Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ari Ne'eman named nominee to National Council on Disability


Office of the Press Secretary
_______________________________________________________________________________________FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 16, 2009

President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts

WASHINGTON – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key administration posts: ·

Marie Collins Johns, Deputy Administrator, Small Business Administration· Gwendolyn E. Boyd, Member, Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation· Jonathan M. Young, Chair, National Council on Disability· Carol Jean Reynolds, Member, National Council on Disability· Fernando Torres-Gil, Member, National Council on Disability· Chester Alonzo Finn, Member, National Council on Disability· Gary Blumenthal, Member, National Council on Disability· Sara Gelser, Member, National Council on Disability· Ari Ne'eman, Member, National Council on Disability· Dongwoo Joseph "Joe" Pak, Member, National Council on Disability

President Obama said, “I am grateful that these fine individuals have chosen to serve in my administration. They will bring a depth of experience and valued perspective to their roles, and I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.” President Obama announced today his intent to nominate the following individuals:

(I have snipped everyone's bio but Ari's. You can see them all on the link above.)

Ari Ne'eman, Nominee for Member, National Council on DisabilityAri Ne’eman is the Founding President of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, where he initiates and directs efforts to increase the representation of autistic individuals in public policy discussions. He is a leading advocate in the neurodiversity movement, frequently briefing policymakers and speaking publicly on disability and autism policy issues. Mr. Ne’eman also serves as Vice Chair of the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force, where he represents autistic adults in reviewing the state’s autism services. He also previously served on the New Jersey’s Special Education Review Commission, where he authored a minority report on the topic of aversives, restraint and seclusion. Mr. Ne’eman previously served as the Policy Workgroup Leader for the Youth Advisory Council to the National Council on Disability. He is a board member of TASH and the Autism National Committee. In 2008, he received the HSC Foundation “Advocates in Disability” Award. Mr. Ne’eman is currently an undergraduate at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County where he studies political science and expects to graduate in May 2010. In 2000, Mr. Ne’eman was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.

This makes Ari the youngest presidential appointee in U.S. history.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

IACC Comments, November 10, 2009

November 10, 2009

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on updating the IACC Strategic Plan. I am representing the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

My comments on October 23 focused on ethical issues, concerns about the appropriateness of early intervention and associated research, permissions for acquisition of biological materials, and the IACC’s recommended budget being skewed severely in favor of research into “causes and prevention” rather than practical and appropriate interventions, such as improvements in educational interventions, services and supports.

I have had an opportunity, through the IACC Scientific Workshop Panel process, to make some language changes and suggestions that should apply throughout the Strategic Plan. Since I was on Panel 1, “When Should I Be Concerned?” I will use that section of the 2009 Strategic Plan as an example of changes ASAN would like to see incorporated throughout the entire 2010 Plan:

Many of these changes reflect either more accurate and useful terminology or more respectful language that does not introduce an undertone of disrespect, fatalism, or excess pathologizing of autism.

Anywhere the term “high risk” is used to characterize the likelihood of siblings also being on the autism spectrum, the language should be changed to just that: “high likelihood” rather than “high risk.”

“Abnormal” should be changed to “atypical,” as we have done for the Panel 1 final document.

Anywhere interventions are mentioned, the use of the qualifier “appropriate” should be inserted, addressing our community’s concerns about “intervention for the sake of intervention,” and especially in the light of the obvious disregard of and dismissal of autistic input into the research process to date.

Rather than “early warning signs,” we strongly suggest “early indicators,” which is more scientifically accurate and does not introduce negative value judgments into identifying indicators of autism or atypical development.

Instead of “symptoms,” “characteristics” and “conditions” are more appropriate, since autism is not a disease process but a neurobiological difference.

The use of the term, and concept of “severity,” is questionable for several reasons. First, “severity” is often contextual, over both time and other things like situation and location. What is being looked at when using the “severity” criterion is how “observable” the autistic characteristic is. Whether or not a characteristic is observable and to what degree does not necessarily correlate with other aspects of the person. Again, the focus needs to be on improving the quality of life and not on reducing autistic traits. For this reason we prefer the term “variability,” which indicates that both abilities and disabilities can be present in the same person, and that abilities and disabilities can change over time, whether permanently, or temporarily, in the presence of other factors, such as external environment. “Variability” refers to variability of autistic traits. Where the concept of “severity” is used it must be tempered with research into autistic strengths and also neutral, but autistic, characteristics.

I have made another language change, from “pathology” to “differences in neurobiology and cognition,” which is more specific and avoids the concept that all autistic differences are pathological. Many of them are not.

I have rewritten the first section of the Strategic Plan, with its three sub-questions, to read:

“When Should I Be Concerned?”
-“What are the Early Indicators of ASD?” (rather than “What are the early warning signs?”)
-“Are there typical characteristics that are part of an ASD diagnosis?” (I left that the same, since you already used “characteristics”, which is the preferred term.)
-How much variation is there in characteristics and pattern of abilities and disabilities (over time and depending on context)?”

In addition, undue focus should not be placed on “losing symptoms” of autism, without qualifying language indicating that the “loss” could be due to learning of skills, and certainly should not indicate, at this early stage in research, that these research subjects have become non-autistic. Especially in the light of reports that many of the subjects still retained co-occurring symptoms often found in autistics, such as OCD, anxiety, ADHD, etc., the public should not be encouraged to think that “loss of autistic symptoms” is “loss of autism.” I have changed the sentence in Panel 1’s draft to: “Finally, evidence is emerging that some children ‘lose’ explicit characteristics of ASD although it is not clear whether that loss of autistic characteristics is permanent throughout the lifespan, or whether it reflects “learning skills” rather than “losing characteristics.”

I have reformulated one of the Research Opportunities to: “Inclusion of bioethical and other ethical considerations into the diagnosis and screening process, including but not limited to consideration of the implications of genetic testing and detection of maternal antibodies. Maternal antibodies is an emerging area of concern for us which is reflected nowhere in the current Plan or suggested revisions.

NIMH and other grant-making institutions should not fund research that uses or promotes the use of restraints, aversives, and seclusion. There is a growing movement in society away from the use of these draconian measures, reflected in current legislative efforts to ban their use. Restraints, aversives and seclusion are used disproportionately against people with disabilities, including autism and other developmental, intellectual, and behavioral disabilities. In no case should researchers applying for grants to study restraints and aversives, either to further their use or to legitimize that use, be allowed access to federal funds, including funds from private/federal partnerships. Research that promotes restraint reduction and elimination should be funded as a high priority in order to keep autistic and people with other disabilities safe.

Research into communication differences must be given higher priority than it was given in the 2009 Strategic Plan. A mere mention of Picture Exchange Communication Systems is not enough, given that PECS does not work for everyone on the spectrum, nor does it address the needs of people who need communications technology and/or systems part-time, as a supplement to speech and/or writing, or the need for systems that are flexible enough to accommodate a wide variety of changing communication needs. It also does not necessarily address the needs of people who use non-language-based communication and/or non-symbol-based systems. Every person communicates in some form, but that communication is often not well-understood, and to this date, has been under researched. To separate autistics into “verbal” and “non-verbal” categories and leave it at that is to miss a critically important area for research, far surpassing in practical importance the finding of yet another “autism gene” or maternal antibody. The need for all autistics to communicate in ways that others can understand is crucial for our empowerment, life chances, access to basic needs, and for the chance to engage in reciprocal communication with people who do not easily access our various ways of communicating. What do autistics want? Ways of communicating that work for us and that allow us to communicate effectively with a wide range of others. What do parents of autistics want? Ways of communicating with us. A glance at comments online and in news media indicate that more parents are interested in being able to communicate with their autistic children (including adult offspring, who are by no means to be written off) than are interested in what gene/s are responsible for autism.

Finally, in order to accomplish the goal of achieving the best possible outcome for all people on the autism spectrum, autistic adults should be consulted and should participate in all levels and tasks of research on autism. Autistic adults with a perspective that focuses away from questionable cures and “elimination” of autism should be given a seat on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. Nothing About Us Without Us.

Paula C. Durbin-Westby
Board of Directors
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network

IACC Comments, October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009

Thank you for permitting me to address this meeting of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. I am representing the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

I appreciate having had the opportunity to represent ASAN at the recent Scientific Workshop. The meeting offered many opportunities to make changes as the Strategic Plan is updated for 2010.

Inclusion of an objective to study ethical issues related to “the assessment and communication of genetic, environmental, and clinical risk for autism” was one of the recommendations from Panel 1, the panel I participated in. This objective does not go far enough in that it only addresses assessment and communication of risk. It does not address other ethical issues which we believe to be important. Therefore we strongly urge an objective that would address ethical, legal, and social issues related to all aspects of research, not just the communication of risk, although that is a critical area, given recent developments in identifying prenatal risk factors.

