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January 2011



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This morning, the following letter from over 60 disability rights
organizations was sent to numerous national sponsors of Autism
Speaks.Individual signatories can show their support by signing the petition
at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/AutismSpeaks/. Please feel free to
distribute this to your networks.

To the Sponsors, Donors and Supporters of Autism Speaks:

We, the undersigned organizations representing self advocates, parents,
professionals and allies in the Autism, Autistic and Disability Communities,
are writing to you to express our concern about the recent actions of Autism
Speaks. Our work is about helping empower and support people with
disabilities of all kinds, including adults and youth on the autism
spectrum, and we recognize that there are a wide variety of means towards
accomplishing this goal. Yet, Autism Speaks’ recent choice to use fear,
stigma, misinformation and prejudice against Autistic people as a
fundraising tool does real damage to people with disabilities everywhere.
The most recent example of this lack of ethics can be found in Autism
Speaks’ new “I am Autism” campaign which states, *“I am autism…I know
where you live…I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer and diabetes
combined. And if you’re happily married, I will make sure that your marriage
fails. Your money will fall into my hands and I will bankrupt you for my own
self-gain…I will make it virtually impossible for your family to easily
attend a temple, birthday party, or public park without a struggle, without
embarrassment, without pain…I am autism. I have no interest in right or
wrong. I derive great pleasure out of your loneliness.”*

Not only does this campaign rely on offensive stereotypes and inaccurate
information (research indicates that parents of Autistic children are not
more likely to divorce than parents of non-Autistic children), but it also
does real damage to the cause of disability rights. By choosing to portray
Autistic people as husks of real people, stolen out of our own bodies,
Autism Speaks reinforces stereotypes and prejudice against people with
disabilities that have existed for centuries and have been the source of
pain, segregation and violence.

We are calling on you to end your support for Autism Speaks and to find new
ways to show your support for Autistic people and others with disabilities.
As the result of a pattern of unethical behavior and irresponsible
governance, outlined below, we believe that Autism Speaks as an organization
no longer deserves your time, energy, money and support.

*Autism Speaks uses damaging and offensive fundraising tactics which rely on
fear, stereotypes and devaluing the lives of people on the autism spectrum:
*Autism Speaks’ unethical fundraising tactics are not limited to the new “I
am Autism” video. Its television Public Service Announcements compare having
a child on the autism spectrum to having a child caught in a fatal car
accident or struck by lightning. In fact, the idea of autism as a fate worse
than death is a frequent theme in their fundraising and awareness efforts,
going back to their “Autism Every Day” film in 2005. Indeed, throughout
Autism Speaks’ fundraising is a consistent and unfortunate theme of fear,
pity and prejudice, presenting Autistic adults and children not as full
human beings but as burdens on society that must be eliminated as soon as

*Very little money donated to Autism Speaks goes toward helping Autistic
people and families: *According to their 2008 annual report, only 4% of
Autism Speaks’ budget goes towards the “Family Service” grants that are the
organization’s means of funding services. Given the huge sums of money
Autism Speaks raises from local communities as compared to the miniscule
sums it gives back, it is not an exaggeration to say that Autism Speaks is a
tremendous drain on the ability of communities to fund autism
service-provision and education initiatives Furthermore, while the bulk of
Autism Speaks’ budget (65%) goes toward genetic and biomedical research,
only a small minority of Autism Speaks’ research budget goes towards
research oriented around improving services, supports, treatments and
educational methodologies, with most funding going towards basic research
oriented around causation and genetic research, including the prospect of
prenatal testing. Although Autism Speaks has not prioritized services with a
practical impact for families and individuals in its budget, its rates of
executive pay are the highest in the autism world, with annual salaries as
high as $600,000 a year.

*Autism Speaks excludes the people it pretends to represent: *Autism Speaks
is one of an increasingly few number of major disability advocacy
organizations that refuse to include any individual with the disability they
purport to serve on their board of directors or at any point in their
leadership and decision-making processes. In large part due to Autism
Speaks’ public relations strategy of presenting Autistic people as silent
burdens on society rather than human beings with thoughts, feelings and
opinions, Autism Speaks’ governance policies are deeply unrepresentative and
out of step with the mainstream of the disability non-profit community.

