By Ella Luzzi
Copy & Line Editor
As many know, April is National Autism Awareness Month. On April 2, people are encouraged to “light it up blue,” meaning wear or display something blue in support of those who are autistic.
This initiative was created by Autism Speaks, arguably the most famous autism advocacy organization in the United States. If you are looking to support autistic people this April, however, don’t support Autism Speaks.
Autism Speaks seems like a great company on the surface. They have a very professional website full of information and resources, and they have a very active presence in the general public. But, it is common for a lot of people with good intentions to blindly support causes without doing their own research.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that can affect a person’s cognition, motor skills and ability to communicate. Due to this, people with autism can have trouble fitting in with their peers. Autism affects people differently; this is why it is called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A person with autism can live a full and happy life, just like neurotypical people.
Why wouldn’t they be able to? Autistic people are still people.
Autism Speaks speaks on behalf of the autistic community as if the community doesn’t have a voice themselves. How does Autism Speaks really know what is best for autistic people when they only have two people with autism out of 26 on their board of directors? These numbers are just as small in other parts of the organization. People who are autistic should be the first ones hired in a company like this.
Simply put, Autism Speaks could be doing a lot more to help the people they say they are already helping. This organization believes autism is a disorder that can be cured and has spent millions of dollars trying to find said cure. They even put money into researching the link between vaccines and autism (there is none). It took until 2016 for Autism Speaks to change its mission statement, removing the word “cure.” This does not stop them from marketing autism as a disease.
Autism Speaks relies on monetary donations, as most charities do. They consistently raise over $45 million each year, and only a little over one percent goes towards family and community services, according to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. The majority of the money goes towards salaries and “awareness,” such as advertisements.
As far as salaries go, Autism Speaks spends over $2 million on salaries; some individual salaries exceed $500,000 a year. If you want to see the type of advertisements they are funding, Youtube search “I Am Autism.”
This commercial personifies autism as a villain with a menacing voice. Autism threatens to “rob you of your child,” according to the commercial. The Autism Monster’s last line is “you are scared, and you should be.”
Scare tactics like these encourage the stigmatization of people with autism. My brother is autistic, and we love him just the way he is. My family would never want to change him because then he wouldn’t be the same Jack we know and love. We just wish people were kinder to him. He would be a lot happier.
Autism Speaks could be doing actual work towards bettering the lives of people like Jack, but instead, they ostracize them in order to get every dollar they can.
Continue to support autistic people this Autism Awareness Month, and every other month, but do so in productive ways. If you are interested in donating money to a charity that helps people with autism, try Organization for Autism Research (OAR), Autism Society of America, Autism Research Institute (ARI) or even local ones in your area. Educate yourself, listen to someone who is autistic and don’t support Autism Speaks.