Autism Speaks’ awareness campaigns harm autistic people

Trigger warning: this post contains images of eugenics posters from the early 20th century, juxtaposed with Autism Speaks’ 21st Century messaging.

I anticipate this may ruffle a few feathers. I’m ok with that but before you sharpen your pitch fork I recommend that you stop, breathe and re-read. Give it a try, it can’t hurt.

Autism Speaks

Image description: Picture is of four “awareness campaigns” accompanied by the text, “This is what ‘awareness’ campaigns look like”. Clockwise, from the top left:

  • Black and white poster from 1924 titled ‘Four types of mental deficiency’. Four black and white pictures of people are on the poster, labeled ‘Idiocy’, ‘Mongolian Imbecility’, ‘Imbecility’ and ‘Moron (high grade feeble minded)’. The caption at the bottom of the poster says:

The feeble-minded can be divided into three groups. (1) Idiots with a mental age less than three years; (2) Imbeciles with a mental age between three and seven years; (3) Morons with a mental age of between seven and eleven years. The moron group has been largely neglected in Canada and has contributed greatly to criminality, vice and pauperism.

– The Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene conducts activities to secure better provision for the control of feeblemindedness. Source.

– Autism now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys
– Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
– Autism costs a family $60,000 a year on average
– There is no medical detection or cure for autism

  • Red and gold poster from the London Eugenics Society shows a stylized farmer scattering seed from a basket with the slogan, “Only Healthy Seed Must Be Sown!” Source
  • American eugenics poster from about 1926 has the central slogan, “Some people are born to be a burden to the rest”. Under the slogan is a card with a picture of Uncle Sam, the title ‘Fitter Families Contest’ and some unintelligible text. Surrounding the slogan are three cards with light bulbs in the centre of each. Clockwise from the top these cards read:

– This light flashes every 15 seconds. Every 15 seconds $100 of your money goes for the care of persons with bad heredity such as the insane, feeble minded, criminals & other defectives

– This light flashes every 7.5 minutes. Every 7.5 minutes is born in the United States will [sic] will have ability to do creative work & be fit for leadership. About 4% of all Americans come within this class.

– This light flashes every 16 seconds. Every 16 seconds a person is born in the United States. Source.

They may use different language but the messaging is, in essence, the same: to raise awareness of the extent of a growing ‘problem’; a public health crisis facing us all. To outline how prevalent that problem is and what a huge financial burden it represents. Autistic people are sick and tired of being the subject of these sorts of ‘awareness’ campaigns and want it to just stop already – here’s some posts on this issue if you want to read more:

Chavisory: A Call for Accountability – this is a MUST READ regarding this issue. I can’t pick just one thing to quote – the whole post needs to be read.

Renee Salas, writing for the Golden Hat Foundation – Awareness to Acceptance: It’s a Process

Kassiane, writing for ASAN in 2012: Acceptance vs. Awareness 

Let’s ditch the awareness campaigns with their stigma, fear and eugenicist messaging. They have a hugely negative impact on autistics and they don’t seem to do *anything* to help autistic people and their families get the support, services and accommodations they genuinely need.

Light It Up True is a campaign running in April to counter the misinformation and outright lies spread by Autism Speaks. We will be sharing some truths about both autism and the largest so-called ‘autism charity’ in the United States.

This campaign is part of a larger one called Boycott Autism Speaks. Please go to to find out more.



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