SPLC – Recognize Autism Speaks as an anti-autism hate group and track anti-disability hate

SPLC – Recognize Autism Speaks as an anti-autism hate group and track anti-disability hate

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From SPLC's website:

"The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as an organization or collection of individuals that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. An organization does not need to have engaged in criminal conduct or have followed their speech with actual unlawful action to be labeled a hate group."

They further say in response to the question, "Can organizations operating in the mainstream be hate groups?" (link):

"Yes. In fact, it's even more important to call out groups that demonize others while having a foothold in the mainstream. It's easy to recognize the hater in a white sheet and pointy hat for what he or she is. It's the wolf in sheep's clothing that's harder to identify."

In 2009, the 1969 United States federal hate-crime law was expanded to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived disability—this was the same expansion which included crimes motivated by perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity. In the year following the 2009 expansion, SPLC began monitoring anti-LGBTQ+ organizations and groups.

Similarly, science suggests that conversion "therapy" does not work and can leave its victims traumatized. The co-founder of gay conversion therapy is also the founder of autism conversion therapy, called "Applied Behavioral Analysis" or ABA. When "homosexuality" was removed from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders) in the 1970s, the co-founder left gay conversion therapy to focus on autism conversion therapy at least partly because of a lack of funding for gay conversion therapy.

In the same way many anti-LGBTQ+ and racist hate groups claim they are "pro-family" or "pro-religion" or concerned with something called "white culture", many disability hate groups and organizations claim they are about support for parents and family of disabled people. Some institutions will get shut down after years of complaints from their disabled patients, but others continue to operate.

It is not a competition between which marginalized group has it worse—homosexuality was removed from the DSM in the 1970s and there is still conversion therapy being practiced to this day—but hate against disabled people has been called the "Invisible Hate Crime" ... who called it that? The Southern Poverty Law Center for one in their article, "The Invisible Hate Crime". Content warning for descriptions of extreme violence in that article.

Disabled people are more likely to be victims of violence compared to currently-abled people. Disabled people with cognitive disabilities such as autism are over four times as likely to be victims of violence than currently-abled people (57.9 per 1000 compared to 12.7 per 1000 for the years between 2011 and 2015).

The Southern Poverty Law Center should track disability hate groups, even if those hate groups claim to be in our best interest.

Autism Speaks was founded in 2005 and has been decidedly anti-autism from its founding. One cannot be against autism without also being against autistic people, but Autism Speaks goes far beyond simply pathologizing our existence. Here are some highlights of their hateful rhetoric and some of the harm they have brought to especially the American conversation around autism:

  • Autism Speaks frames and views autism as a disease to be cleansed from the human race.
  • Autism Speaks recommends autism conversion therapy to be started as early as possible for autistic children, ages as young as 12 months old. The specific versions of the conversion therapy they recommend all are recommended at over 20 hours per week, and most are over 25 hours per week.
  • Through their government lobbying, they have made autism conversion therapy covered by state insurances in all 50 states of America.
  • Through their government lobbying, they have shut down legislation with their primary complaint being that there was not enough conversion therapy included.

Aside: This lobbying can be seen in the records of Virginia's legislature hearing public opinion on a proposal for more teaching training. There was impassioned argument to provide additional support for teachers to help autistic students, followed by a few sentences of the proposal not specifying the teachers would receive what they call "evidence-based treatments" for autism. This is one of their dog whistles to refer to ABA. Evidence for that was provided by the same person who gave evidence that gay conversion therapy worked too.

The legislator responded by killing the bill until they could discuss further with the "experts". Autism Speaks are not the experts on autism any more than NARTH were the experts on LGBTQ+ people.

  • Autism Speaks has a track record of releasing anti-autism propaganda campaigns that frame autistic children as burdens who will tear apart your family. In their propaganda, their officers have expressed views of wanting to murder their autistic child and this is framed as being understandable.
  • Their propaganda is sympathetic towards filicide-ideation and creates a hostile environment for autistic people.
  • Their propaganda contributes to some of the major stigma about autism and faced by autistic people, contributing to the increased violence done to autistic people and the suicide rates of autistic people.

