By Alex Woody
The Hypocrisy of Autism Speaks
In any other case, if you had told me that there was an organization out there that helps people with Autism overcome their daily struggles and acts as an advocate for them, I’d be thrilled. A lot of my own struggles were worked out when others wanted to help, and what with the stigma that others put on us every day, it would be great to have a group of informed, powerful people who could vouch for us. Unfortunately, the people within Autism Speaks are anything but informed.
In spite of claiming that they want to help us be heard and give us a voice, they do not speak of desires for us to be looked at as equals or to be given the same chance to succeed as others. They speak of Autism as if it were a pox or a plague, some contagious disease that has the potential to destroy families and even communities. Such a message is not only shortsighted and bigoted, but it is also downright destructive given the amount of power and influence this organization has.
One of the worst parts, if you ask me, is that whenever they discuss Autism, they act as though it is the most present thing in the subject’s life, and this encourages people to start thinking that it is the case for everyone with Autism. However, given the amount of people with Autism who are able to live just as well as anyone else, this kind of thinking does far more harm than good. I don’t want people to think of me as “Alex, the guy with Autism”, or even as “Alex, the guy with Asperger’s Syndrome”. I want people to think of me as “Alex, the guy with the friendly, laid-back attitude”, or as “Alex, the guy who makes the funny videos on the internet”. To me, and to anyone else who knows their worth about Autism, it is merely a condition that exists. It does not make up who we are, and should not change how we are viewed.
Furthermore, the idea of Autism being the most prevalent thing in our lives is also harmful in the sense of how others think we should be “helped”. When my parents first found out about my Asperger’s Syndrome, they did learn that I would need help overcoming things like social awkwardness and lack of focus. But I wasn’t helped by people who wanted to “cure” me or “fix” me. I was helped by people who knew that I would never fully be rid of Autism, but that wasn’t a bad thing. They knew that the best course of action would be to help me learn how to manage the social awkwardness and lack of focus and allow me the freedom to enjoy my life seeing myself as just another kid at school. Autism Speaks would’ve only seen me as their lab rat. Rather than trying to help me with my actual problems, they would’ve tried to change who I was entirely, not knowing that doing so is not only impossible, but would’ve been getting rid of the parts of me that I like. It is true that Asperger’s Syndrome has caused me to get caught up in my own thoughts many times, but it has enabled me to think deeply about things I wasn’t sure about, and to create ideas for the videos I make and put online. I cannot imagine for a second that Autism Speaks would have cared about that if I had told them.
As dangerous as these consequences are, however, there is one danger that outweighs them all: Autism Speaks is not careful about whom it trusts. A month or two ago, I found out about one such organization it supports and actually featured at one of their resource fairs: the Judge Rotenberg Center. The JRC is essentially a reform camp with the methods of a concentration camp: they take away any medication that its patients are on, they see stimming as an action worthy of punishment, and their punishments, which include isolating someone from everyone else and even holding down someone while electrically shocking them, are absolutely draconian. When I heard about this organization, I was so shocked and disturbed that to this day, I have only told a few other people about it. And this is the kind of thing that an organization that dares call itself Autism Speaks sees as a good thing.
Autism Speaks may call itself a group of heroes, but all they really do is spread fear and bigotry. Their “crusade” is really nothing more than a witch hunt. They don’t want to help us stand up for ourselves, they only want to keep us silent and pass it off as being our voices. But make no mistake, they are not the voices that we want or need. I am not a defect, or a broken man, or a victim of anything other than the hateful message spread by Autism Speaks. I am Alex Woody, and I will not let the voice of Autism Speaks be heard over mine.