Autism Speaks and Stigma
In the short time that it has been in existence, Autism Speaks has created more stigma against autistic people than anyone else in history, arguably including the infamous Bruno Bettelheim. From day one, the consistent message put forth by Autism Speaks has been that autistic people are tragically defective burdens on society and that a child would be better off dead than autistic. As part of the same interview, and apparently without even being aware of any contradiction, Ms. Wright describes the most notable accomplishment of Autism Speaks in these words:
"We produced a movie, Autism Every Day, and it was accepted into Sundance for a special screening... in this movie a father talks about hoping that a little boy would go into the pond on his property and drown..."
My first reaction was: Yeah, what a great job taking the stigma off, Ms. Wright. What's next on your agenda, a snuff film?
Then I thought about her bizarre display of cognitive dissonance some more and realized that she wasn't talking about stigma against autistic people at all. As far as I know, Ms. Wright (and the rest of the Autism Speaks crowd) doesn't even acknowledge that autistic people are capable of perceiving prejudice against them. Rather, she was talking about the stigma of having a family member diagnosed with autism, the embarrassment of having a child who was seen as less than perfect—in other words, stigma by association.
In the context of Autism Speaks' embrace of biomedical quackery, it's possible to follow the twisted path of her reasoning. Biomed promoters claim (without bothering to address the inconvenient fact that the science doesn't back up their claims) that their treatments, supplements, etc., can transform an autistic child into a non-autistic one. Apparently the Wrights believe that if parents and other family members of autistic children can be persuaded to talk more about autism, rather than keeping quiet about the child's diagnosis for fear of stigma, they're more likely to be approached by biomed enthusiasts and to seek out these treatments. The conclusion they seem to have drawn is that Autism Speaks' efforts will result in large numbers of autistic children no longer being autistic—and that by implication, any increase in prejudice against autistics will be irrelevant because the autistic population will no longer exist.
And if it turns out that biomed doesn't bring them any closer to their goal of a world without autistic people, well, Autism Speaks is still busily funding research to develop a prenatal test.
Labels: Autism Speaks