Another area for concern about ethics is early intervention, as interventions are initiated at earlier and earlier ages . Ideas about what early interventions will work are generally based on assumptions of non-autistic people about what “the reasons for autistic behaviors” might be, with little to no input from autistic adults, who can inform and guide research.

A concerted effort is being made to increase acquisition of biological materials, such as skin fibroblasts, brains, and other tissue types. There is an ethical concern with collecting biologic samples from young children, who are not capable of giving permission. Potentially, children might not want to contribute biological material, if one of the purposes was for developing a prenatal test aimed at selecting people like themselves out of the gene pool. Although there are many reasons for collection of biological materials, this concern must be addressed. People on the autism spectrum who can communicate,* (see below) and people with other disabilities such as Down Syndrome, and their families, have advocated against, and continue to advocate against, such an aim.

In general, recommendations of many of the panelists to include adults in many sections of the Strategic Plan are a step in the right direction.

Although the IACC does not fund research, presumably it has some influence on research priorities, or it would not bother to come up with budget recommendations. Here are some figures from the 2009 Strategic Plan.

Recommended budget for diagnosis and assessment: $133,600,000
For biology and risk factor research, $179,000,000. For causes and prevention, $216,400,000 [almost 28% of the IACC recommended budget]. Treatment and intervention gets $190,100,000.

For “Where Can I Turn For Services?” Where, indeed? Not to the IACC recommended budget, which suggests a grand total of $25,330,000 [3.27%]. If research were really funded at the levels recommended by the IACC, that question becomes even more anxiety-provoking for autistics and our families. We will certainly need to turn to avenues other than the IACC for answers to questions about needed services and supports. Research into causes, biomarkers, prevention, etc. will not help people who are alive today and need evidence-based information about services and supports.

Recent research and initiatives in the United Kingdom can provide a model for services-oriented research and also research into adult issues. The National Health Service has released a study of autistic adults, indicating that prevalence of autism in adults in the UK is one in a hundred, similar to the recent figure here of 1 in 91 children. Interestingly, the NHS report avoids alarmist rhetoric and talk of “an epidemic of autism.” In addition, initiatives such as the “Don’t Write Me Off” employment campaign and “Supporting people with autism through adulthood” can make a real difference in the lives of autistics, especially and young people who are transitioning out of school settings. Sadly, the United States is falling behind on crucial issues related to services and lifespan issues and is failing autistic adults, families and communities.

Currently the Strategic Plan does not address communication differences and disabilities at all. This is a surprising omission, since one of the criteria for an autism diagnosis is communication disability. Although panel 4, on treatments and interventions, mentioned communication as an emerging tool, specific mention of communication research should be incorporated into the 2010 Strategic Plan.

*[Note: The comment "people on the spectrum who can communicate is NOT intended to mean that there are autistic people who cannot communicate. Everyone communicates. It's an error I wish I had caught before I delivered the comments, but I am posting the comments as I delivered them.]

*[I explained more carefully what I intended to say, in my November 10, 2009 IACC testimony:

Every person communicates in some form, but that communication is often not well-understood, and to this date, has been under researched. To separate autistics into “verbal” and “non-verbal” categories and leave it at that is to miss a critically important area for research, far surpassing in practical importance the finding of yet another “autism gene” or maternal antibody. The need for all autistics to communicate in ways that others can understand is crucial for our empowerment, life chances, access to basic needs, and for the chance to engage in reciprocal communication with people who do not easily access our various ways of communicating. What do autistics want? Ways of communicating that work for us and that allow us to communicate effectively with a wide range of others. What do parents of autistics want? Ways of communicating with us. A glance at comments online and in news media indicate that more parents are interested in being able to communicate with their autistic children (including adult offspring, who are by no means to be written off) than are interested in what gene/s are responsible for autism.]

Paula C. Durbin-Westby
Board of Directors
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Washington DC: ASAN and Allies Protest Autism Speaks, October 31 2009

ASAN and Allies Protest Autism Speaks in Washington, D. C. on October 31, 2009

Join The Autistic Self Advocacy Network and allies as we protest Autism Speaks at their “Walk for Autism” on Saturday, October 31 at the National Mall in Washington DC.

Autism Speaks’ recent choice to use fear, stigma, misinformation and prejudice against autistic people as a fundraising tool does real damage to people with disabilities and to the cause of disability rights.

We protest the agenda of Autism Speaks and the organizations that have merged into it, including Cure Autism Now and the National Alliance for Autism Research. Comments by co-founder Suzanne Wright include a call to “eradicate autism for the sake of future generations,” ignoring autistics who are here now and our families and communities. Although Autism Speaks is capable of addressing the very real needs of autistic children and adults, and our families and communities, it chooses not to.

An analysis of Autism Speaks 2008 financial report reveals that only 4% of Autism Speaks’ total funding is spent on family services. 65% is spent on research in areas that focus on “curing” autism. Another 28% is spent on “awareness” and fundraising. The “awareness” component does almost nothing to educate people about autism itself and is mostly geared toward raising funds for “curing” autism. Pages on Autism Speaks’ website support James Watson, who was dismissed from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory after making grossly racist remarks, and Autism Speaks has funded Dr. Joseph Buxbaum, who asserted that a prenatal test would soon be available, indicating what sort of “cure” might be expected.

The literature in the “Participant Guide” that is used specifically for fundraising for the Autism Speaks “Walk for Autism” walks includes such language as “shocking,” “terrifying,” and the coupling of cancer and AIDS statistics with autism statistics. This rhetoric is offensive and misleading, adding to the stigma autistics and other people with disabilities must face from society.

Autism Speaks' recent PSA, titled “I Am Autism,” presents autistic individuals as kidnap victims, burdens, and inhuman. In the video, autism is presented as a soul-stealing entity that ruins marriages, causes bankruptcy, triggers embarrassment, and erodes morality.

This latest example of using fear, pity and stigma to raise money is in line with Autism Speaks past fundraising videos, which have presented being autistic as akin to being in a fatal car accident, being struck by lightning and other situations resulting in death. The walks are held in order to fund a mega-million operation (over $22 million this year raised from “Autism Walks” alone), which includes annual salaries that go as high as $600,000 a year for top executives. All the efforts in Washington DC have raised almost enough to pay the salary of one top-level executive in the organization: $461,918.

Autism Speaks does not give any consideration to the damage its alarmist rhetoric causes to autistic people and our families and friends. Although claiming to “speak” for autistics, autistic self-advocates are not represented at any level in the organization.

Autism Speaks is one of an increasingly few number of major disability advocacy organizations that refuse to include any individual with the disability they purport to serve on their board of directors or at any point in their leadership and decision-making processes. In large part due to Autism Speaks’ public relations strategy of presenting Autistic people as silent burdens on society rather than human beings with thoughts, feelings and opinions, Autism Speaks’ governance policies are deeply unrepresentative and out of step with the mainstream of the disability non-profit community.

We will carry out our protest at the Old Folklife Festival Site, between Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive, in between 14th and 15th Streets. We will assemble there between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. The closest Metro stations to the protest site are Smithsonian and Federal Triangle.

Please RSVP to the address below so we will know how many people are coming. Metro transportation information is below the ASAN addresses.

Paula C. Durbin-Westby
Board of Directors
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network


Metro accessibility information:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

ASAN protests Autism Speaks in Boston, October 18

In light of Autism Speaks' draining funds from local communities, lacking representation of autistic people in leadership positions, and repeatedly using inaccurate and stigmatizing language, the New England chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is planning to protest the Autism Speaks walk in East Boston MA on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. The walk will take place at Suffolk Downs, 111 Waldemar Ave., East Boston MA 02128. Protesting begins at 8.45am, registration opens 9am, walk starts 10.30am. Over 60 national, international, and local disability rights organizations have signed onto a joint letter issued by ASAN condemning lack of representation, exploitative and unethical practices by Autism Speaks. The letter and accompanying press release are posted on the ASAN website: The Boston protest comes on the heels of a successful ASAN protest at an Autism Speaks walk in Columbus OH on Sunday, Oct. 11, following distribution of flyers by ASAN members at a student involvement fair at Ohio State University. Links below: ASAN also protested in Portland OR at an Autism Speaks walk on Saturday, Sept. 26. Local TV stations reported on the protest: If you are interested in attending the protest in Boston, please contact asannewengland AT hotmail DOT com.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Press Release: Disability Community Condemns Autism Speaks

For Immediate Release
Contact: Ari Ne’eman, President
Wednesday, October 7th, 2009
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Phone: 732.763.5530
E-mail: or

Disability Community Condemns Autism Speaks

Over 60 organizations condemn lack of representation, exploitative and unethical practices by autism organization

Washington, DC – More than 60 national, international, and local disability rights organizations have signed onto a letter condemning the organization Autism Speaks for exploiting those it purports to help. The letter (attached) will be released on Wednesday, October 7 by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), the leading advocacy organization run by and for Autistic youth and adults speaking for themselves. The letter’s signatories include the Arc of the United States, TASH, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and the National Council on Independent Living, and it calls on Autism Speaks' donors, sponsors, and supporters—including Toys ‘R Us, Home Depot, Fox Sports and Lindt Chocolates—to end their support for the organization. The joint letter highlights a pattern of behavior on the part of Autism Speaks beyond any particular instance, but it was instigated following Autism Speaks’ most recent fundraising video, entitled, “I am Autism”.

