Arguments Arise in Autism Community on “Who Should Define Autism?”

As many readers are aware, Seattle Children’s Hospital posted a bus ad, featuring a little boy that read “Let’s wipe out cancer, diabetes, and autism in his lifetime.” The ad was removed after only a week, as it stirred controversy, and offended certain groups. The specific reasons for why groups found it offensive, vary, however, as groups such as Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) argue “Wipe out autism, wipe out us.”

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is a nonprofit organization that is “run by and for Autistic people.” [i] The group includes adults and youth, to provide support, public policy advocacy, and services for individuals on the autism spectrum. ASAN is devoted to not finding the cure of autism, but for awareness and acceptance into society. Employment can be a challenge for people with autism, and members of this group feel there is too much emphasis on behavior therapies for children with autism…by their parents. This self-righteous attitude has caused disagreements though, especially against Ari Ne’eman, the national president. A petition to block his 2010 appointment to the National Disability Council included the following argument,

“Mr. Ne’eman and a small faction within the autism community may personally oppose prevention and cure, as is their right, but they do not represent the majority of people on the spectrum, particularly those who are so impaired that they face a lifetime in institutional settings…obscured the harsh reality of autism with rhetoric…does not address the real-life problems of people with autism, particularly the most profoundly impaired.” [ii]

ASAN was not the only group fighting for the removal of the ad. Arzu Forough of Washing Autism Alliance & Advocacy supported the removal, but wants autism groups to work together to advocate for support. She wants people to understand exactly what autism is, and to understand “the depth of support that some individuals with autism need.”

Clearly there are different and opposing views on who has the right to “define autism.” While many diagnosed on the spectrum are fortunate enough to be able to communicate their thoughts, some are not so lucky. Many autistic people are nonverbal, and some are even living in group homes. So who has the right to “define autism?” You decide, and share your thoughts with us.