Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Autism Speaks and Stigma

I was taken aback when I read a post on Autism Vox about a recent interview in which Suzanne Wright of Autism Speaks made the astounding claim that she seeks to raise awareness of autism "to take the stigma off."

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.



  • "... "to take the stigma off." ..."


    Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't they actually add to that stigma?!


    By Blogger David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E., at 3:19 PM  

  • I think you got it exactly right. The "stigma" of having a family member with autism.

    By Blogger daedalus2u, at 6:17 PM  

  • The whole Wright family debacle makes me sick.

    Gramma Suzie with the big ol' head is going to be on Oprah this week along with her loyal DAN! worshiping mercury daughter. They are all so ashamed of having a disabled family member they have to go around pointing the finger elsewhere, "it's not us, we're the ones with the GOOD genes."

    It just makes me so sick I can't think of how to write about it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:32 PM  

  • The stigma of autism can be truly demoralizng. My kid just doesn't fit in at the racetrack. He won't smoke a cigar or swear at the jockeys and I just don't think he'll be able to make it as a gambler. The other patrons see him jumping up and down and flapping his arms so they think he's picking lots of winners and they follow me to the window to see who I'm betting on. Then my odds go down so the autism is costing me money.

    By Blogger John Best, at 6:54 PM  

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    By Blogger MeridiusMD899, at 9:23 PM  

  • You know, this entry by ABFH reminds me of a quote I heard on House MD the other time, in that episode about autism "Lines in the Sand".

    Dr. House stated, "Spoken like a true circle queen. See, skinny, socially privileged white people get to draw this neat little circle around themselves. Everyone inside the circle is normal. Everyone outside the circle needs to be beaten, broken, and reset, so they can be brought back into the circle. Failing that, they should be institutionalized. Or worse--- pitied."

    I'm sick of all this hatred going around out there regarding autistic people. "Skinny socially privileged white people"... that's Bob and Suzanne Wright to a tee (and who says autistics don't get plays on words?).

    By Blogger MeridiusMD899, at 9:26 PM  

  • Ms. Clark sums up the recent media blitz by Mrs. and Ms Wright. I was not impressed by the former's description of the George Washington Bridge business in the Autism Every Day video in which she got the details wrong.

    By Blogger kristina, at 10:07 PM  

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    By Blogger Joeymom, at 11:14 PM  

  • The first time I read about the Wrights talking about removing the "stigma" of autism, I (very naively) thought that perhaps they were starting to progress just a little towards acceptance.

    Everyone knows it's hard to get your child to believe that they are whole, and a full member of society, when you go out in public and people say and do some of the most rude things imaginable. Removing some of the "stigma" that society places on autistics would be a good thing.

    But reading your post was like a cold glass of water splashed in my face.

    Duh! The Wrights aren't concerned at all about how society views and treats autistics. Why would they? To them, all autistics are oblivious and contained in impenatrable shells. It's all obout the stigma that they themselves feel! How clueless I was to believe otherwise.

    Of course the Wrights have been all about adding to the "stigma" (stigmata?) associated with autistics. But to them it's in a good cause, if it takes just a little of the "stigma" away from them, personally.

    By Blogger Club 166, at 11:56 AM  

  • FS: "He won't smoke a cigar or swear at the jockeys and I just don't think he'll be able to make it as a gambler. "

    Bloody lucky then....


    By Blogger David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E., at 8:31 PM  

  • Oh Jesus.

    This really makes me want to cry.

    By Blogger Attila the Mom, at 3:26 AM  

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