The disability community reacted in horror to the “I am Autism” campaign, which presents Autistic people as kidnap victims and burdens on their families and local communities.

ASAN held a protest in Portland, Oregon on September 26 that received widespread local press coverage, including segments on the news broadcasts on two local television stations, KPTV-12 (Fox) and KOIN-6 (CBS). Additional protests are being organized for Sunday, October 11 in Columbus, Ohio, and for Sunday, October 18 in Boston, Massachusetts. ASAN is also organizing a large protest at an Autism Speaks-sponsored concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Tuesday, November 17. Singer Bruce Springsteen and comedian Jerry Seinfeld are headlining the concert. See the attached Media Advisory for details of these protests.

“I am autism. I have no interest in right or wrong. I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams….And if you’re happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain,” proclaims the spooky announcer on Autism Speaks’ “I Am Autism” video. Produced by Academy Award-nominated film director Alfonso Cuarón and Grammy award-nominated songwriter/producer Billy Mann, the video premiered at the United Nations World Focus on Autism Conference in front of a collection of dignitaries and First Ladies and was subsequently released online on September 22.

Since then, Autism Speaks has attempted to distance itself from the video, taking it down from its website while continuing to distribute it via YouTube (

The joint letter highlights three areas of unethical and exploitative behavior on the part of Autism Speaks:

a) Its damaging and offensive fundraising tactics, which frequently equate being autistic to a fate worse than death

b) The low percentage of money donated to Autism Speaks that goes towards services or support for families and individuals, particularly in light of its high executive salaries

c) The lack of representation of Autistic people themselves in Autism Speaks’ Board of Directors or leadership

“This joint letter sends a clear message to the corporate and philanthropy world that Autism Speaks does not speak for Autistic people or our families,” said Ari Ne’eman, an adult on the autism spectrum and President of ASAN. “The type of fear-mongering and exploitation Autism Speaks engages in hurts Autistic people by raising fear and not contributing in the slightest to accurate understanding of the needs of Autistic adults and children.” In addition to relying on arousing fear and pity to raise funds, Autism Speaks’ video repeats frequently referenced claims of higher than average divorce rates among parents of Autistic children. A study conducted in 2008 by Harris Interactive for Easter Seals in cooperation with the Autism Society of America found divorce rates for parents of Autistic children lower than those for families with no children with disabilities.

The video also relies heavily on the idea of rapidly increasing autism rates. Another new study by the British Government’s National Health Service, which was released the same day as the video, found that the autism rate among adults (one percent of the population) is the same as the rate among children. This provides evidence that the popular “epidemic” claim of rapidly increasing autism incidence is likely false.

“This video doesn’t represent me or my child,” said Dana Commandatore, a parent of an Autistic child who lives in Los Angeles, California. “Whatever the challenges that autism may bring, my son deserves better than being presented as a burden on society. Autism Speaks’ misrepresentation makes my life and the life of my child more difficult.”

“Autism Speaks seems to think that parents' embarrassment at their kids' meltdowns is more important than autistic kids' pain,” wrote Sarah, an Autistic blogger at the blog Cat in a Dog’s World. She added, “Autistic people deserve better than what Autism Speaks has to offer.”

The new video is reminiscent of the December 2007 New York University Child Study Center’s “Ransom Notes” campaign that used fake ransom notes claiming to be from an anthropomorphized disability that had kidnapped a child. After widespread outcry from self-advocates, parents, and professionals and the condemnation of 22 national disability rights organizations, led by ASAN, those ads were withdrawn in just two and half weeks. The Ransom Notes controversy was covered by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Good Morning America, The Washington Post, and other major media outlets. ASAN is working with the cross-disability community on a similar response to Autism Speaks’ campaign.

“The voices of real autistic people, and of families who do not subscribe to the presentation of their family members as something sinister and criminal, clearly do not matter to Autism Speaks,” said Paula Durbin-Westby, an adult on the autism spectrum in Virginia, who serves on the Board of Directors of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “Our community is furious about Autism Speaks’ continued exploitation, and we are taking action.”

About ASAN

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is an inclusive international non-profit organization run by and for autistic people. ASAN seeks to advance the vision of the disability rights movement in the world of autism. Drawing on the principles of the cross-disability community on issues such as inclusive education, community living supports, and others, ASAN focuses on organizing the community of Autistic adults and youth to have our voices heard in the national conversation about us. In addition, ASAN works to advance the idea of neurological diversity by furthering the view that the goal of autism advocacy should not be to create a world without Autistic people. Instead, it should be to create a world in which Autistic people enjoy the same access, rights, and opportunities as all other citizens.

For more information, visit

"I Am Autism" video: Disability Community Responds to Autism Speaks

To the Sponsors, Donors and Supporters of Autism Speaks:

We, the undersigned organizations representing self advocates, parents, professionals and allies in the Autism, Autistic and Disability Communities, are writing to you to express our concern about the recent actions of Autism Speaks. Our work is about helping empower and support people with disabilities of all kinds, including adults and youth on the autism spectrum, and we recognize that there are a wide variety of means towards accomplishing this goal. Yet, Autism Speaks’ recent choice to use fear, stigma, misinformation and prejudice against Autistic people as a fundraising tool does real damage to people with disabilities everywhere. The most recent example of this lack of ethics can be found in Autism Speaks’ new “I am Autism” campaign which states, “I am autism...I know where you live...I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined. And if you're happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain...I will make it virtually impossible for your family to easily attend a temple, birthday party, or public park without a struggle, without embarrassment, without pain...I am autism. I have no interest in right or wrong. I derive great pleasure out of your loneliness."

Not only does this campaign rely on offensive stereotypes and inaccurate information (research indicates that parents of Autistic children are not more likely to divorce than parents of non-Autistic children), but it also does real damage to the cause of disability rights. By choosing to portray Autistic people as husks of real people, stolen out of our own bodies, Autism Speaks reinforces stereotypes and prejudice against people with disabilities that have existed for centuries and have been the source of pain, segregation and violence.

We are calling on you to end your support for Autism Speaks and to find new ways to show your support for Autistic people and others with disabilities. As the result of a pattern of unethical behavior and irresponsible governance, outlined below, we believe that Autism Speaks as an organization no longer deserves your time, energy, money and support.
Autism Speaks uses damaging and offensive fundraising tactics which rely on fear, stereotypes and devaluing the lives of people on the autism spectrum: Autism Speaks’ unethical fundraising tactics are not limited to the new “I am Autism” video. Its television Public Service Announcements compare having a child on the autism spectrum to having a child caught in a fatal car accident or struck by lightning. In fact, the idea of autism as a fate worse than death is a frequent theme in their fundraising and awareness efforts, going back to their “Autism Every Day” film in 2005. Indeed, throughout Autism Speaks’ fundraising is a consistent and unfortunate theme of fear, pity and prejudice, presenting Autistic adults and children not as full human beings but as burdens on society that must be eliminated as soon as possible.

Very little money donated to Autism Speaks goes toward helping Autistic people and families: According to their 2008 annual report, only 4% of Autism Speaks’ budget goes towards the “Family Service” grants that are the organization’s means of funding services. Given the huge sums of money Autism Speaks raises from local communities as compared to the miniscule sums it gives back, it is not an exaggeration to say that Autism Speaks is a tremendous drain on the ability of communities to fund autism service-provision and education initiatives Furthermore, while the bulk of Autism Speaks’ budget (65%) goes toward genetic and biomedical research, only a small minority of Autism Speaks’ research budget goes towards research oriented around improving services, supports, treatments and educational methodologies, with most funding going towards basic research oriented around causation and genetic research, including the prospect of prenatal testing. Although Autism Speaks has not prioritized services with a practical impact for families and individuals in its budget, its rates of executive pay are the highest in the autism world, with annual salaries as high as $600,000 a year.

