Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Held for Ransom

The Child Study Center at New York University has a new advertising campaign entitled "Ransom Notes," which is, unfortunately, just what it sounds like. "Awareness" posters focusing on various psychological conditions and developmental differences, including autism and Asperger Syndrome, are written in the style of ransom notes from kidnappers. They begin with "We have your son," and go on to describe in absurdly melodramatic terms how he is being destroyed for life, etc. I'm not going to quote this repulsive dreck in any more detail or give it an active link, but this is where you can find it:


Thanks to hollywoodjaded for bringing this appalling example of hate speech to my attention. I posted the following comments into the contact form on the website
to express my disgust, and I urge readers to let them know what you think of it, too.

To the person(s) responsible for creating the grossly offensive "Ransom Notes" advertising campaign: Because it's so obvious that you did not consult with any autistic people or other neurological minority groups before trotting out that odious medieval stolen-child changeling nonsense, I'm going to take this opportunity to educate you on the actual views held by many people in the autistic community today.

Many of us do indeed feel as if we're being held for ransom, but you've got the identity of the perpetrators all wrong. To find a clue, you might want to take a good look in a mirror. We—that is, America's autistic citizens and our families—have had our lives hijacked in recent years by a greedy profiteering agenda that has deliberately and viciously stigmatized autistic people as broken, less than human, our souls stolen from us, and similar bigoted garbage, all for the purpose of making money by selling therapies. As a result, we now face prejudice and discrimination every day, in all aspects of our lives.

We are being held for ransom by psychs who, after inventing the Asperger diagnostic category in the 1990s to drum up new business by pathologizing millions of people who had been considered normal up to that point, now have the hubris to claim that they are the only ones who can save us from the horrors of being ourselves. The list of accomplices in this obscene scheme is long and shameful. It includes quack doctors peddling wonder cures, amoral researchers vying for grant dollars, nonprofit organizations more interested in self-aggrandizement than in actually helping anyone, posturing politicians trolling for votes, advertising agencies that have no qualms about creating the ugliest propaganda if the price is right, media corporations that regularly concoct bogus epidemics and milk them for all they're worth, and more.

On the About Us page on your website, you claim that one of the central goals of your organization is "to eliminate the stigma of being or having a child with a psychiatric disorder." But after seeing Ransom Notes, I just have to wonder if you really think you're going to fool anyone with that claim.

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  • Their Ethics page (aboutourkids.org/ethics) contains an email link for their webmaster, to whom I recommend we address our complaints. There is also a Contact page (aboutourkids.org/contact_us) with snail mail addresses and phone numbers.

    By Blogger Dave Seidel, at 1:18 PM  

  • Thanks Dave. There's also a "more" link on the Contact page, at the lower right; if you click on that link, it brings up e-mail addresses and a contact form.

    By Blogger abfh, at 2:36 PM  

  • Your parents are being held by The Hysterical Parents Martyrdom Brigade

    We have taken their capacity for love, acceptance, and basic critical thinking skills.

    They will describe you in the most offensive, pathetic, dehumanizing manner possible and say "the disorder made me do it, I just need services, I hate the disorder but love my child!"

    No matter what they get, it will never be enough.

    They will never listen to an adult with your condition. Ever.

    Everything will be about their suffering, because it is all about them.

    They will complain about stigma while building it to astonishing new levels.

    If they are called hypocrites, they will pull the "You aren't a parent" card.

    And they will never see that what they do is wrong.

    -The Hysterical Parents Martyrdom Brigade

    By Blogger Kassiane, at 3:01 PM  

  • Disgusting. Just Disgusting. ANd it doesn't make any more sense for the 'other' disorders it includes either.

