Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An Open Letter to Geraldine Dawson

September 23, 2009

Dr. Geraldine Dawson

Chief Science Officer

Autism Speaks

Dr. Dawson,

I am calling on you to denounce the Autism Speaks video “I Am Autism” as hostile and offensive to autistic individuals, and I am calling on you to reconsider your employment with Autism Speaks, an organization that is exploitative of autistic individuals, and unscientific and unethical in its day-to-day practices and fund-raising campaigns.

As the parent of an autistic child who is loved deeply for all his characteristics, including—indeed, most especially—his autism, I can tell you that the “I Am Autism” video is disgusting on every level. It perpetuates stereotypes, it presents as fact statements that are not backed by a shred of scientific evidence, and it exploits the images of autistic individuals without their consent. The video is heinously reminiscent of the NYU Child Study Center's widely condemned Ransom Notes campaign, and it demonstrates the depths of cruelty and ignorance to which an autism charitable organization can sink when that organization deliberately excludes the input and participation of autistic individuals.

A similar exploitative and offensive treatment of a different minority group would be considered tantamount to a hate crime (for instance, can you imagine how a similar “I Am Homosexuality” video would be received): it is no less of a hate crime when it is autistic individuals who are the victims of such abuse.

Your association with this video, as well as your association with the organization that stands behind it, calls into question more than just your reputation as a scientist. It calls into question your very humanity. Denounce this video. Use your influence as an officer of Autism Speaks to demand both its removal and the immediate issuance of an apology. And if such efforts do not succeed, I call on you to consider the wisdom of your continuing employment with such a repulsive organization.

The harmful practices of Autism Speaks survive only on the tacit approval of those who should know better. It is not too late for you to make a difference: remove your tacit approval.

Respectfully and urgently,

Alan Griswold


Zamboozee said...

Think about the opportunity to open up a debate this video has at least created. It may not paint any pritty pictures, or even show any real objectivity there; but, however, where is the harm in discusing autism or bringing it into further theatres of debate, by whatever means thought appropriate?

Alan Griswold said...

Hi, Jake. Thanks for commenting.

The harm is that autistic individuals must live with the consequences of such offensive, hostile and hate-tinged speech.

I am open to any dialogue Autism Speaks wishes to engender and promote, but a first requirement of that dialogue is that it be respectful to autistic individuals. Autism Speaks does not meet that requirement - in fact, it tramples upon it.