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January 2011



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 Bald eagle over York, Pennsylvania

Earlier today we sent the following letter to the Autism Society of York, PA
chapter in respect to their recent “Kidnapping” billboard campaign, which
can be seen here <http://club166.blogspot.com/2009/08/could.html>. I will be
sharing their response shortly:

To the Autism Society of York, Pennsylvania:

The York, PA Autism Society has a well established history of working to
advance understanding and support for families in the York and Adams county
area. Your involvement with the HOPE playground, your extensive Spanish
language resource list and your other activities set positive examples for
other organizations throughout Pennsylvania. It is with this history of
positive efforts in mind that we are forced to express our grave concern
after having been contacted by a number of Autistic adults and family
members about your current billboard campaign depicting Autistic children as
kidnapping victims.

For decades, autism has been regrettably associated with fear and stigma. In
the early years of the autism community, Bruno Bettelheim’s characterization
of mothers of Autistic children as at fault for their child’s neurology
ruined lives. In later decades, the same fear, stigma and constant search
for blame persist even as science has discredited that particular causation
theory. As we, Autistic adults and youth ourselves, attempt to assert our
voices in the national conversation about us, we find ourselves
characterized by those who often speak on our behalf as though we are
burdens on society and individuals devoid of the full measure of personhood
and humanity. Such mischaracterization threatens our efforts to be included
in our homes, our schools, our communities and our collective society. By
making the autism message one of fear, stigma and hostage-taking rather than
one of civil rights, inclusion and support for all, our desire to be
recognized as full and equal citizens in our communities is hurt.

The use of stolen-child imagery is one of many common motifs in autism
awareness advertising. Unfortunately, it serves to send a message that
Autistic people are less than fully present in our own bodies and are less
than fully human. Such characterizations are frequently utilized to justify
violence, prejudice and segregation against Autistic adults and children.
The autism and Autistic communities deserve better than this.

It is due to these concerns that we respectfully request that the
“Kidnapped” bill boards be taken down. We stand ready to work with you, the
Autistic community of Pennsylvania, and any other interested parties to
formulate an ethical replacement that sends a message of hope and support to
Autistic people and our families rather than one of fear and dehumanization.
Whatever awareness these billboards may bring, it is more than outweighed by
the stigma and ignorance they add to a public conversation about autism that
is already too full of such things. We believe that, working together, a
better solution can be found.

Due to the public impact- locally and throughout Pennsylvania – we request a
response no later than three business days (Thursday, August 20th). I can be
contacted at aneeman@autisticadvocacy.org and by phone at 732.763.5530. Our
Pennsylvania director can be reached at srobertson@autisticadvocacy.org. We
request that you include him in your response.


Ari Ne’eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network



Only a few hours after our letter and thanks to the hard work of bloggers
like Joe at Club 166 <http://club166.blogspot.com/2009/08/could.html>,
Cracked Mirror in
others who wrote in and called about the billboard campaign, ASA-York has
agreed to pull the billboards. This is a sign of the importance of working
together as a community to address issues like this. A year and a half ago,
it took the combined strength of 21 disability organizations from across the
country to have our voices be heard on a billboard campaign not dissimilar
to this one. Today, our community’s reputation for action and ethics has
grown to the point where we can bring about change much more rapidly. This
should serve as a reminder of the importance of a strong, united Autistic
community with a clear moral vision of a better future for Autistic people.
Small victories like this remind us of what we can accomplish by working as
one community on issues of every kind and size. Thank you to everyone who
took action and in particular to the members of the blogosphere who first
rallied the community around this. I encourage people to write to ASA-York’s
President Amy Wallace at Amy Wallace amywallace3@gmail.com to express your
appreciation for their swift action to remove unethical advertising and to
encourage them to work with the Autistic community in the future.

Ari Ne’eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Dear Friends in the Autism Community,

Regretfully it has been brought to the attention of the Autism Society of
America – York Chapter – that our recent billboard campaign has caused
undesirable confusion within the community.  The intention of the billboard
campaign was aimed at generating awareness to the general public and was in
no way created to cause a malicious stir within the community.  As a parent
of a severely affected nine year old with Autism I can truly understand your
passion regarding advocacy and respect for our children.

We thank you for your thoughts and concerns.  I apologize for the
misunderstanding and want you to know we will promptly remove the billboard

Respectfully yours,

Amy Wallace

President ASA York


After objections, autism billboard coming down

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