Yes, that’s a picture of a chocolate-covered onion. Yes, you can tell I’ve never tried drawing onions before.
In 2020, Autism Speaks announced that they’d add a spectrum of colors to their blue puzzle piece, unveiling a cheerful-looking new logo. They also said (via Tweet) that they’d use identity-first language for autism, the same language that most autistics prefer.
That’s good, right?
But autistics reacted with suspicion. For those who know the history of Autism Speaks, this is yet another example of superficial changes hiding an ugly reality.
An awful history
This section is not for the faint of heart.
Autism Speaks was founded with the mission of getting rid of autism. And their agenda was clearly shaped around the idea that autism was a monstrosity.
- Their ads and messages compared autism to kidnapping, deadly diseases like cancer, and other disasters.
- They pushed ABA therapy, an intensive punishment-and-reward program that trains autistic children to adopt “desirable” behaviors and extinguish “undesirable” ones, despite many reports of cruelty and trauma. (This includes the Judge Rotenberg Center, which tortures people with electric shocks.)
- They pushed a narrative of martyr parents tortured by nightmare children.
Let’s keep in mind that autism is a predominantly genetic condition that affects how someone thinks and experiences the world. So they are talking about stamping out something that is innate to a person. Even if that means child abuse or selective abortion.
And then, of course, there was all the anti-vaxxer ideology. Study after study commissioned, time after time, long after the evidence was clear that vaccines didn’t cause autism.
They do have a history of making superficial changes in the areas they’re most criticized, without actually changing their behavior.
Is this time any different?
They haven’t really changed
But now they have rainbow colors and identity-first language, right?
Well, at the same time, they have:
- Continued with their negative ads (now more subtly)
- “One time is a bad photo. Many times is a sign.”
- Spread a stigmatizing 100-day kit that encourages negative attitudes in parents, such as
- Telling them to grieve
- Saying they will want your child to “get better”
- Telling them to be angry at autism
- Encouraging them to try scientifically dubious treatments
- Continued support for ABA, despite evidence of PTSD and abuse
- Changed their financials so you can no longer see how much goes towards family services
- Pushed for saccharine inspirational “kindness” with nothing to say about respect or human rights
Considering these facts, it’s probably not surprising that the logo change resulted in sarcasm and frustration on Twitter.
Appropriating the neurodiversity movement’s spectrum iconography is a slap in the face, especially since that imagery is used to differentiate ourselves from Autism Speaks.Autistic parent and writer Steve Asbell
This wolf is trying on more sheep’s clothing. And they love it.
The most dangerous part is that on the surface, they look like a good organization. They seem to inspire optimism and hope. Their website looks trustworthy.
That’s how they lure people in.
I encourage people not to fall for it. There are other groups, like the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network and Autism Women & Nonbinary Network, that offer support instead chocolate-covered poison.
We need organizations that truly care about the well-being of autistic people of all ages. Autism Speaks continues to fail at that.