Autism Speaks excludes the people it pretends to represent: Autism Speaks is one of an increasingly few number of major disability advocacy organizations that refuse to include any individual with the disability they purport to serve on their board of directors or at any point in their leadership and decision-making processes. In large part due to Autism Speaks’ public relations strategy of presenting Autistic people as silent burdens on society rather than human beings with thoughts, feelings and opinions, Autism Speaks’ governance policies are deeply unrepresentative and out of step with the mainstream of the disability non-profit community.

Contrary to the “I am Autism” video, which equates autism with AIDS and Cancer, autism is not a terminal disease. It is a disability, one that comes with significant challenges in a wide variety of realms. Yet the answer to those challenges is not to create a world in which people are afraid of people on the autism spectrum. The answer is not to create a world in which the word autism is met with terror, hatred and prejudice. It is to work to create a society that recognizes the civil rights of Autistic people and others with disabilities. It is to work to create a world in which people with disabilities can benefit from the supports, the services and the educational tools necessary to empower them to be full citizens in society.
We are Autism’s true voice – Autistic people and those with other disabilities ourselves, and our allies, family members, friends and supporters. Autism Speaks does not speak for us. We are not stolen – we are right here. Our lives may be difficult – but they are worth living. Autism Speaks Does Not Speak For Us and we will not work with an organization that relies on damaging and offensive stereotypes to advance an agenda out of step with those they purport to represent. We call upon you to recognize this and find better avenues for your admirable desire to support Autistic people and our families. We call upon you to end your support for Autism Speaks.

National and International Organizations:

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE)
The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL)
Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund (DREDF)
The National Youth Leadership Network (NYLN)
Autism Network International (ANI)
The Autism National Committee
Little People of America (LPA)
Not Dead Yet
The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
The Autistic Spectrum Partnership In Research and Education (AASPIRE)
Mothers From Hell 2
The Center for Self-Determination
Disability Rights Advocates
Kids As Self-Advocates (KASA)
Service Dog Central
MHONA International
The National Empowerment Center
Disabled Youth Collective (DYP)
The Arc of the United States
The National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer/Survivor Organizations
Feminist Response in Disability Activism (FRIDA)
The ICORS Asperger’s Listserv
ADA Watch/National Coalition on Disability Rights
The Asperger’s Women Association (AWA)

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network-Australia
Autism Rights Group Highland in Scotland, the United Kingdom
The Autistic Community of Israel
Autreach IT in the United Kingdom
The Southwest Autistic Rights Movement (SWARM) in the United Kingdom
The London Autistic Rights Movement (LARM) in the United Kingdom
The Aspergers Network in the United Kingdom

Local, State, and Regional Organizations:

The Center for Disability Rights in Rochester, NY
The Regional Center for Independent Living in Rochester, NY
The Michigan Disability Rights Coalition
The Institute for Disability Access in Austin, Texas
The Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education
The Paraquad Center for Independent Living in St. Louis, Missouri
The Lonesome Doves in Pennsylvania
TASH-New England
Together Enhancing Autism Awareness in Mississippi (TEAAM)
Wesleyan Students for Disability Rights at Wesleyan University in Connecticut
Tangram in Indianapolis, Indiana
The Disability Activists Work Group (DAWG) in Oregon
North Carolina Disability Action Network
Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago in Chicago, Illinois
Topeka Independent Living Resource Center in Topeka, Kansas
Disabilityworks in Chicago, Illinois
Ardinger Consultants & Associates in Maryland
Statewide Parent Advocacy Network of New Jersey
Wisconsin Family Assistance Center for Education, Training and Support
Aspergers Young Adults of North Alabama (AYANA)
Access to Independence of Cortland County, Cortland, New York
Youth Power, New York
The New York Association on Independent Living
Self-Advocates As Leaders (SAAL) in Oregon
Green County Independent Living center in Oklahoma
The Beyond Compliance Coordinating Committee at Syracuse University in New York

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Am Autism Video: (Autism Speaks Gets It Wrong Again)

Reminiscent of the failed Ransom Notes campaign, the latest video in the Autism Speaks arsenal uses a disembodied “voice of autism” that uses threat tactics, aimed at parents of autistic children.

“Voice” of autism: The “voice” speaks in a creepy, gloating, clipped tone, accompanied by the type of music reserved for scary movie scenes, saying repeatedly “I will” do (something particularly nasty) to “you,” the parent of a child on the autism spectrum.

The litany of threats listed by the “voice” give an air of criminality to “autism.” Some of the threats include robbery, pain, and “relishing desperation.” “You ignored me… and that was a mistake,” threatens the voice.

“I am autism. I have no interest in right or wrong.” “I know no morality.” How dare Autism Speaks say that we have no interest in right or wrong? Yes, I know the creators of this video would say “It is autism that is speaking, not autistic people.” Think again: You cannot separate autism from the autistic individual; you impute immorality to us by pretending to speak “our” language. It’s offensive and it is damaging to us.

“Voices” of parents: The second half of the film is the “voices” of parents and others who are “fighting back.” A list of people who will fight against “autism” follows. “Parents, grandparents, schoolteachers, pediatricians, friends”, etc. Everyone but anyone on the spectrum.

“We speak the only language that matters,” the voices of the “autism community” assert. The “community” envisioned here is a monolithic community of fighters-against-autism and not the real-life community of parents (including autistic parents), families, and communities, many of whom are disgusted by Autism Speaks’ dehumanizing tactics.

The voices of real autistic people, and of families who do not subscribe to the personification of autism, and therefore their family members, as something sinister and criminal, clearly do not matter to Autism Speaks.

United Nations: Near the end of this section we hear repeated by many voices: “We are the United Nations.” It’s pretty clear that Autism Speaks is trying to gain a foothold in creeping out people in other countries.

The United Nations, by showing this film, violates its own principles in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:

“As a change of perceptions is essential to improve the situation of persons with disabilities, ratifying countries are to combat stereotypes and prejudices and promote awareness of the capabilities of persons with disabilities (Article 8).”

Finally, a voice of a parent/autism community member asks: “Autism, are you listening?”

Yes we autistics and our families and friends are. We are listening to myths, negative stereotypes, the co-opting of our very real and human voices, being made, ironically enough, to say things that we would not say, threaten people in ways that we would not threaten them, and participate in our own stigmatization. And we will not rest until this sort of Ransom Notes-esque “autism awareness” campaign is thoroughly discredited.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tony Attwood Says What He Really Thinks about Cassandra Phenomenon and Affective Deprivation in his April 9, 2009 Video

Note: The anti-“Cassandra” campaign has nothing to do with Tony Attwood personally but everything to do with his endorsement of the “Cassandra Phenomenon” (aka “affective deprivation,” “Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder,” etc.). We continue to hope that Dr. Attwood will address the situation and disassociate himself from the concept, even given this recent video release.

Approximate locations of the comments addressed here are given for those who do not want to watch the entire video.

In this video, posted on AutismHangout, and titled April 9, 2009, Tony Attwood clearly states:

[minute 7:47 into video] “We have what we call the Cassandra Phenomenon.
In Greek mythology, Cassandra had the gift of prophecy, but the curse that no one would believe her. So what can happen is that, at home, you see these sorts of components, but other people will think ‘You’re mad, what do you look for in a relationship?’, etc.

“Now, what you tend to get is a sense of loneliness. Often, ironically, the partner is an extreme socialite, which was chosen by the person with Asperger’s so that in fact, they could have social guidance: a maternal, caring, compassionate person, who is very good at understanding his point of view, but may not be that he’s good at understanding your point of view.

“So the issue is going to be: loneliness, affection deprivation [minute 8:37 into the video].

“When the person is upset at themselves or upset about something they tend to go inwards and not share their concerns or emotions and may get by with the capacity of affection that I call a “cup,” not a “bucket, and this particular lady may have the capacity of a bucket and she gets a cup. And she feels depressed, very very common with those who are a partner… who have a partner with Asperger syndrome. Now, there are a number of good books in this area, most published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, at and then a new book just out, by Maxine Aston, which is a workbook for couples. Now, one of my concerns here is that other people may not believe you and some people you can’t convince it unless you say “Marry him and live with him!”

Continuing at [Minute 10:07]: “And what happens is, you become Aspie. It’s an infectious process, and she may not like the sort of person she’s become…

On May 8, 2009, Attwood posted his form letter on the FAAAS site, as a response to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s petition, and as a response to the very many individuals who have written to him over the years.,358

Although in that letter, he claims that “Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder,” was coined by Maxine Aston and is not an official diagnostic category,” in fact, it’s quibbling.

