Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Destroying the Intolerance Monster

A charity in the UK called Action for Children has created a truly appalling short film called Dan's Story, which is being shown on TV as an advertisement. It depicts a boy as having been eaten by a wicked autism monster and suggests that the monster must be destroyed. Several bloggers already have written about this horrid imagery, including Mike Stanton, Socrates, Bev, Sharon, and Shiva.

Socrates posted contact information on his blog for Gary Day, Head of Supporter Care at Action for Children:

Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Day does not understand (or perhaps does not care) how grossly offensive this advertising campaign is to the autistic community. His mass-mailed response to our complaints, which is posted in Socrates' comments, asserts that the ad is acceptable because "Dan tells his own story in his own words," and goes on to say that anyone who does not like it can complain to the UK's advertising standards authority.

The dismissive tone of his message strongly reminds me of the mass response sent out by Dr. Harold Koplewicz of the NYU Child Study Center a few days after the Ransom Notes protest began. Dr. Koplewicz also claimed that he was just trying to raise awareness and help children. Less than two weeks later, after thousands of blog entries and protest e-mails, a joint letter prepared by ASAN and signed by thirteen other disability organizations, and media coverage, Dr. Koplewicz conceded defeat and withdrew the advertisements.

During the campaign against the Ransom Notes ads, contact information was posted for prominent NYU Child Study Center donors, and protest letters were copied to these donors so that they would understand the harm that was being done with their money and would put pressure on NYU to withdraw the ads. The same thing needs to be done here. I am not familiar enough with British job titles to know exactly what a "Head of Supporter Care" might be (and would appreciate it if my British readers would enlighten me in the comments). If supporters are the same as donors, and if Mr. Day's job consists of keeping them happy so that they will give more money, then the next logical step would be to post e-mail addresses for the charity's main supporters and make them as unhappy with the charity's actions as possible (if you have such info, please post it here). A joint letter signed by several UK disability rights groups, similar to what was done with Ransom Notes, would also help, with media coverage if possible.

As for the argument that the ad came from Dan's own words, I recommend reading a post on Ballastexistenz entitled Why Students Praise the Judge Rotenberg Center, which describes in detail how children with disabilities can be conditioned (brainwashed) to think of themselves as unworthy of having any say in their own lives and to make only positive statements about their caretakers, no matter what is done to them.

We can destroy the intolerance monster. The campaign against Ransom Notes shows exactly how to do it. Let's get busy.

Edit, January 26: ASAN has set up an Action Alert on Change.org, which provides a basic template for letters protesting these advertisements and automatically sends them.

An extensive list of contact information for corporate supporters, etc., can be found on Socrates' blog.

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  • Thanks, abfh. I agree that the same strategies used to remove the Ransom Notes Campaign might be effective here. It is a very similar idea, the person "trapped" by a terrible other that wrecks the child's and family's lives.

    By Blogger Bev, at 11:07 AM  

  • Am on to it.

    By Blogger Casdok, at 11:53 AM  

  • Another problem with the "but it's Dan's own story!" defense is that nowhere does Dan say that his autism is some horrible monster that he's trapped inside. (He says it became a pain in the bum, but that's all). Someone added that interpretation-- and, as shiva pointed out, they didn't get that interpretation out of nowhere.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:52 PM  

  • Where to get the official list of ALL charity donors in the UK --

    Unfortunately, one has to pay for the list. Perhaps someone can set up a PayPal site to collect donations for that purpose?

    By Blogger KateGladstone, at 2:31 PM  

  • Going through the "Action for Children" site to try finding the names of any donors, I do find this:

    Our specialist team has built unique programmes with Barclays, HP, Ernst & Young, The Vodafone (UK) Foundation and TK Maxx – so you'll be in good company."

    Barclays -- http://www.barclays.co.uk

    HP [Hewlett-Packard] UK division --

    Ernst & Young -- http://www.ey.com

    Vodafone (UK) Foundation --

    TK Maxx -- http://www.tkmaxx.com

    The above companies' web-sites should allow finding all the needed contact-info for each company.

    By Blogger KateGladstone, at 2:59 PM  

  • The owners of the Baby Creative ad agency who made the video are at





    Please feel free to write and explain our reservations.

    By Blogger Socrates, at 3:08 PM  


    Family's outrage at child's arrest

    Jan 10 2008 by Sian Watts, Rhymney Valley Express

    A CHILD suffering with special needs was arrested, handcuffed and put in a cell only weeks after she had been forced to walk alone from Cardiff Bay to Penarth, her mother claims.

