I know they are hateful.
I know they don’t like Autistics.
I know they use most of their resources to convince people that the world would be a better place without us, and actually using the money to fund research that can make our extinction possible. Disguised as “research” about babies and siblings, the investments seek to find a genetic marker that will allow parents to terminate an unwanted pregnancy (1)(2)
Other “researches” use the term “treatment” and asserts that who we are is not good enough, that we need “early interventions” to try to look “normal” and be valued.
Many Autistics believe Autism Speaks is a hate group. I am joining them.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) a hate group’s “primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin which differs from that of the members of the organization”.
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) definition of a hate group includes “those having beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics”. (5)
I will use these two definitions, item by item. What I write is my interpretation of the FBI and SPLC’s definitions, not a legal opinion, since I am not qualified to give legal opinions. Let’s call it common sense.
A hate group promotes animosity against disabled people, and the members of the group don’t share the disability.
Autism Speaks leadership is not Autistic and they run adds that don’t accurately portrays autism. They propagate the rhetoric that autism is tragic, that there is no hope, that life becomes an eternal suffering. (6)
Autism Speaks promotes animosity against Autistic (disabled) people.
A hate group promotes hostility against disabled people, and the members of the group don’t share the disability.
Autism Speaks ignores Autistic voices, does not include us in any decision about efforts that affect our lives (7), and try to discredit the ones among us who are loud and relentless (8), by dismissing and mocking our experience as not valid (9)
Autism Speaks promotes hostility against Autistic (disabled) people (10)
A hate group promotes malice against disabled people, and the members of the group don’t share the disability. (11)
Autisms Speaks reaches out to families by listing the deficits, difficulties and “pain” an Autistic child will experience “forever”; Autism Speaks makes videos that paints autism as the cause of all the troubles in the world; Autism Speaks has no problem in allowing a board member to advertise her macabre wish to murder her Autistic daughter (12), and when a parent actually murders an Autistic child, Autism Speaks “understands” the murderer (blaming lack of services) and demonizes the victim (“he was so difficult to live with”)(13)
Autism Speaks promotes malice against Autistic (disabled) people.
A hate group includes “those having beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people”.
Autism Speaks believes we are broken, that we cause suffering to our families, that we are responsible for the country’s financial crisis (14) Autism Speaks attacks the ones of us who speak up, while never, ever, using positive words in their ads when referring to autism and Autistics (15). When we say we are proud of being who we are, Autism Speaks says this is not possible, that we are not “really” Autistics, since, according to Autism Speaks, autism only manifests itself as screaming, hitting, soiling, having pain and not communicating (12). When we point out that people change, that we have been there, done all those “bad” things, sometimes still do, that everybody communicates and that some things might co-occur with autism, but are not autism, that we can cope much better with difficulties that do exist and are part of autism if we are accepted and embraced, Autism Speaks ignores us and continues with the lies about what autism really is, even if we are the ones who do know what autism is.
“…attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics”.
We are born Autistic, we will die Autistic. Autism Speaks knows that, yet it uses most of its resources in initiatives that go against our interests (16), not investing in initiatives that might help improve our lives as Autistics, and seems to take pleasure in demonizing us. We cannot not be Autistic, but Autism Speaks refuses to acknowledge that the words, attacks and tactics they use are destructive and do not improve our lives.
So, according to my interpretation of the FBI and the SPLC Hate Group definition, Autism Speaks is a hate group.
Why nothing is being done about it?
There are many reasons, in my opinion:
The organization is purposefully parent led, parents are the targets, Autistic voices are excluded. There is a reluctance to believe that a parent would join a group that is so hostile to their children. But they do, and instead of siding with the rights and dignity of Autistic children, they engage in selective information gathering and ignore the consequences, to their children, of their willful ignorance and the spread of hate.
The second reason is partially an explanation for the parent’s behavior: Autism Speaks is very good at marketing. The founder is a media mogul that knows how to use the right words with each targeted audience.
Money and celebrities: our celebrity driven culture treats them as experts on the causes they support. Many celebrities pick a cause to support for tax reasons, for public relations/image reasons, or because they don’t really do research before choosing the charities they want to support.