Attwood himself started using, and still uses, the term “Cassandra Phenomenon” and also feels quite comfortable using “affective deprivation” at the same time that he publicly pretends to distance himself from the whole concept. In addition his unprofessional talk of the partner of a person with AS “becoming Aspie- it’s an infectious process” is both inaccurate and also demeaning. For people on the autism spectrum being compared with “infection,” and an infection that leads one to “not like what has become” one does wonder whether Attwood’s assertion in the form letter that “in all my presentations, I have approached the issues in a very positive way examining strategies to make a successful relationship" is accurate.

ASAN has addressed the inadequacy of the form letter here:

If Tony Attwood has, within the past two months, stopped believing in and using the terms “Cassandra Phenomenon,” “affective deprivation,” and the metaphor of “infectious process” he should immediately inform the Autistic community, either via another form letter posted to FAAAS, on his website, or directly to Autistic individuals.

Monday, June 15, 2009

ASAN's Response to Dr. Tony Attwood

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network recently created a petition and a statement to the community regarding the need for Dr. Tony Attwood and Dr. Isabelle Hénault to disassociate themselves from hate groups that use stereotypes and pseudoscience to incite discrimination against Autistic people in family law and relationships. We received a reply from Dr. Attwood consisting only of a form letter, sent to numerous recipients, which wholly failed to address the central issue of his and Dr. Hénault's associations with Maxine Aston and FAAAS and the ongoing harm to Autistics and others with disabilities resulting from these associations. We consider Dr. Attwood's reply grossly inadequate and have set forth a point-by-point response below, with Dr. Attwood's statements in italic formatting.

Dr. Attwood: I would like to state quite clearly that having a diagnosis of autism or Asperger’s syndrome does not render a person automatically incapable of being a good partner and parent. Indeed, many of the people I know with autism and Asperger’s syndrome as clients and friends are exceptionally good parents and partners. Should a separation occur between partners and a Court examine the issue of custody of children and access then in my opinion, any decisions should be made on the basis of the abilities of each parent and not simply assume that a parent with autism or Asperger’s syndrome is incapable of being a good parent.

ASAN: In addition to the possibility that an Autistic person might be assumed to be automatically incapable of being a good partner and parent, which is the most extreme danger posed by false stereotypes of family violence, these stereotypes have given rise to more subtle forms of discrimination in family law. FAAAS has explicitly urged family law courts and social workers to view Autistic partners and parents as more likely than others to be abusive. An article by Sheila Jennings Linehan on the FAAAS website, entitled Representing Cassandra in Matrimonial Law, characterizes the non-Autistic spouse as "a normal individual subjected to prolonged moral distress" who is not believed when she "accurately predicts future harm to her children." Along with Maxine Aston, the article specifically cites you, Dr. Attwood, as authority for such statements. FAAAS member Harriet Simons presents seminars for social workers in which she makes similar claims. Your continued association with FAAAS suggests that you endorse these false claims and, as such, increases the risk that Autistics and others with neurological disabilities will face discrimination within the family law system.

Dr. Attwood: The term “Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder” has been coined by Maxine Aston. It is not an official diagnostic category. I do know that stress within a relationship between an adult with Asperger’s syndrome and their partner can lead to the neurotypical partner having signs of a clinical depression. Effective relationship counselling by a counsellor knowledgeable in the area of autism and Asperger’s syndrome can significantly improve the relationship and help alleviate the signs of depression.

ASAN: By failing to acknowledge that stress within a relationship can contribute to depression for either partner, Dr. Attwood—and by your repeated endorsements of Maxine Aston in books and interviews—you are perpetuating the false claim that being in a relationship with an Autistic partner is psychologically harmful to a non-Autistic partner. There is no scientific basis whatsoever for suggesting that depression affects only the non-Autistic partner or that it is caused by affective deprivation related to the Autistic partner's responses. Several recent research studies specifically examining the affective dimensions of empathy and alexithymia found no impairment in the affective responses of Autistic individuals. (Rogers, Dziobek, Hassenstab, Wolf, & Convit, 2007; Berthoz & Hill, 2005; Silani, Bird, Brindley, Singer, Frith, & Frith, 2008.) Rather, cognitive and linguistic differences lead to misunderstandings. Thus, a presumption that the non-Autistic partner suffers from affective deprivation is unwarranted. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network recommends that those who counsel couples with one Autistic partner should adopt a nonjudgmental approach to identifying and constructively addressing misunderstandings that have occurred.

Dr. Attwood: According to my knowledge, there is no research to suggest that people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome are likely to be violent in a relationship to any greater degree than a typical person in the general population. I do know that a significant proportion of the clients that I see in my clinical practice express to me their concern in their ability to manage their temper but we now have programs such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to help those with autism and Asperger’s syndrome manage feelings such as anger. Problems with anger management also occur in the ordinary population but the nature of the treatment of difficulties with anger management must include an appreciation of the different experiences and cognitive profile of someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

ASAN: Research studies have established that Autistics are no more likely to commit violent acts or violent crimes than the general population (Murrie, Warren, Kristiansson, & Dietz, 2002; Barry-Walsh & Mullen, 2004). Notwithstanding the scientific evidence, however, FAAAS has repeatedly and falsely stereotyped Autistics as likely to be violent and abusive toward family members and others. When interviewed in July 2008 for a Canwest News Service article, Karen Rodman, founder of FAAAS, asserted that Autistics often lose their temper for no reason. In a local news interview with the Cape Cod Times in February 2007, Rodman argued that Autistic students should be put into segregated schools because their presence purportedly could endanger other students. Dr. Attwood, by continuing to associate with FAAAS and by serving on its Professional Advisory Panel, you are in effect endorsing and lending your credibility to these harmful and prejudiced assertions. In this context, your discussion of clients seeking help for anger problems, who clearly are not a representative sample of the Autistic population as a whole, serves only to muddy the waters further.

Dr. Attwood: I have presented workshops for FAAAS for couples where one of the partners has a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and in all my presentations, I have approached the issues in a very positive way examining strategies to make a successful relationship.

ASAN: In light of the clearly documented history of false stereotypes of violence and psychological harm promoted by FAAAS and other groups associated with the pseudoscientific affective deprivation concept, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network suggests that presenting couples workshops in different venues would be far more likely to result in positive and successful relationships. Dr. Attwood, we therefore reiterate our demands that you promptly disassociate yourself from Maxine Aston, FAAAS, and all similar groups and apologize to our community for the harm done by your past associations with them.

Monday, June 1, 2009

ASAN Submits Amicus Brief to the US Supreme Court

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, along with several other advocacy groups, has submitted an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court in the case of Winkelman v. Parma City School District. The lawsuit was brought by the parents of an Autistic child who was not given the opportunity to continue receiving occupational therapy services in an Ohio school after the district had agreed that those services were necessary. The school district prepared an IEP stating only that a further assessment of the need for the services would be completed.

The Supreme Court is seeking to resolve a conflict among the Circuit Courts of Appeals, which have taken conflicting approaches to the question of whether a court's analysis of the content of an IEP should consider only the written IEP or whether the court has discretion to consider other evidence as well.

Parents play a major role in developing an IEP, which is analogous to a contract with the school district specifying the educational services to be provided to the child. Related services such as occupational therapy also must be specified in the IEP pursuant to federal law as set forth in 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(4). School districts are prohibited from making unilateral decisions about a child's IEP.

Consistent with the general rule that in contract law, evidence outside the written terms of the contract ordinarily is not admissible in court, three Courts of Appeals have ruled that only the written IEP should be considered in determining whether it is adequate. However, three other Courts of Appeals, including the court from which the Winkelman case was appealed, reached the opposite conclusion in deciding that an IEP lacking the required specific content could nevertheless be found valid based on consideration of other evidence.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is asking the Supreme Court to rule that when courts analyze the content of an IEP to determine its adequacy, only the written IEP should be considered. A school district should not be allowed to omit required content from a child's IEP and then to assert later that it intended to supplement the IEP. Allowing districts to postpone decisions on the content of an IEP can lead to considerable delay in providing occupational therapy and other necessary services. The educational well-being of Autistic children and other students with disabilities is best served when they receive therapy without interruption or delay.

-- Ari Ne'emanPresidentThe Autistic Self Advocacy Network1660 L Street, NW, Suite 700Washington, DC 20036

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Restraint Death Ruled a Homicide: Teacher Now Teaching in Loudoun County, Virginia

Restraint Death Ruled a Homicide: Teacher Now Teaching in Loudoun County, Virginia

The House Committee on Education and Labor held a full hearing this morning on Examining the Abusive and Deadly Use of Seclusion and Restraint in Schools.

One of the witnesses, Toni Price, testified about the death of Cedric Napoleon, who was a foster child in her care at the time he was killed by improper use of restraint.

