Monday, May 26, 2008

The autism rights movement gets coverage

Ari Ne'eman

Ari Ne’eman, 20, who has an Asperger’s diagnosis, runs the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and has used the forum to counter an ad campaign he called “the oldest and most offensive disability stereotypes to frighten parents.” New York magazine profiled the autism rights movement in its May 25 issue.

Even though people with diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s sometimes dislike social interaction, Ne'eman says, “we are not incapable of it and can succeed and thrive on our own terms when supported, accepted, and included for who we are.”

Ne'eman used his network to protest the NYU Child Study Center ad campaign that featured
ransom notes that said: “We have your son. We will make sure he will not be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives. This is only the beginning.” It was signed “Autism."

Like other disability groups, stereotypes of people with autism are hurtful in their misrepresentation that adults won't be able to live and interact in their community. Ne'eman says.

He began a letter-writing campaign against the ransom note campaign and recruited support from the major U.S. disability groups and received coverage from the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. About three weeks after the ad campaign began, they were pulled.

"It was a signal triumph for the neurodiversity movement, the self-chosen name for the autism-rights brigade," New York explains. "Autism advocates are an entirely new category: The whole idea didn’t really exist five years ago. Moreover, rather than advocating for a cure, or seeking research into the cause of the much-publicized 'autism epidemic,' these activists argued that society needed to change, not autistic people."

The article also features other autism-rights spokespeople: Jim Sinclair, who has produced essays on the topic, Judy Singer, an Australian whose mother and daughter have Asperger’s and who is on the spectrum herself and who coined the term neurodiversity; and American writer Harvey Blume.

The Internet has helped the autism-rights movement by allowing activists to find each another and communicate at their own speed. The Web, Singer said, “is a prosthetic device for people who can’t socialize without it.”