    By Blogger Jigsaw Forte, at 3:22 PM  

  • Or if you are a parent you get the "well, you must be very very mild then?"
    Oh really? I've selfinjured for no other reason than I was compelled to scratch the top layer of skin off my knuckles. I've had toilet accidents until my mid to late teens with no awareness that I should clean myself up or that others might notice. I've constantly daydreamed and been unaware of what other people are doing or saying mere feet away from me. That stereotype about the autistic person who isn't aware of their surroundings, well ,that still applies to me a lot of the time. Perhaps ironically I'm safer when I'm out with my lads as I make a concerted effort to concentrate and pay attention (I think most parents have got an inbuilt instinctive button) without them it's all too easy for me to get caught up in things, leading my husband to refer to me as being so focused on one thing I am unaware of anything else.
    I stim, I frequently fail to physically react to things, it could be not being able to wave to say hello, or to let go of a ball, my mind knows what to do, my body just needs some persuading.
    I am verbal (main reason my diagnosis was Aspergers I think), but I have communication difficulties, struggle to express my wants and needs and struggle to initiate talking are two examples.
    As a young child I threw violent tantrums and was so hyperactive my mum was known throughout the neighbourhood as "poor Mrs x".
    Yet, despite all that, I managed to go to university, get a degree (yes, I did have appalling difficulties with selfcare and organisation, leading to me resorting to chewing paper for food at one point and my mum having to cut my hair as I'd forgotten to comb it, so academic abilities don't mean good overall abilities). I've managed to get jobs and I'm married (and please don't presume that means no problems with interaction).
    Are there difficulties? Undoubtedly. Do those difficulties mean I am unable to do anything? Absolutey not. It's the same with my son. If I denied that he needed help that wouldn't be right, but there is so much he can do and can achieve.

    By Anonymous bullet, at 3:24 PM  

  • The press release for the ransom notes also contains contact info:


    Another weird thing about these is that the genders they assigned to each condition seem to be based on stereotypes--they all say "son" except for the ones about bulemia and OCD.

    By Blogger Kim, at 4:09 PM  

  • I sent them:
    "Your public awareness ransom notes are the most tasteless and degrading advertising I have seen in a very long time. How dare you make such rude and thoughtless generalizations about people with disabilities? Surely you have met people with the disabilities you claim to be involved with. If so you must know that, for example, most autistic people are capable of self care and most people with AS interact socially. As a parent of a child on the spectrum, I was most appalled by those ads, but all of them are disrespectful and should be pulled immediately."

    By Blogger VAB, at 4:33 PM  

  • Kassiane: Perfect! I hope you sent that comment to them!

    Jigsaw Forte and Kim: Very true observations...

    Bullet: I'd be surprised if I found any married person, of any neurology, who never had a problem communicating with his or her spouse! More seriously, you're quite right that the word "mild" makes no sense and shouldn't even be used as applied to autism.

    VAB: Thanks. Let's hope they'll listen.

    By Blogger abfh, at 5:03 PM  

  • Bullet: I'd be surprised if I found any married person, of any neurology, who never had a problem communicating with his or her spouse!
    Roflmao :D. I actually meant I have problems communicating with anyone, whether it's my parents, my sisters, my husband, or some random stranger. I'll have to start wording things better. I communicate easiest with my husband, he knows me pretty well :)

    By Anonymous bullet, at 6:22 PM  

  • That sounds like just the thing that would set my scaremongered, authority-obsessed parents off on another unempathic ranting where they insisted that, apparently because they enjoy very broad social lives, I couldn't possibly be happy or have different standards that make my "isolation" of only having a few friends that I see on odd occasions quite a good, comfortable life. I suppose if they had just tried harder and pushed some more drugs at me, I would have "grown out" of all of that and conformed to a life I couldn't possibly be interested in?

    Ransom indeed...

    By Blogger lichen, at 8:32 PM  

  • Must be "Aw, hell; I'll just link back to Amanda" day. :P

    By Anonymous Evonne, at 9:05 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Bev, at 9:38 PM  

  • Thanks abfh. I'm working on my response now.

    By Blogger Bev, at 9:39 PM  

  • I wrote the Development Officer - email on this page www.aboutourkids.org/make_difference/contact_development_office

    By Blogger jypsy, at 9:01 AM  

  • It makes my head hurt reading about things like that. Thanks to all of you who have tackled the organisation behind this horrid campaign. I will get onto them myself too.

