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Seattle Children’s pulls autism bus ads after criticism

SEATTLE — Seattle Children’s Hospital is suspending a bus ad campaign in response to outrage from members of the autistic community.

autism“My initial reaction was extreme disappointment,” said Matt Young, who leads the Washington chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

He also heard plenty on anger from his community in response to the ads. They show a smiling boy with the quote, “Lets wipe out cancer, diabetes and autism in his lifetime.”

“You can’t talk about autism without talking about autistic people,” said Young. “It’s not a mindless, faceless disease or an illness, but a disability.”

Katharine Fitzgerald, Seattle Children’s marketing director, was surprised at the backlash.

“It was really unfortunate because it was not at all what we intended,” said Fitzgerald.

The idea behind the campaign was to show the wide variety of research the hospital is involved in, but to many it appeared the hospital was comparing cancer and other diseases to autism, and Fitzgerald got an earful.

“As more of the calls and posts on Facebook and e-mails started coming in, we realized we were really creating more harm than good,” she said.

Children’s removed the ads on Friday.

The controversy illustrates a divide in the autistic community between those like Young, who say it is part of who they are, and groups such as Autism Speaks.

That nationwide organization put out a statement on the issue that said in part, “Our goal is to reduce suffering associated with autism, in all its forms. Some would call that a cure, others would call it remediation of disability.”

The group also pointed out the wide spectrum of autism, from those who have a creative and productive life to autistics with significant medical conditions who have never spoken.

“For those individuals, the prospect of a cure for autism is really important because to that person, cure means being able to communicate and to be free of pain.”

Young, of ASAN-WA, doesn’t agree.

“That’s the dominant message because that’s where the money is. The parents who are desperate to fix their children, and we, the adults who those children become, are saying we don’t want to be fixed, we don’t want to be thought of as fundamentally broken, we want to be accepted for who we are.”

9 comments

  • Greg

    There are children who are on the lower-functioning end of the spectrum – apparently unlike Mr. Young – who do need, if a not a cure, certainly solutions to become less "autistic" (literally "self-ism," or looking within) to be able to cope safely with the environment around them. They can be a danger to themselves due to their inability to comprehend and cope with their environment, so the ad was a positive one for many of us "desparate" parents. We certainly want and need acceptance for our children, but we also need therapies and solutions to enable our children. I have two sons – one with autism (low functioning) and another who is a childhood cancer survivor – and this ad is spot on.

    • Chris

      I don't think you grasp the basic offensiveness of this ad. It's saying that we are defective, inferior and diseased because of the way our brains work. That is absolutely no different than saying that certain races are inferior, or that gay people suffer from a psychiatric disorder. It's eugenics, plain and simple.

      Autism, or the "amount" thereof, is not the problem. The ignorance and bigotry of neurotypical society is the problem. It is impossible to advocate "acceptance" for autistic people while wanting to "cure" or "treat" their autism. That's like advocating acceptance of gay people while trying to turn them straight, or encouraging gender equality while pushing reassignment surgery on women. As for us being "dangers to ourselves," plenty of non-autistics have gotten themselves hurt or killed over cultural misunderstandings, in their own and other countries. That is also an example of an "inability to comprehend and cope with their environment[s]." Yet we don't say that these people's cultural backgrounds were in themselves problematic. Understanding is a two-way street–we try to understand the neurotypical world, but it's also your responsibility to try just as hard to understand us.

      Most autistic self-advocates reject the high/low functioning dichotomy, because an autistic person's functionality is only hindered by the unwillingness of neurotypical society to understand and accommodate disabled people, particularly the non-verbal ones or those who socialize differently. We extend marriage to gay people because they love differently, but not deficiently. We give women maternity leave because their biological role is different, but not deficient. We print ballots in Spanish for people who speak a language that is different, but not inferior. Yet when some of us communicate differently, they're called "low-functioning." The remedy here is understanding and accommodation, not exclusionary labels.

  • luckybear

    I believe this is all ridiculous. Did anyone think It would bring much needed attention to autism. I take care of my son everyday who has higher functioning autism. With us living in a county that isn't very big, we have very little resources available to us. So if people are willing to research more on it so be it. I would love for my son to be cured but I would also love my son to be happy and healthy. Oh wait that's right because everything revolves around king county. With out the Seattle children's autism clinic my son would not be where he is today. We Make a 2 plus hour drive to go up to childrens autism clinic for him to get the help he needs. Because thurston county doesn't have as many resources as king county for low income families like mine.

  • Caitlyn W

    You know the reason why he is smiling is maybe because SCH wants to show that in this kids lifetime there will not be issues like autism and diabetes. He's smiling because he does not have to worry about things like that and that he can be a kid and be happy. I am disappointed in this community of people for thinking it is offensive…

  • J.Lo

    The outrage over this is ridiculous. People are too sensitive. Let me jump in on this boat… As a cancer survivor I personally take offense to this quote by the person who is offended by the ad,
    “You can’t talk about autism without talking about autistic people,” said Young. “It’s not a mindless, faceless disease or an illness, but a disability.” So you can talk about about cancer and not think about the people behind it? It's good to know I survived a mindless, faceless disease!

  • morentin1326

    my kids don't need a cure, they don't need to be fixed, and they sure the hell don't need to be wiped out… now if you have children with autism, and you feel you need to cure them, fix them or wipe them out, then that sadly that is your business and your choice… I have one NT, one moderate and one severe… and in my home they are loved and accepted… with thoughts and statements like those above, the next thing will be let us cure, short people, weird , brown haired, brown eyed people… the list can go on and on… Oh wait, wasn't there someone who tried that??? and I have brown hair, brown eyes, and I am short and I love that I am weird, so don't get too offended… as I said before, if you feel compelled to cure your child, then i can not stop you… but the hell i am going to let some one make my kids feel like they are sick, or diseased and need to be cured, fixed, wiped out, or worse forced to change because some one else feels they are not up to the ideal…

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