According to Price’s testimony, and verified by Gregory D. Kutz, Managing Director, Forensic Audits and Special Investigations U.S. Government Accountability Office Washington, D.C., the death, which occurred in Texas in 2002, was ruled a homicide.

The grand jury did not indict the teacher.

The student is said to have been restrained because “he would not stay seated.”

The teacher now teaches in a public high school in Loudoun County, VA. The teacher is licensed to instruct children with disabilities.

According to Gregory Kutz, The Loudoun County schools were informed about this last Friday, May 15.

It is not known whether VDOE was made aware of the teacher’s homicidal act in Texas at the time of hiring.

Toni Price’s testimony can be found here: Greg

Kutz’s testimony can be found here: An

An article published at the time of Cedric’s death appears here:

To leave comments at the Committee on Education and Labor's blog, go here:

Friday, May 8, 2009

NFB Disability Law Symposium Keynote Address by ASAN President Ari Ne'eman

On Friday, April 17th, 2009, I delivered the following comments to the National Federation of the Blind's Disability Law Symposium. A recording of the speech is available here on mp3 and a link to the rest of the symposium materials can be found at:

The past half-century has seen a great proliferation in new kinds of conversation about rights. Once primarily relevant in the context of criminal justice and property disputes, rights-based discourses have expanded their scope throughout our society. We have civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, GLBT rights, commercial rights, social rights, privacy rights, animal rights, children’s rights, student rights, parental rights and countless more. Though we may not all agree on the extent or even legitimacy of them, it cannot be disputed that we have broadened our global conception of the role for this concept called rights in our social, legal, economic, policy and societal frameworks. And yet, at the same time as we have updated the role of rights-based conversations in our society, we remain with some very obsolete ideas about where rights come from. This holds us back.

We go out to the world and we tell them in so many ways that it is time for our rights to be realized. We talk about inclusion, we talk about integration, we talk about access, but when we are asked why, our answers are typically phrased in the language of either cost-benefit or desperate need. The one turns our civil rights struggle into a conversation on policy technicalities; the other evokes the very charity-oriented model of disability support that we have been trying to escape. Neither type of response brings the understanding and the knowledge necessary to communicate both the nature and the urgency of our priorities because both talk about rights without talking about where they derive. To legitimize our rights, we have to explain where they are from and so show that they do exist in the ways we talk about.

But where do rights derive? That is the question. The enlightenment political philosophy that our country was based on put forward the idea of a social contract, arrived at by individuals in a state of anarchy, determining to place some of their G-d-given natural rights into a central government for the purpose of securing the remaining ones. This theory carries with it much charm – it fits with our nation’s philosophy of government by the people, for the people, it recognizes and respects rights as inalienable, not temporal whims to be overridden by the first tyrant with a passing fancy. Unfortunately, it is anachronistic and also inaccurate. There has never been a state of nature and our modern ideas of rights go far beyond the negative right protections against government intervention that are all this model allows for. Our community would not be the only one left out by such a limited conception of rights, but we certainly would be one of the first and one of the worst served.

What does that leave us? Where do rights come from? The United States Declaration of Independence says that men are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights”. I believe that to be true – for both men and women, it should be noted. And yet, for our purposes, this does not help us very much. Because the very reason we seek a source for rights in the first place is to help us understand what they are. Barring a theocracy tied to a particular holy text, the belief that rights are divinely inspired does not shed much light on their nature.

You, the people here gathered today, represent some of the most important leaders of a movement devoted to securing and advancing recognition of the rights of a segment of the global population that has been denied them, perhaps more extensively and more pervasively than any other. For generations upon generations the very idea that our population was discriminated against, was deprived of rights was not even on the agenda. Disability was – and in so many senses, still is perceived – as a problem that should be solved by charity and whose persistence could be blamed only on the lack of sufficient humanitarian instincts on the part of the public and the as yet too slow progression of medical science. Disability rights were not on the agenda as far as rights crusaders were concerned – that was a province for those who ministered to the poor unfortunates of the world, the sad accidents, the there but for the grace of G-d go I angels who gave of themselves and found meaning in those tragic burdens.

Then things started to change – not so much with the world, though it is starting, slowly and not yet by any means surely, but with ourselves. We began not to conceive of our existences as mistakes, our misfortunes as G-d’s will and our utility limited to being gracious for that which hath been given us. We got activated. We got interested. We got angry. We looked out on the world and found the blame for our misfortune lied not with G-d or with medical defects but with a society that was built up for centuries upon centuries without any thought to the prospect that people like us might live in it. In that moment – and we have each found it at different points in our lives – but in that moment, we saw power abused, we saw injustice – in short, we saw wrongs and so our rights were born. In that moment – that epiphany – the world changed for us, and disability rights were born.

In my own community – that of Autistic adults and youth, a group that has been targeted with an unprecedented wave of fear and pity-mongering as of late by entities that unjustly attempt to speak on our behalf – this paradigm shift is motivated by multiple sources. At one level, the socially constructed nature of at least some of our difficulties is a simple conclusion to reach, as many of our challenges are social in nature. At another level, our community’s outrage at lack of representation in the national conversation about us brought us to the disability rights outlook. This is represented for us in the neurodiversity movement, which seeks to recognize our neurology as legitimate and change the autism conversation from one of cures and eugenics to one of quality of life and equality of opportunity. Our movement for what we desire – independent, understanding, opportunity and respect – is a response to attempts to force on us what we oppose – dependency, isolation, pity and loss of control over our own lives.

The very foundation of our legal system comes from something remarkably similar. Why do we guarantee freedom of speech, freedom of petition, freedom of assembly, much less the right to a speedy and public trial or to not have troops quartered in ones home? It is a direct outgrowth of our experiences with the British crown and it was only once we had that experience with injustice that we could properly understand what justice looked like. A quick look across history will reveal much the same thing. Our national experience with slavery imprinted us with the right to freedom from forced servitude on the basis of race. The gains of the civil rights movement were not just the result of superior organization and a superb moral cause, they were our nation’s recognition – still partial – of the legacy of lynching, segregation and racism. Anti-Semitism was driven from the country club to the conspiracy theory fringe when the knowledge of the Holocaust came into our homes. Gay rights have advanced because of public awareness of brutal hate crimes such as the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard. To quote Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz, rights come from wrongs.

Let us be clear. This does not mean that we are purchasing social goods with our victimhood. There are those who would put it in those terms – the people who claim that we are owed something not because it is objectively just for us to receive it but because of our community having been deprived something else that should justly have been ours. Many aspects of the disability policy framework built in decades past are built on that idea, the retributive model of disability. This is the concept behind much of our Social Security Disability infrastructure. The result of it has, in fact, been a form of inaccessible infrastructure unto itself, with individuals forced to swear, even as many are only just starting their lives, that they are incapable of ever working in meaningful employment in order for them to gain the government support necessary to survive. This system was built on old assumptions of dependency – it was built for the conversation about need, not for the one about rights and about justice. It is one of many examples of the kind of infrastructure we must radically alter if we hope to bring the conversation about disability into the 21st century. Another example can be found in the judicial decisions that necessitated the recently signed into law ADA Amendments Act. For what reason did the disability community have to, eighteen years after the ADA first came into effect, work to pass it once again for a considerable portion of the disability population? It is because the judges that interpreted the narrow definition of disability that the legislation sought to fix saw the ADA as a law about charity – specifically, charity for the most severely impaired – not justice for all those who are being discriminated against.

What does the idea of rights coming from wrongs imply then, if not compensation for having been victimized? It should serve to show us what direction our advocacy should take and, much more importantly, it should show the public reason why the goals our advocacy aspires to realize are important. For too long, our civil rights movement has been one by stealth. Even as we built tremendous political power and created civil rights laws and social welfare programs, we often did it not by making a credible claim that this is the way the world should be, but by playing on the idea that society should show “compassion” and “pity” for the disabled. This was not entirely our fault. We’re dealing with a media and, as a result, a general public that has not even begun to understand the nature and implications of disability rights. But regardless of why we are here, we still have to deal with the results of having won our legal and political victories while bypassing the social ones that should have come first. The consequence is that our movement and all the progress it has brought is still seen, in most circles, as one of charity or worse still as a stopgap until – be it by eugenics, euthanasia or medical cures – disability is no longer a part of the human experience. This is what Dr. tenBroek was referring to when he wrote about our “right to live in the world” and the failure of the broader community to accept that right as of yet.

