Updated: Aug 7, 2021
By Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" Blog Series - Slice #16
In April, we welcomed another year of Autism Awareness Month, where we celebrate the autism community as well as educate the world about the autism community. You know when you really think about it, autism has come a long way from how it was perceived by the world in the beginning. We went from autism being described as “…a symptom of the most severe cases of schizophrenia…”, to now being described as a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects an individual’s way of speech and interaction with others. Even though we have come a long way in learning about autism, we have an even longer way to go in terms of accepting people with autism.
One of the biggest obstacles we face in terms of autism acceptance, is accepting the fact that autism is a life-long disability- and not a disease. This controversial issue comes as a result of a long-held belief that many people still have, which is that autism is a disease that infects your children, destroys families, but can be cured through specific methods. One of the biggest believers of this controversial statement, is the organization known as Autism Speaks. To those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, Autism Speaks is the largest autism organization in the United States. To those unfamiliar with its history, Autism Speaks organization has been embroiled in controversy, where according to a blogging website called speakingofautismcom.wordpress.com in a blog post titled Why You Should Not Support Autism Speaks, Autism Advocate and Blogger Quincy gives an example of how controversial Autism Speaks truly is when it comes to fulfilling their true agenda of curing autism when he states, “Autism Speaks spends very little money on helping autistic people alive today. Instead, it funds research to identify genetic markers for autism in the hopes that a prenatal test for autism can be developed and give people the option to abort a baby just because it has autism.” Another example can be found in the same blog post, where Quincy explains how Autism Speaks is known for having rhetoric that bullies the autism community when he states, “Autism Speaks is responsible for hateful “awareness” campaigns that demonize autistic people. They describe autistic people as burdens, and autistic lives as tragedies.” One of those infamous campaigns done by Autism Speaks is titled I Am Autism, where autism is portrayed as the ‘bogeyman’ that destroys and terrorizes families. Finally, Quincy mentions in his blog about how little Autism Speaks represents the autism community due to their lack of hiring autistic people to join their staff when he states, “Autism Speaks speaks about autistic people without autistic people. As an organization that claims to speak for autism, they have minimal autistic representation on their board or in higher leadership positions.”
Another controversial group that believes in curing autism, is known as Cure Autism Now (CAN). According to a link to a website called https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/npo-spotlight/cure-autism-now Cure Autism Now is an organization founded in 1995, and according to the website it is, “…an organization of parents, clinicians, and scientists dedicated to finding effective biological treatments, prevention, and a cure for autism and related disorders.” This controversial desire to cure the incurable is not only divisive in terms of trying to define what makes a person a normal human being, but this desire is also divisive in terms of making a statement of what is considered acceptable in the eyes of society, and as I have mentioned before autistic people have a long way to go in terms of being fully accepted in the eyes of society.
In conclusion, if we are going to fully accept people with autism, we need to stop trying to erase people with autism. We need to accept the fact that autistic people are human beings who are independent individuals that have talents, hopes, dreams, and desires as anyone else and they deserve the same opportunities as well. As stated by Executive Director of the Organization for Autism Research Michael Maloney,“The largest objection is from people with autism who see themselves as independent and competent and don’t see themselves as broken and needing to be fixed.” In an NBC New article titled Why the focus of autism research is shifting away from searching for a 'cure', Executive Director of the Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) Julia Bascom explains how offensive curing autism is to the autism community when she states, “If you’re trying to get rid of autism, you’re trying to get rid of us, and that’s something our community takes really personally,”. Therefore, the most important thing I want you to take away from this blog as it relates to Autism Awareness Month, is that nobody needs to change or be cured in order to be accepted by society. It is the 21st century, we are in the year of 2021, and this is no longer the time for people to be close-minded when it comes to indifference and diversity. We are living in the days where the need to feel accepted and included are more dire now than ever before, and we have the right to advocate for ourselves in being more accepted and included in the world. In this case, I am advocating that you accept people with autism as they are and to let them feel more included in the world. Thank you. -Melissa