    Nakita Williams, who was only 12 at the time of the incident, was arrested at her specialist school after allegedly being involved in an altercation with a member of staff.

    Nakita, who has severe learning and behavioural difficulties, attends Headlands School in Penarth because of her problems.

    Only the previous month, it has been claimed, she had been forced off the school bus in Cardiff Bay and told to make the two-mile journey back to school alone.

    The 13-year-old, of Oak Tree Drive, Cefn Hengoed, claimed a teaching assistant had ordered her off the bus after she had taken her seatbelt off during a school trip.

    The Express reported Nakita’s family’s outrage at the time of the event, but they are now even more upset at how the situation has progressed.

    Talking about the arrest, Mandy Williams, Nakita’s mother, said: “They handcuffed her, and put her in a cell.

    “That broke my heart.”

    Full Story


    By Blogger Socrates, at 5:45 PM  

  • From that story:

    ...“In the interest of all the parties concerned, we hope to be able to conclude the process as soon as possible, so it would be unfair for us to say much more at the moment.” ...

    In other words, we're going to keep stalling until the public spotlight is off this, and we can go back to doing what we want.

    It does indeed sound like the time to ramp this campaign up is now.


    By Blogger Club 166, at 7:55 PM  

  • Many thanks to Socrates for compiling an excellent list of contact information here.

    By Blogger abfh, at 10:36 PM  

  • I have watched this debate unfold with great interest. I will give my opinion but will not claim to be correct. I will also refrain from slagging off other people as everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

    I understand the argument about the external v internal issue and can see that this may be confusing and possibly upsetting.

    However, in defence of the charity, I have to say that at no point does it intimate that this is the story of all people with autism. It makes it clear that this is one individual's story and from what I understand it is in his own words and am pretty sure he will have been consulted on the advert and how it portrays him/his feelings (although someone should ask for confirmation of this).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:10 PM  

  • Anonymous,

    I suppose what's at the root of my reservations is the impression that the ads will have on a mainstream, non-specialist audience.

    Most people have busy lives, and many of their own concerns to fill their thoughts. Perhaps all they will take away from a 30 second advert is the image of the monster, autism and how it has been tamed/destruyed/stamped into the ground.

    Many in the autism community have suffered as much as Dan and many far, far worse.

    We have a very different interpretation of experience of "our autism"

    Our voices are equally deserving of national TV time and multi-million pound advertising budgets.

    We are a marginalized, disadvantaged and until very recently largely ignored minority and we claim a collective right of control over the presentation of something that is a fundamental part of us.

    Action For Children's responses have largely hidden behind the human shield of Dan's own opinions and have entirely failed to address the substance of our concerns.

    By Blogger Socrates, at 3:25 PM  

  • Socrates

    I fully accept as valid your concerns. I can only suggest that the hope was that the main message that came across would be that the charity helps people who are troubled and who by their own admission were unhappy.

    I fully appreciate that this could have been done in a much more sensitive way.

    Respect to all

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:05 PM  

  • Yes, as Prof. Baron-Cohen found out recently, a great deal of sensitivity and political nous is necessary when swimming these waters.

    I wanted to give AFC credit for doing a generally ok-ish job in their special schools until someone pointed out that the inspector's glowing reports was only one side of the story...

    By Blogger Socrates, at 4:14 PM  

  • The ad's getting thrashed on You Tube:

    Good Kicking

    By Blogger Socrates, at 7:59 AM  

  • New Dan vid here

    By Blogger Socrates, at 8:19 PM  

  • RE: Autistic Monster Ad Campaign

    The TV ad's and other material from the AFC campaign have been reworked and the video is here


    The You Tube version has some quality control issuses - some of the text has got mangled by the codec.


    Feedback would be very welcome....

    By Blogger Socrates, at 2:43 PM  

  • Action for Children has made another ad that parents with MS find almost as horrifying: I haven't seen it (I'm in the US, so they don't have those ads here), but apparently it features a young girl who has to take care of her Mom because her Mom has MS. And Action for Children helps her. Parents are incensed because it implies that children automatically become carers for disabled parents (when they don't, or shouldn't have to).

    The Facebook group focused on the MS parent ad is at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=51200447470

    I suggest that the campaigns against both ads (the autism ad and the MS parent ad) would be more effective if they were to work in tandem. I also suggest that letters should focus NOT ONLY on removing the two offensive ads but ALSO on urging Action for Children to consult more closely with disability groups in the future for ALL relevant ads.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:17 PM  

  • Hey, how are you doing? hope all is well.

    By Blogger Leon1234, at 10:21 PM  

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