Autism Group Plans to Protest Autism Research Fundraiser

The local autism advocacy group I profiled a few months ago is planning to protest a walk to raise money for autism research and awareness.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s Washington chapter opposes the nonprofit Autism Speaks for what it says is “a long history of framing autism as a devastating tragedy, and portraying autistic individuals as damaged and broken.”

Members of ASAN advocate what they call neurodiversity, which calls for autistic people to be accommodated as need be, but also respected for who they are and certainly not “cured.”

“Our lives are not tragedies,” chapter leader Matt Young wrote in a letter announcing the protest. “The true tragedy is the way in which our society treats Autistic people. We are marginalized, excluded and pathologized as people, due to the dominant social narrative of, ‘Autism as Tragedy.’

“We lack adequate access to employment, education and health care options. We suffer from neglect, abuse and murder at alarming rates. This state of affairs needs to change.”

I have a call out to walk organizers to get their take.

ASAN’s views are not universally accepted.

ASAN’s national president Ari Ne’eman is a lightning rod for criticism both for his at-times-strident remarks about other autism groups and his high prominence in the disability community after he was nominated to the National Disability Council. A petition to block his appointment enumerated the arguments against his movement.

“Mr. Ne’eman and a small faction within the autism community may personally oppose prevention and cure, as is their right, but they do not represent the majority of people on the spectrum, particularly those who are so impaired that they face a lifetime in institutional settings at taxpayers’ expense,” the petition reads in part.

ASAN has also been criticized by others in the autism community for being divisive and going after people who have the best interest of autistic people at heart. Some autism advocates I reached out to for my previous story refused to go on the record to talk about ASAN, saying they feared speaking out against the group lest they draw its ire.

However, as Young seems to make clear in his letter, there’s little room for compromise from his group’s standpoint:

“It’s time for them to recognize, apologize for and atone for the massive harm they have done to Autistics all over the world by playing into and feeding off of the fear that our society has about Autism. It’s time for them to cede control of the research and funding priorities around Autism, in order to find ways to help Autistics participate more fully in society, rather than trying to remove us from it entirely. It’s time for them to take a very large step back, and let Autistic voices set the tone of the social narrative about our lives.”

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