One major foundation that claims to be for autism awareness is the Autism Speaks foundation, though as you’ll find out they’re less than legitimate.
Before I get to them, a little background information on me. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum, at Wyandot Mental Health Center when I was in late elementary school.
While a well spoken educated person may not be the first image that comes to mind when you think of someone with autism, let me assure you that Asperger’s is a form of high-functioning autism and is typically characterized by trouble with social interaction and nonverbal communication, as well as restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve learned to accept who I am and learn my shortcomings. I tell people I’m not good at social cues and that rather than imply something, they should be blatantly obvious, and they usually comply.
I’ve used this disability to help others. I‘ve appeared at panels about mental illness at mental health centers in the Kansas City area. I’ve volunteered with Families Together and Keys For Networking Inc., two foundations that help those who suffer from mental illness and their families.
While I’ve attempted to use my mental disability to help others, the most well known autism awareness foundation in America has done far less to further the cause of people with autism. In fact, they actively repress the autism community, treating it as something to be “cured” akin to conversion therapy’s attempts at “curing” homosexuality.
My Asperger’s is a part of who I am and effects the way I look at things. My lack of social grace makes empathy difficult, which leads to me looking at things from a more logical perspective. In a way, “curing” my autism would be taking away a part of me. Even Autism Speak’s logo of a small blue puzzle piece confirms the mentality of “a disease to be cured.” To them, autism is a puzzle to be solved. To them a person with autism isn’t a sentient human being, but an odd piece that must be normalized to fit in with the other “normal” pieces.
Another reason I encourage people to avoid donating to Autism Speaks is their misallocation of funds that has been proven using their 2008 tax returns. In 2008, this “non-profit” charity paid 36 employees a sum to the tune of over $100,000 each over the course of the year. Geraldine Dawson, their “chief science officer” was paid the most that year at $644,274.
That same tax return can be used to find out how much they spent on payroll taxes, employee salaries, pensions/401ks, and benefits, totaling nearly $17.8 million. When that’s compared to the money they gave as grants to help those with autism, a measly $66,670, it becomes fairly obvious that Autism Speaks cares only for lining their own pockets.
The final nail in the coffin for Autism Speaks is the short film they sponsored and produced entitled “Autism Every Day.” In this film, the then executive vice-president of the Austism Speaks foundation, Alison Tepper Singer, claimed that her autistic daughter was such a burden on her that she considered putting the both of them in a car and driving off a bridge.
Singer went on to say that the only thing that kept her from doing so was her second daughter who depended on her. That’s right, the executive vice-president of an autism awareness organization was willing to murder her child and herself.
All in all, as an individual with autism, I’d recommend boycotting the Autism Speaks foundation. Instead, I’d recommend donating to or volunteering with a local organization like Families Together or Keys for Networking. Alternatively, if you’re more inclined to donate to or volunteer with a national organization, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation are both reputable and legitimate charities.