Autism Speaks: A Tale of Ableism

In case the cat isn’t out of the bag by now, it’s Autism Awareness Month, and your reminder to NOT donate to Autism Speaks! This is important to note that ableism is deeply rooted in white supremacy and we as a society need to educate ourselves to move forward. Believing that autism is something that needs to be cured or a burden on the parents of kids with autism, is the type of toxicity that Autism Speaks advocates for! Please keep in mind that Afro-April is still in effect, so we will be exploring how stereotypes on learning capabilities in the Black community have been the American way for a long time. So, let’s explore the performative activism of Autism Speaks, the actual organizations that advocate for people with autism, and the negative stigma that the American Psychiatric Association reinforced in the Black community.

First and foremost, the Autism Speaks organization should change its name to Autism Cheats because little funding is donated to the advocacy for the autism community! This soulless organization has one token autistic person out of 28 people on its Board of Directors. This ableist organization uses 48% of its budget on the slanderous campaign designed to depict Autism as a mysterious human imperfection that society needs to “cleanse”. Sure, they cleaned up their act with the hateful rhetoric these last few years, but let’s not forget that around 35% of its budget goes towards eugenics-based research! At first, they were aiming for a cure but when that proved to be a fruitless endeavor, they switched to finding genetic indicators of autism. Its board members have made over $400,000 in salary pay to develop a prenatal test for autism so, how can a charity organization advocate for autism if they are researching for its extermination?

Now I know that some of my readers believe that entertaining the notion that ableism is rooted in white supremacy is a stretch, but let’s take a look at the American Psychological Association and race science through the ages. In January of this year, the APA apologized for its support of structural racism in the field of psychiatry-a white-dominated field. This is no coincidence since history has shown that the U.S. government has used race science to justify slavery and oppression for the dehumanization of Black people. Intersectionality plays a vital role in this situation because the struggle of a white person with autism is going to differ from a Black person with autism. Race is rarely even reported in autism studies because the diagnosis goes overlooked in minority children and adults. Back in 2016, a peer review analysis of 408 published studies revealed only 17.9% of them listed race, ethnicity, or nationality. I know that the representation of people with autism in Hollywood is just as harmful as Autism Speaks but imagine a scientific field that people are encouraged to trust. There were 2,500 participants in the studies that reported race and 63% of them were white. Phrenology is the study of the conformation of the skull as indicative of mental faculties and traits of character- a justification for the institution of chattel slavery. It has been debunked time and time again but was still accepted as “proof” of Black inferiority and that has a clear impact on science today.

So, what can we do as a society moving forward with this information? Well, for one thing, we can spread the word to donate to places like Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN), and especially if you’re a part of the Black community - for resources and effective methods for educating yourself and others on autism awareness. For Black people and other people of color, we have to hold these experts accountable and speak up about possible signs because of the lack of information and representation. Please remember to denounce Autism Speaks for their eugenics practices and debunk the myths perpetuated by neurotypical people because “normal” is toxic.


Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. Dr. Joy Degruy. 2005

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