    By Blogger Sharon, at 12:26 PM  

  • I hate to pick a nit, but Hans A's work in the mid 1940s does not fit in with the representation below.

    I need them (the shrinks et al and et tu) to realize that Asperger's can pose some very difficult situations for those of us who are a bit more severely affected by it.

    "We are being held for ransom by psychologists who, after inventing the Asperger diagnostic category in the 1990s to drum up new business by pathologizing millions of people who had been considered normal up to that point, now have the hubris to claim that they are the only ones who can save us from the horrors of being ourselves."

    Otherwise I agree with your response to their blatant bigotry.

    By Blogger Patrick, at 1:59 PM  

  • We have your son -
    We are responsible for 95% of the world's crime. When we're not turning a blind eye to brutality, we're actively participating in it. If your son doesn't join us, he will be our next victim.
    - Ignorance
    *He thinks we're really really cool!


    By Blogger Andrew, at 10:00 PM  

  • Want to actually be heard on this?

    Writing to the center's people is a waste of time. I learned through a friend who has a son with aspergers and big time NYC donor connections that you can reach the head of the NYU Med Center at robert.grossman@nyumc.org and the two big funders of the asperger program at istatfeld@aol.com and mrecanati@aol.com. You really should reach them to end this offensive campaign.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:53 PM  

  • Patrick: I believe Hans A. was trying to save autistic kids from being targeted by the Nazis, rather than trying to label them as abnormal or disordered. Although I agree with your point that there are many services, accommodations, etc., that can be helpful to us, such assistance can and should be made available without any need to medicalize our existence.

    Andrew: Great responses!

    Anonymous: Thanks for the info!

    For those who wish to send e-mails -- please be courteous in addressing the donors mentioned immediately above, who are not responsible for the offensive content of the advertisements.

    By Blogger abfh, at 8:50 PM  

  • Thanks very much for blogging this abfh. I was so distressed when I first saw it and it's good to see your post, the responses, and the blog posts by the other hubbers. And many, many thanks -- especially -- to my friend M. for bringing that atrocious site/campaign to my attention to begin with.

    By Blogger hollywoodjaded, at 1:06 AM  

  • hollywoodjaded: I'm glad so many people are responding. Hopefully someone at NYU will listen.

    Here's more complete information on the donors mentioned above:

    mrecanati@aol.com is Michael Statfeld Recanati.

    istatfeld@aol.com is Ira Statfeld Recanati.

    By Blogger abfh, at 9:30 AM  

  • Here's a link to an excellent letter that may inspire some of you in composing your own letters.

    By Blogger abfh, at 5:11 PM  

  • Also e-mail the ad-agency executive who designed the scapegoating ... err, "awareness campaign" ... for NYU: Laurie Ben-Haim of the BBDO ad-agency at laurie.ben-haim@bbdo.com
    Ms. Ben-Haim has confirmed for me that her ad-agency tested out the ad-campaign on *parents* of disabled kids, but not - repeat, NOT - the disabled kids (or adults) themselves. When I asked her why the agency didn't also test out the ads on disabled people (the folks the ads actually talks about), she admitted she didn't have a good answer for that one. (Presumably the firm had never thought that "those people" would actually notice or care about people calling "them" home-wreckers and so on.) So please e-mail BBDO's Ms. Ben-Haim along with NYU Child Study/NYU Med: if I knew the name/contact-info of Ms. Ben-Haim's supervisor, I'd suggest e-mailing that person too.

    By Anonymous KateGladstone, at 7:04 AM  

  • Well said!

    By Blogger Marla, at 8:31 AM  

  • I found that Richard Schaps is President/CEO of Van Wagner and on Child Study Center's board. Van Wagner is giving (and will continue to give) free kiosk and billboard ad space to Child Study Center, unless we convince him otherwise. Contact him asap at:
    rschaps@vanwagner.com and cc robert.grossman@nyumc.org (Koplewitz's boss).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:59 AM  

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