You can watch their 2006 film "Autism Every Day" on YouTube. There is a 13-minute version that includes their Vice President of the time talking about wanting to murder her daughter and kill herself while her daughter is in the room with her during the interview. The longer 40-minute plus version was screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

I do not recommend watching it as it is quite horrific, but one copy of it is at this link at the time of writing: "Autism Every Day".

Their 2009 "I Am Autism" campaign is also available on YouTube. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, it is a little under 4 minutes.

Again, I do not recommend watching it as it is quite horrific, but one copy of it is at this link at the time of writing: "I Am Autism".

  • Autism Speaks perpetuated anti-vax conspiracy theories about autism for years after it was clear that vaccines do not cause autism. They released one statement during the 2015 measles outbreaks saying that children should be vaccinated, but continued to support anti-vax theories and research until at least 2017.
  • The original study that the MMR vaccine caused autism was withdrawn in 2010 and the author lost their medical license. It has been disproven, yet even if one accepts that it was true, their opposition to the measles vaccine frames autism as being worse than death.
  • They always refer to "environmental factors" of autism, which is both a dog whistle referring to vaccines and many other dangerous conspiracy theories and associated "cures", while also offering support for conversion therapy making someone somehow not autistic.
  • Autism Speaks directs parents of newly-identified autistic children to seek out other parents who have tried older "cures" for autism that have "worked" for their children in the same paragraph as admitting those "cures" have been found harmful.
  • They frame themselves as being the "experts" that should be trusted on autism, referencing their .org domain name for their website and establishing branches of "Autism Speaks U" at universities across the country. They have incredible influence at all levels and branches of government. They also have the backing of millions of dollars for lobbying and research they want.
  • Autism Speaks creates a climate of understanding murdering disabled children, implying our deaths are better than our lives would be and that it is somehow out of "mercy" to put us out of our suffering, while also telling new parents that half of all autistic children are "wanderers" and the number one cause of death for autistic children who wander is by drowning.
  • Autism Speaks encourages all parents to get genetic testing of their already-diagnosed children and submit genetic information to ongoing studies. They have stated goals of getting earlier and earlier identification of autistic children. If the children are already born, this is with the intent that conversion therapy can start as soon as possible.
  • Autism Speaks has influenced the conversation around conversion therapy for autistic children to the point that objection to conversion therapy is framed like being anti-vax and anti-science; ironic, as they are one of the biggest reasons why anti-vax conspiracies are so prominent in today's society.
  • Autism Speaks refers to autistic people using pathologizing language and frames the choice of the majority of both autistic and disabled people to refer to themselves as autistic people and disabled people as being misguided and not scientific. They cling to saying "person with autism" and say they do so because that's the medical term.

This is just the highlights, but I believe this is more than enough to consider Autism Speaks as a hate group against autistic people by definition. Even before that, SPLC should track hate against disabled people and anti-disability hate groups the same as it tracks other types of hate. They have an entire category for "hate music" that currently has a little more than ten organizations. Autism Speaks is an organization that has branches across the country and a reach that is growing to be international and is influencing the spread of autism conversion therapy to other countries now.

SPLC has done a lot of good work fighting gay conversion therapy, if their recognition of Autism Speaks and the harm they have done can give pause to one additional legislator that they may not be the real "experts" on a new bill or stop one family from uncritically accepting AS's advice to ignore the harm they can see in conversion therapy of their one-year-old, then it will have been worth this petition.

SPLC was involved in the white paper, "Hate-Free Philanthropy: Identifying Opportunities and Obstacles to Safeguard the Sector". In that paper, they have the quote, "At a bare minimum, screening practices and policies should be implemented against organizations and activities that contribute to a climate of fear and risk for vulnerable and targeted communities, as the role of hate propaganda in fueling violence is well documented."

I agree, SPLC. I hope you do as well.

Thank you for reading,

1,067 have signed. Let’s get to 1,500!
At 1,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!