How Autism Speaks silences those with Autism

Ella Underwood, Editor-In-Chief

The most popular Autism awareness charity, Autism Speaks, is an organization that claims to strive for Autism awareness and acceptance through education and aid for those with ASD. They have created many charity events such as the Light It Up Blue campaign and Walk Now for Autism that raise money. Light It Up Blue encourages people to put blue lights up around their house on April 2 of every year to spread awareness. They have also pushed for the puzzle piece as the official logo for Autism awareness. But is this charity really what it seems to be?

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurological disorder that affects speech, behavior, and sometimes mobility and cognitive function. It is more likely to occur in boys and shows signs at an early age. As specified in the name, Autism is a spectrum. It could be extremely mild or extremely high functioning in any given person. A very important thing to keep in mind when explaining ASD is that it is not a mental illness- it is a developmental, neurological disorder. Though ASD can come with anxiety and depression, these things are completely different and Autism Speaks seems to think they can find a cure for ASD. 

Autism Speaks has a director board of 26 individuals, none of which are autistic. Even the founders, Bob and Suzanne Wright, were neurotypical or someone without any neurological disorder. How is an organization supposed to support people that they don’t even allow to help them out? 

According to Autism Speaks annual reports, only 4% of the funds raised goes to actual assistance for families with autistic children and adults. Most of their funds are fed back into themselves or to find a ‘cure’ for ASD. This includes screening pregnant women to avoid more autistic babies being born.

 They were also caught partnering with the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), a very abusive therapy center, in 2013 for one of their walks. There was a map released of the walk route and along with it were booths and the service providers at each one. Booth 15 starred none other than JRC. The man behind the operation, Matthew Israel, created electroshock therapy to ‘cure’ ASD. This unethical therapy killed at least six children in its practice. Not only was electroshock therapy used, they also utilized restraints, food and sleep deprivation, slapping, and isolation. 

Autism Speaks has also released a few videos that have since been deleted but can still be found on YouTube. “I Am Autism” is one of the major films that angered many. It personified Autism, having it say things like “I will make sure your marriage fails”. The whole video made Autism seem like a terrifying monster that needed to be eradicated. Another video, “Autism Every Day” had a parent claiming they wanted to drive off a bridge with their autistic child inside to kill both of them so they didn’t have to go through with caring for a neurodivergent child. 

Those with autism have outwardly expressed their hatred towards this organization along with the logo choice. One of the major issues being that they see it as they are missing a piece of themselves as a human being. They are not missing anything, they are just as human as everyone else. The puzzle piece was originally symbolic of ASD being a puzzling condition. The original logo also showed a child crying, representing the sadness and the feeling of being a burden. 

Instead of supporting an organization that seems to work against those with Autism completely, support Aspies for Freedom (AFF), Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN), and many more Autism rights groups that are ran by autistic individuals. Using the rainbow infinity symbol is a great replacement for the puzzle piece logo as well as never lighting it up blue again.