A dear friend of mine alerted me and all of the world earlier to this travesty that she found at her local Wal-Mart store. According to a picture on Facebook under an Autism Speaks page says that while these have just started in the capitol area in Virginia, but August, these products will be available in Wal-Marts nationwide!
However, as you can see from the comments on the Autism Speaks image page as well as ThAutCast facebook post, a lot of people, parents especially, are excited by this. For those that are confused why we (Autistics and allied parents) are upset, I thought I would make a detailed list.
- Autism Speaks has decided to use the phrase, “Acceptance and Awareness just got a little easier in our schools.. Autism Speaks school supplies available at Wal-Mart!” This is clearly co-opting a phrase that several Autistic and allied organizations have been spreading over the last few years. As Autism Speaks has never been particularly accepting in past or present of Autism, it’s clear that this is being used for marketing and no other reason.
- Autism Speaks types of awareness have been long discussed, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat them again. The I am Autism video and Autism Every Day are perfect examples of the types of awareness they push. I can recognize the fact that these have been removed by them in several places, but only after severe backlash, especially on theI am Autism video.
- Money is the last thing anyone needs to give to Autism Speaks. As we can see from the pie chart to the left, Autism Speaks spends a bulk of their money goes to research with only 4% going to services to help families. If you delve into their research budgets, you see that the largest amount of it goes to genetic, epigenetic and other environmental causes, which continues to be part of their stated mission. Sorry, I have not made a graph of it, but if you take their research numbers and the categories they are in and just sort it, it is abundantly clear. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (full disclosure: my employer) created this wonderful graphic on why not to donate to Autism Speaks and is where I pulled the above pie chart from.
- The Puzzle Piece has grown to be extremely hated by the Autistic community. For people that are proud of their neurology, no matter what challenges come with it, this symbol tells us that we are puzzling, an enigma or worse, that we are broken and need to be put back together. In other places, it’s showing that we are not whole because ‘we have to find the missing pieces.’
For me, I’m especially worried as I do know parents who are proud to be Autism Moms and Warrior Moms (less so with Warrior Moms as I know most of you also detest Autism Speaks) gather together supplies for teachers. Proud Autism moms, especially those who think they are doing good by spreading awareness, will just help to solidify Autism Speaks standing EVEN MORE than it already is as the premiere Autism organization.
(edit to add this paragraph) For those who are asking why we can’t just ‘pass by’ and ‘not buy’ the Autism Speaks products, that is not the point. Once these hit Wal-Mart’s shelves, they are then available to be purchased by the entire country. This is nearly 4000 stores nationwide (400 was a typo. Thanks for pointing it out. This is a correction.) with tens or hundreds of millions of customers per week. The chances are extremely high that money will be going to Autism Speaks to continue their mission of “causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism.”
The dangers are clear on what happens when you demonize Autism and spread fear. And as Autism Speaks supporters continue to use damaging, harmful, untruths, it is only more important that we educate our friends, family and community.