism Speaks had sponsored the 2006 documentary Autism Every Day, wherein a mother tells the story of how she considered murdering her autistic daughter by driving her off of a bridge and how the only reason she didn’t was because her son was neurotypical, all while her daughter is in the same room as her. Adding insult to injury, the girl’s brother later admits that he wishes he didn’t have an autistic sister. The worst part is how Autism Speaks thinks that we’ve forgotten about these disgusting pieces of propaganda, and try to pass them off as them “not knowing better”, despite the fact that they knew exactly what they were doing.
Autism Speaks attempt to “cure autism” is really just a form of eugenics. Eugenics, by definition, is the study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of inheritable traits deemed to be “desirable”. In the case of Autism Speaks, they’ve pushed thousands of dollars into researching a cure for something that doesn’t even need to be cured in the first place. Autism Speaks has allowed future mothers to use prenatal screenings in order to find out if their child is going to be born with autism, with an entire article about it on their website. This wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t also promote autism as something that needed to be “cured” and, in some cases, even insist that the mother should terminate the pregnancy due to not wanting the mother to have an autistic child. This practice is already frighteningly common with Down Syndrome, with 78% of Down Syndrome pregnancies being terminated in the United States alone in 2020. If autistic pregnancies were to reach this level of termination, or even higher, it could possibly lead to the extinction of autistic people. Around the same time that Autism Speaks was formed, activist Meg Evans created the Autistic Genocide Clock in response to Dr. Joseph Buxbaum’s pronouncement of prenatal genetic tests being available within the next 10 years. Evans believed that these prenatal tests had the chance of culminating in a mass genocide of autistic people through the termination of autistic pregnancies.
There’s a lot more crimes that Autism Speaks are guilty for, as this is just a handful of their shady business practices. Autism Speaks has unfortunately had such an impact on society that most people still view it as a humble business wanting to help people when the fact of the matter is that Autism Speaks has never wanted to help people and seem to be trying to dehumanize the autistic community. It’s sad that so many people still think that Autism Speaks is helpful and even still use their symbol, a blue puzzle piece, to convey that they have an autistic child or are autistic themselves. Thankful, people have begun to open their eyes and realize just how harmful Autism Speaks is. The infinity symbol in red, gold, or rainbow, has begun to replace the blue puzzle piece as a symbol of pride for who they are, showing that they are autistic and will not let a corporation bully them and tell them who they are. Hopefully, in the future, Autism Speaks will either change their ways and begin to actually help people or be shut down for their misdeeds and crimes against autistic people.