Autism Speaks is calling for a “national plan” in a piece written by Suzanne Wright on the organization’s home page. I’ve been disillusioned with Autism Speaks for some time now, mostly because they spent so much time and money peddling their wish for a cure. The “cure” narrative bothers me. It treats my son’s neurology as a disease, not the way he was born. I’m all for any advances that will help him function better in his daily life- it’s why we have given him speech and occupational therapy since he was 14 months old. It’s why we get him extra help during the school day so that he can accomplish his goals. But we do things his way. We seek to understand him and let him work through academics using his unique and wonderful neurology. A cure seeks to change who he is- and we LOVE who he is.
In her article, Mrs. Wright went much further than the whole cure issue. She dehumanized my child and my friends who have autism. She begins the article talking about what the nation would do if we woke in the morning to find that 3 million of our nation’s children went missing. How we’d all freak the hell out and look for them. Then she said that’s exactly what is going on for our children. They’re missing. And we’re not doing anything about it.
Ahem? My son is not missing.
She goes on to talk about how hard the lives are of families with children with autism by saying, “These families are not living. They are existing. ” We’re zombies? Sure, there are days where I don’t get sleep and I feel like a zombie, but that doesn’t mean my life is devoid of beauty, joy, laughter and LIFE. We aren’t existing. We are living a life less ordinary. Hard? Sure. But we get to experience a range of emotions that I would not trade for anything. I’ve felt sorrow beyond any I’ve known and in contrast, I’ve felt joy that I will never be writer enough to put into words. I’m REALLY living.
She goes on, “This is autism. Life is lived moment-to-moment. In anticipation of the child’s next move. In despair. In fear of the future.”
At this point, I’m really struggling to not use bad words. This picture she paints is NOT AT ALL autism. How dare she? It’s not a life full of despair and fear.You’d think she’d know a thing or two about autism by being the co-founder of Autism Speaks. This takes me to the other reason I’ve become disillusioned with Autism Speaks: They speak for people with autism rather than letting autistic people speak for themselves. The infantize autism in almost everything they do. The whole piece was about children. About how hard it is having a child with autism, how costly, and how we’re not ready for a future of 3 million autistic people who can’t care for themselves (which completely discounts the fact that a great many people with autism are completely self sufficient.) The piece says nothing of how it feels to be a person with autism in a world that is not accepting. In a nation where the co-founder of Autism Speaks itself writes something so completely awful about people with autism.
At the end of her article, she talks about the message we’re sending to our kids. If I could ask Mrs. Wright anything it would be this, “What message do you think my son would read in your words? How would it make him feel as an autistic individual? What message are you sending to children with autism?”
The whole article was about how autism is ruining lives, tearing families apart and costing the nation too much money. It talks about everything having to do with autism besides the autistic person themselves. It does not seek for understanding and acceptance of people with autism and it does not say a damn thing about helping adults on the spectrum. Autism Speaks presumes to know what everyone with autism needs, and in this piece she paints every autistic person as being one that will never function in society, is missing, and is causing their families great sorrow and pain.
It’s just not true. Beyond that, it’s hurtful. She does not speak for me as a mother of a child with autism and the organization itself absolutely does not speak for my son.