As for money: money buys almost anything, definitely advertisement and airtime, and certainly legislators.
Autism Speaks is politics smart: the organization approaches conservatives with the “autism is bankrupting the country”, and liberals with the “we need scientific research” (to prevent Autistic birth). Apparently, ignorance and disdain for disabilities is bipartisan.
(The conservative/liberal views are more complex. This was just a generalization)
But the main reason why Autism Speaks gets away with being classified as a hate group, in my opinion, is much simpler:
It is because, despite all the talk, despite the long road of small steps toward progress, disabled people are discriminated against, devalued and dehumanized in ways that would be unacceptable if directed at any other minority.
Being disabled is still seen as something so bad, nobody wants to know about it, let alone side with us.
Autism, in particular, is perceived as a devastating disease, as something so undesirable, Autistics are said to be better off dead.
There is plenty of evidence that parents who murder their Autistic children get the treatment reserved for heroes. The victims are seen as the cause of their own deaths, and the parent as “heroic and selfless”.
Sometimes it takes an almost supernatural tone, the way some family members talk about the Autistics in their lives, as if we are aliens, or somehow possessed. We are not the children “originally” born, we have been “robbed” and now we are “lost” (17)
It does not matter the reasons why Autism Speaks still does not get to be officially classified as a hate group.
It is a fact that Autism Speaks hateful rhetoric creates a culture where Autistics are not welcome.
And it is up to us, Autistic and true allies to keep speaking up.
It is up to parents to decide what future they want for their children – for them to be hated, ignored and dismissed, or to be accepted and embraced, just as they are.
Autism Speaks – and similar organizations – will eventually fail and go down. This is our civil and human rights movement. It will happen.
The sooner this happens, the better for the future generations of Autistics.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, JR said:
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
Autism and Autistics are not tragedies.
Autism Speaks’ oppression is a tragedy.
The silence and willful ignorance of some families are tragedies.
Hate is a tragedy.
Allowing a hate group to continue its attacks on a group of people – for their immutable characteristics – is a tragedy.
The Autism Speaks website lists the name of their Board Members and a brief biography. None of them identify as Autistics.
The website also has a lot of opinion posts and news that are not the opinion of Autism Speaks. Those show up as news elsewhere and are reposted in the Autism Speaks website. Some of them are pro-neurodiversity, something that Autism Speaks has yet to support.
The leadership at the organization is media savvy and very knowledgeable about marketing. The website is attractive and, at first glance, helpful. But the kind of “help” they offer is not an Autism Speaks exclusive, and it is not original. The information is based on the current paradigm, the one that views autism as something to be fixed. What is found there can be found in many other advocacy organizations websites.
A lot of the hateful language happens during events that may or may not be recorded and/or reported.
The Autism Speaks website lists some valid researches, for example, how to help Autistics transition into adulthood and join the workforce (not an Autism Speaks exclusive either), but if one reads the articles and links, one finds that some of the researches receive little money and are not primarily an Autism Speaks research initiative. Most of the money allocated for research goes into finding a genetic marker and is announced as a way to “improve early intervention and treatment of autism”, while in fundraisers the leadership promotes the research as a way to be able to have a prenatal genetic test (that would lead to selective abortion)
- “This is Autism” transcript here: http://autisticadvocacy.org/2009/09/horrific-autism-speaks-i-am-autism-ad-transcript/
- “Autism Every Day” video: Content warning! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0vCz2KWMM0
- Writer’s note: while the website has headlines that refer to “acceptance” and links to guides on how to get supports, Autism Speaks advertisement and fundraisers use the rhetoric of tragedy and burden to raise money. This is another marketing strategy: dress up the site with softness to reach millions, while using fear mongering to raise millions. The organization also uses functioning labels to divide Autistics in two classes – while silencing both. One for speaking too well “for an Autistic person”, the other for being too damaged to speak.
- “This disorder has taken our children away. It’s time to get them back.” Bob and Suzanne Wright, Autism Speaks co-founders
About the Author, Amy Sequenzia.