Autistic History Calendar: February 11th – The Founding of Autism Speaks

CW: Autism Speaks, ableism, filicide

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On February 11th, 2005, Autism Speaks was founded by Bob and Suzanne Wright of the Wright family fortune, built on brands like General Electric and the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC).

Using its deep pockets of billionaire philanthropy, mergers with other prominent autism cure organizations, and celebrity and political endorsements, Autism Speaks would become the largest cure-driven autism charity almost from its birth to the present day in 2021. The blue puzzle piece, the chosen logo of the charity, would become synonymous with the autism spectrum itself in mainstream culture, overruling symbolism used by actual autistic people such as the Rainbow Infinity and Autism Pride Flag.

Autism Speaks has marketed itself using the imagery of autism as a life-destroying chronic illness, and autistic people as monsters in society to be avoided. In 2009, an advertisement ran for Autism Speaks where director Billy Mann narrated, in a haunting voice, ““I am autism. I have no interest in right or wrong. I derive great pleasure out of your loneliness. I will fight to take away your hope. I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams. I will make sure that every day you wake up, you will cry, wondering, ‘Who will take care of my child after I die?’ And the truth is, I’m still winning. And you’re scared. And you should be. I am autism. You ignored me. That was a mistake.” This marketing has caused untold stigma against autistic people in their communities.

In 2006, Autism Speaks filmed and published the documentary Autism Every Day. During this documentary, a board member of Autism Speaks, Alison Tepper Singer, attested that she has contemplated driving her family car off of the George Washington Bridge in New York City with her autistic daughter Jodie, but resisted the urge because she did not want her neurotypical daughter Lauren to grow up without a mother. This interview was conducted in the same room as her daughter Jodie, while Jodie played close by. Just four days after Autism Every Day was shown to the public, Karen McCarron murdered her autistic daughter Katie McCarron by placing a white plastic garbage bag over her head. Karen McCarron was sentenced to 36 years imprisonment for first degree murder.While Autism Speaks removed references to a cure from its website in 2016 due to outspoken backlash from autistic self-advocates and self-advocacy organizations, research into causes and cures for autism remain its primary goal. In their 2019 IRS Form 990, Autism Speaks states, “our research and science efforts continue to focus on identifying genetic influence on autism, which may facilitate personalized treatments. These efforts include offering 10,000 whole genome sequences that are being accessed by more than 180 researchers from 40 institutions across 16 countries”. It is clear that while Autism Speaks is not publicly stating that their goal is to eliminate autism, their expenditures are revealing otherwise.

Policies that Autism Speaks has been a consultant for include the 2006 Combatting Autism Act (now called the Autism CARES Act) which has funneled billions of American tax dollars into the psychologically abusive and often physically abusive Applied Behavioural Analysis industry, the MSSNG database co-owned with Google and the Toronto SickKids Hospital which collects DNA samples of autistic people without their permission and uses them to research a cure for autism, even if the unwilling DNA donor morally objects to a cure, and Canada’s upcoming National Autism Strategy to shift the policies of the strategy in favour of Autism Speaks’ industry interests.

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