Speaking out against Autism Speaks; organization that damaged millions


     When you think about autism research, your mind most likely goes to Autism Speaks, a company with a lot of mainstream attention, and a seemingly good track record with helping people with autism. However, in the past few years, they have been shown in a much more negative light because of the gravity of their past misdeeds.

     Autism Speaks was founded in 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, the nonprofit currently maintains the vision of creating a “world where all people with autism can reach their full potential.” Despite this, Autism Speaks has undermined their goals by demonizing the cause they claim to be researching and dehumanizing the people they claim to help.

     A 2009 commercial by the organization titled “I am Autism” depicted Autism Spectrum Disorder extremely negatively, depicting it as an inevitable threat to the happiness of parents and children. The ad claims that autism “works faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined”. Given the extremely large platform Autism Speaks has, even in its early years, their negative statements are particularly harmful, with the potential to damage the millions of autistic people in the US alone.

     In 2013, the night before a summit in Washington D.C., founder and then-CEO Suzanne Wright published an opinion/editorial piece calling for action amongst government and citizens. The article has since been removed from the website but has been preserved thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The article establishes that households with an autistic person is “not living”, perpetuating negative stereotypes families face, and furthering their agenda of Autism being an inherently terrible thing, rather than a purely medical definition, Autism Speaks’ habit of sensationalizing autism has done nothing to help the people they claim to, and instead exacerbates discrimination due to a person’s neurodivergence.

     Previously, Autism Speaks researched the idea that vaccines were associated with a higher risk of autism, as late as March 2010, they claimed they would support research to “determine whether subsets of individuals might be at increased risk for developing autism symptoms following vaccination”, despite a court ruling, and scientific backing, that demonstrated otherwise.

     The company reevaluated its mission statement in 2016, previously the company spent a large majority of its budget on advocacy and lobbying, rather than research and community outreach, according to their 990 Tax Exemption form for 2015. 

     Recently they have shifted their focus, reporting that 85 cents per dollar donated funds research, advocacy, programs, and services, as well as going back on many of their previous claims. However, without continuing to pay reparations for their previous misdeeds, they should not be redeemed so easily. It is important not to forget an organization’s past, especially when they have the potential to do just as much harm as they claim to do good.