This knowledge places our struggle for recognition of even our victories on the civil rights front in context. Why, almost twenty years after the ADA, do we still see such extensive discrimination and lack of access in terms of employment and places of public accommodation? Why, ten years after Olmstead, do we still see institutions and nursing homes that are near impossible for our people to escape? Why, after Deaf President Now and many similar such actions are so many disability organizations groups that speak about us, without us? Why after the MDA Labor Day Telethon and Ransom Notes and countless other examples of unethical fundraising and advertising tactics do we still see media campaigns that devalue our very personhood and cast us as less than human?

The answer is because when we come to the public with our demands of rights and speak those rights unto the world with all the passion of that aforementioned epiphany, the world only sees part of the message. They see the demand for rights but not the wrongs from which the rights were born. They look at the individual who uses a wheelchair who cannot enter an inaccessible building or the Autistic student who, like I myself have been, is excluded from his home school and what they see is not an inaccessible infrastructure but needy, pitiful dependents. And they may meet our immediate demands for laws and public programs, as charity is still seen as necessary and good and proper by so many well-meaning souls. However, the enforcement of those laws and the implementation of those programs will never be as urgent or as meaningful a priority to them as it is for the “true” civil rights movements.

To them, this is still very much a conversation about need – not injustice. This is not a petty distinction. To have a conversation about justice is to call for a civil rights movement that all members of the human community should feel a moral obligation to join and support. To have a conversation about mere need is to call only for charity conducted mostly by those who usually do not feel that need themselves and have their own ideas about the manner in which it should be fulfilled.

I am reminded, by way of example, of an experience my group, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, had when leading a protest against offensive advertisements depicting children with disabilities as kidnap victims posted across New York City. The campaign, called “Ransom Notes”, consisted of faux ransom notes from the disabilities that had taken the normal children that were supposedly once in the bodies of now disabled young people. We mobilized thousands of Autistic people and those with other disabilities, brought support from two dozen national and regional disability rights organizations and also garnered some support from sympathetic segments of the parent and professional community. Finally, after thousands of phone calls and e-mails, our story began to hit the media – with the UPI headline, “Ads anger parents of autistic children.”

Of course the story was accurately reported in other news sources and we did succeed in getting the ads withdrawn, but there is a certain sense of frustration over the lack of agency that is allowed our community. Even when every single one of the organizations doing press outreach and explaining our case to the public were consumer-controlled disability rights organizations, the only available paradigm that the media could place this in was one in which we were only passive onlookers as our parents fought on our behalf. Every disability group and most disability rights activists have similar stories.

And so even as we spend more money and more political will on disability issues than we ever have before, we are limited in what we can achieve because the conversation is not one about justice, it is not one about recognizing wrongs and rectifying the institutions that continue to commit them. It isn’t about putting power in the hands of the people who have been deprived it. It is about charity and dependency and all of those other things that infantilize and marginalize us, controlled by those who speak for us on our behalf and without our permission.

The average member of the public does not know about Buck v. Bell or the tens of thousands of Americans with disabilities or perceived to have disabilities who were involuntarily sterilized as a result of the eugenics movement. They do not know about Willowbrook or the countless Americans with disabilities who have had to live out their whole lives in institutions – much less the many Americans with disabilities who still must suffer this segregation. They don’t know about the Judge Rotenberg Center or school abuse through aversives, restraint and seclusion. The people in charge of our futures do not understand our history. They don’t see ADAPT calling out, “We Will Ride” or “Free Our People”. They don’t see Deaf President Now at Gallaudet. All they see is the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon or the Autism Speaks fear-mongering television advertisements or Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey promoting pseudo-scientific claims of pharmaceutical company-government conspiracies to poison their children into autism with vaccines. It isn’t just because the money and the media power is in the hands of those other groups. It’s because the public narrative about disability doesn’t know where to place groups like ASAN and the NFB and a movement like ours. The ideas about dependency run so deep, the charity and victim models are so ingrained, that the response of most reporters and members of the general public to our message is one of cognitive dissonance before pigeonholing our movement into whatever disability narrative is easiest for them to classify us into. Maybe this is why the disability movement has not yet had our Rodney King or Matthew Shepard moment – since the concept of disabled people as suffering is a natural, normal, expected thing in the eyes of the media and the public, suffering brought on from discrimination or abuse is simply placed into the same, “unfortunate but unavoidable” category as all disability-related misfortunes tend to be.

A perfect example of this can be found in the Supreme Court’s Alabama v. Garrett decision, were the court struck down Congress’s attempt to abrogate the sovereign immunity of the states from damages under ADA lawsuits on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to “identify a pattern of irrational state discrimination in employment against the disabled." To a slim majority of the Justices of the Supreme Court, disability discrimination is not the result of having built infrastructures for only a portion of the population but a perfectly rational act that the equal protection clause cannot be expected to serve as a remedy for. To quote the Court, “the Fourteenth Amendment does not require States to make special accommodations for the disabled, so long as their actions toward such individuals are rational. They could quite hardheadedly–and perhaps hardheartedly–hold to job-qualification requirements which do not make allowance for the disabled. If special accommodations for the disabled are to be required, they have to come from positive law and not through the Equal Protection Clause.” Here, once again, disability rights are not matters of equal protection given to full citizens under the law, they are portrayed as matters of charity that good hearted people engage in.

The good news is that this does show us what our next steps should be. It explains the biggest obstacle for the disability rights movement’s ascension to the next level of rights discourse in America - placing us on par with other minority groups based on race, religion, sexual orientation and similar attributes. That obstacle is the failure to take our message to the public. I’m pleased by the progress that we’re seeing in that direction in respect to the growing Disability History movement, attempting to incorporate the history of people with disabilities and our civil rights struggle into the classroom just as the experiences of other American minority groups has been incorporated. In many ways, finding a way to cement our past into the American national narrative will be the best way to ensure we have a future. We must carry that message forward, but to succeed we need our President and Congressional representatives to join us in making that case to the American people. Furthermore, it is important for us to memorialize and to educate the public about the achievements of men such as Dr. Jacobeus tenBroek as well as other disability leaders like Ed Roberts or Justin Dart not just to pay respect to those who have gone before but to show the world that we do have a history of taking control over our own lives and that there is a real and legitimate civil rights movement of, by and for people with disabilities. To quote Ed Roberts, “the greatest lesson of the civil rights movement is that the moment you let others speak for you, you lose.” Showing the world those parts of our past where we have confronted the wrongs that are being committed against us and restored agency to our community is one way for us to take back our voice.

Another thing that we must do is to begin to confront and to confront vigorously those organizations and groups that speak about us, without us. When Jerry Lewis or VOR or Autism Speaks go to the public and claim to represent the needs and perspectives of the disability community with their calls for more pity, more segregation, more eugenics and more distance from our dream of being recognized as equal citizens in this society, they perpetrate upon us an obscenity. This obscenity nevertheless has use in that teaches us about how important to the disability rights movement it is for us to take control of our own message and our own community. We must organize not just around laws but around the public conversation on disability, confronting those corporate donors and political infrastructures that give support to these repressive, fear-mongering groups that challenge our right to live in this world. To quote Dr. tenBroek himself, “there are…large and powerful agencies abroad in the land, considerable in number and vast in influence, which remain hostile to our movement in thought, in speech, and in action. Under the guise of professionalism, [they] would perpetuate colonialism. [Their] philosophy is a throwback to the age of the silent client, before the revolution in welfare and civil rights, which converted the client into an active and vocal partner in the programming and dispensing of services. In…[their]…lofty disregard of the organized blind as the voice of those to be served, [they] betray bureaucratic bias that is…[an]…image of the blind client not as a person to be served but as a defective mechanism to be serviced.” The same could be said about many similar groups that speak about us, without us in many disability communities.

Finally, in order to communicate our message to the public, we must also realize that the most effective social change comes not from activism but from individuals. For the public to understand that the disability message is a civil rights message, they must hear that message from their friends, their family members and their co-workers with disabilities. Beyond this, for us to accomplish that, we must succeed in broadening the base of the disability rights movement to encompass a broader scope of people with disabilities in general. There remain too many people with disabilities who do not yet have the chance to participate in our community. We must broaden our community and give every disabled person access to the disability culture and perspective.

I’d like to end by quoting American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who said, “You have built castles in the clouds, now you must build the foundation underneath them.” As we talk about how to imprint the American public with the meaning and message of the disability rights movement, we talk about what must be done to build the foundations that will show that our vision is no dream. This is what we must do. This is what we can do. This is what we will do. Thank you for your time and I look forward to working with all of you to bring this hope into reality.

Ari Ne'eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Net

Testimony at IACC meeting, May 4 2009

Paula C. Durbin-Westby

May 4, 2009

[Sentences in square brackets are for clarification purposes and were not spoken.]