Contrary to the “I am Autism” video, which equates autism with AIDS and
Cancer, autism is not a terminal disease. It is a disability, one that comes
with significant challenges in a wide variety of realms. Yet the answer to
those challenges is not to create a world in which people are afraid of
people on the autism spectrum. The answer is not to create a world in which
the word autism is met with terror, hatred and prejudice. It is to work to
create a society that recognizes the civil rights of Autistic people and
others with disabilities. It is to work to create a world in which people
with disabilities can benefit from the supports, the services and the
educational tools necessary to empower them to be full citizens in society.

We are Autism’s true voice – Autistic people and those with other
disabilities ourselves, and our allies, family members, friends and
supporters. Autism Speaks does not speak for us. We are not stolen – we are
right here. Our lives may be difficult – but they are worth living. Autism
Speaks Does Not Speak For Us and we will not work with an organization that
relies on damaging and offensive stereotypes to advance an agenda out of
step with those they purport to represent. We call upon you to recognize
this and find better avenues for your admirable desire to support Autistic
people and our families. We call upon you to end your support for Autism

*National and International* *Organizations*:

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE)

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)



The Arc of the United States

Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund (DREDF)

The National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN)

Autism Network International (ANI)

The Autism National Committee

Little People of America (LPA)

Not Dead Yet

The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

National Coalition for Disability Rights/ADA Watch

The Autistic Spectrum Partnership In Research and Education (AASPIRE)

Mothers From Hell 2

The Center for Self-Determination

Disability Rights Advocates

Kids As Self-Advocates (KASA)

Service Dog Central

MHONA International

The National Empowerment Center

Disabled Youth Collective (DYP)

The National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Organizations

Feminist Response in Disability Activism (FRIDA)

The ICORS Asperger’s Listserv


* *

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network-Australia

Autism Rights Group Highland (in Scotland, United Kingdom)

The Autistic Community of Israel

Autreach IT in the United Kingdom

The Southwest Autistic Rights Movement (SWARM) in the United Kingdom

The London Autistic Rights Movement (LARM)

The Aspergers Network in the United Kingdom

*Local, State, and Regional Organizations:*


The Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, NY

The Regional Center for Independent Living in Rochester, NY

The Michigan Disability Rights Coalition

The Institute for Disability Access in Austin, Texas

The Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education

The Paraquad Center for Independent Living in St. Louis, Missouri

The Lonesome Doves in Pennsylvania

TASH-New England

Together Enhancing Autism Awareness in Mississippi (TEAAM)

Wesleyan Students for Disability Rights at Wesleyan University in

Tangram in Indianapolis, Indiana

The Disability Activists Work Group (DAWG) in Oregon


North Carolina Disability Action Network

Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

Topeka Independent Living Resource Center in Topeka, Kansas

Disabilityworks in Chicago, Illinois

Ardinger Consultants & Associates in Maryland

Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of New Jersey

Wisconsin Family Assistance Center for Education, Training and Support

Aspergers Young Adults of North Alabama (AYANA)

Access to Independence of Cortland County, Cortland, New York

Youth Power, New York

The New York Association on Independent Living

Self-Advocates As Leaders (SAAL) in Oregon

Green Country Independent Living Resource Center

Elementary Inclusive Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia

Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee at Syracuse University

Green Mountain Self-Advocates in Vermont

Advance Youth Leadership Power in Chicago, Illinois

Ari Ne’eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Take a look at our innovative new Public Service Announcement produced with
the Dan Marino Foundation at http://www.nomyths.org

If you like what we do, help support the Autistic Self Advocacy Network by
making a donation at:

We Can Speak Louder Than Ignorance

Related Articles 

“PRESS RELEASE(Includes Updates): Autistic Community Condemns Autism Speaks “I Am Autism Campaign”

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