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

You may now have two people who are interested in summarizing the 120 scientific studies mentioned earlier. [in reference to only 6 IACC members submitting comments on hundreds of scientific studies up for review].

Augmentative and Alternative Communication:

It is gratifying to see that the IACC is addressing the critical issue of Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

Now it is time to allocate funding to AAC research. Including a presentation about AAC is an important but preliminary step.

Since communication difficulties are experienced by many people on the autism spectrum, funding research in this area should be a high priority. Advances in communication technology, and the development of AAC options that are affordable, will have a practical application to the lives of people on the autism spectrum, throughout the entire lifespan.

Because of the extreme disparity between services/quality of life funding and the funding of basic research, funding for AAC should be diverted from the millions of dollars allocated to genetic and treatment research and NOT drawn from the already minimal funding for service-related research.

Community-Based Participatory Research:

I recommend using a community-based participatory research model for AAC and other research. Rather than being “grown-up children” as far as research is concerned, autistic adults must be included as collaborators in research, for both practical and ethical reasons. The community-based participatory research paradigm is one model; others may be developed and utilized. [“grown-up children” in reference to comment made by Susan Swedo about the role of autistic adults in research studies.]

One likely outcome of including people on the autism spectrum as collaborators and co-researchers is that the research will be made more relevant to the lives of people on the autism spectrum, including not only adults but children as well.

Just one example from a current research area is that of eye contact research. It has been recently discovered that autistic children look at mouths more than at eyes. Although this is an exciting new discovery for researchers and others, it is not necessarily news to people on the autism spectrum, who are often aware of the reasons and motivation for our own actions.

In addition, studies have already been undertaken that show that typically-developing children also use multi-modal perception to process their experiences.

It has been suggested that some sort of retraining could be done to direct children to not look at mouths but at eyes. The theory is that by looking at mouths children, and presumably adults who do not make much eye contact, are missing important social cues… and that we don’t make use of our peripheral vision.

While it is critical to understand the underlying mechanisms for human communications and processes, the design and application of scientific theories, especially when young children are involved, should have participation, input, and oversight from people on the autism spectrum.

Researchers should take into consideration the numerous self-reports of people on the autism spectrum about the necessity of looking at people’s mouths in order to compensate for auditory processing difficulties, among other reasons. Including co-researchers who are on the autism spectrum can positively inform research so that time and taxpayer money are not wasted and so that studies involving autistic children as subjects do not cause additional difficulties when children are retrained to look away from mouths and possibly lose a significant visual method of accessing receptive communication. Audio-visual synchronies are important not just because they are early indicators of autism but because they are a critical component in how we make sense of communication inputs.

Language use:

Once again, a chronic or fatal disease model or metaphor is not appropriate for autism. Autism is not fatal like cancer, and, as an autistic person with kidney disease, I can tell you that they are not comparable. The IACC must promote appropriate language to reduce myth-making and stigma. [reference to comments comparing autism to cancer and kidney disease.]

Autistic self-advocate organization as public member:

The time has come for the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee to include representation from autistic self-advocacy organizations such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, which has had a representative at all but one of the IACCC meetings since November 2007. Autistic self-advocacy organizations are an increasingly recognized stakeholder in autism policymaking and should not be purposely excluded from the Committee that makes decisions about federal funding for research. The public law that created the current IACC has been in place since 2006/2007. The newly founded Autism Science Foundation has is represented, if not officially [by Alison Singer, president of that organization] but still no representative from a major autistic self-advocacy organization has been named to the committee. Adding a public member from an autistic self-advocate organization will begin to redress the existing imbalance in parity, and add a much-needed dimension of focus on research and policy that will benefit people on the autism spectrum across our lifespans.

This will enable research into AAC, eye contact, and other areas, to move from the “promising practice” realm to a best-practice reality.


1. R000239930- Benefits of Averting Gaze and Cues to Comprehension. Doherty-Sneddon, Gwyneth.

2. Read My Lips: Using Multiple Senses in Speech Perception. Rosenblum, Lawrence D. Current Directions in Psychological Science

3. YouTube video on multi-modal processing:

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Listen to the Real Experts

Here is a link to an article on ASAN's Public Service Announcement produced with the Dan Marino Foundation.

The article is by columnist Valerie Brew-Parrish.,4_4_JO03_PARRISH_S1.article#Comments_Container

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

CCA petition on

Today is CCA day. Please support cross-disability efforts and sign the petition if you have not already.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Autistic Community Mourns the Passing of Alyric

The Autistic Community Mourns the Passing of Alyric, a long-time activist and supporter of autistic rights and neurodiversity. She passed away on April 18, 2009, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Her blog A Touch of Alyricism will remain intact. With her incisive commentary, Alyric was unwavering in her commitment to defend the rights of autistics to respect, honesty and accuracy in science and reporting, and was unafraid to take a strong stand about issues she believed in. Alyric touched many lives. She was always ready to help advocates with research, support, and encouragement. She was a well-respected advocate who made profoundly important and meaningful contributions to our community. We will miss her vibrant presence. Several bloggers have posted tributes to Alyric; here is one that describes her advocacy efforts in more detail.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

End the Hate: Petition to Tony Attwood and Isabelle Hénault

A petition created by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network is asking clinical psychologists Dr. Tony Attwood and Dr. Isabelle Hénault to stop giving their support to hate groups such as FAAAS and ASPIA that portray Autistics and people with neurological disabilities as violent by nature and abusive toward family members. In promoting the pseudoscientific concept of Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder, which is a completely groundless claim that being involved in a relationship with an Autistic person causes depression and other psychological harm, these groups seek to encourage discrimination against Autistic people in family law and relationships. Stereotypes and falsehoods like these can cause people with disabilities to face discrimination in divorce and child custody matters and, in some cases, to be denied their parental rights. Drs. Attwood and Hénault are closely associated with FAAAS through their membership on its Professional Advisory Panel and regular presentations at its conferences, and they recently presented at a conference sponsored by ASPIA.

Please join us in signing this petition to help secure the rights of all people to be treated equally under the law. E-mails can also be sent directly to for Dr. Attwood and to for Dr. Hénault. ASAN President Ari Ne'eman has issued a statement to the community asking for support and signatures on the petition to Dr. Tony Attwood and Dr. Isabelle Hénault. It's time to end the hate!

Monday, April 20, 2009

ASAN Group for Autistic Teens

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has created a new online group for autistic teenagers and would like to invite interested people to participate. More details below:

A new yahoo group has been created exclusively for adolescents and teens on the autism spectrum, offering an opportunity for autistic adolescents and teens to interact in a supportive, autistic-friendly internet environment. The group is sponsored by the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, an international non-profit organization run by and for autistic adults and youth, working to advance neurodiversity, disability rights and autistic culture.

Group Rules:
1. To join you must be on the autism spectrum (self-diagnosed individuals are welcome) and at least 13 years of age.
2. Be respectful of your fellow list members.
3. Do not repost messages outside of the list.
4. If you have a question, feel free to ask.
5. Do not engage in personal attacks against other list members.

The list will be closely moderated by adults from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network to ensure that all list content remains legal, age-appropriate, free of spam and solicitation, and in compliance with the group rules.

To join the group, visit , click the "Join this group" button, and follow the instructions.For more information, contact list moderator Dora Raymaker at

Please pass this information along to any adolescents and teens you know who would be interested!

Friday, April 17, 2009

No Myths Autism PSA: A Different Kind of Autism Awareness

ASAN worked with the Dan Marino Foundation and Kent Creative to develop the following autism PSA.

Youtube link:
Captioned Version:

Go to to learn more. This PSA is brought to you by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (, Kent Creative ( and the Dan Marino Foundation (

About the Public Service Announcement:

The "No Myths" PSA offers a refreshingly positive and optimistic view about life with autism. And it was written and performed by people who should know--individuals who are on the autism spectrum themselves. The purpose of the PSA is to tell society that, with the right supports, people with autism can do anything anybody else can do, even if it isn't in the same way. Ari Ne'eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, leads a cast that includes {in order of appearance} Dena Gassner, Ben Liske, and Jacob Pratt.

The Dan Marino Foundation of Weston, FL sponsored the piece, which was filmed by Nashville-based Kent Creative. Jon Kent directed the PSA and Britt Simmons was the Director of Photography.

"No Myths" was filmed inside the Parthenon in Nashville, TN. The Nashville Parthenon, which was built in 1897, is a full-scale replica of the ancient Greek Temple. The two bronze doors, used as a symbol throughout the PSA, weigh 7.5 tons each, and are thought to be the largest pair of matching bronze doors in existence. The producers wish to thank Citation Film Support and the Filmworker's Club of Nashville for their generous support of this project.


Ari Ne'eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
1660 L Street, NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036