Hello, assorted directors of Autism Speaks.
We assume you have you have heard the news, recently, about the investigation into the death of Jeremy Bostick, an eleven-year-old autistic boy, at the hands of his father. In case you have not, we shall fill you in. Jeffrey Bostick took his eleven year old son, put him in a sealed room, sat down, and opened a canister of carbon monoxide.
This was a tragedy, as I’m sure you would agree. Another tragedy, however, is the way this story has been covered. As we have seen happen again and again, the news stories have provided a sympathetic angle on Jeremy’s killer. Stories have focused on how much a burden Jeremy must have been, how much stress the family was under, how very understandable the murder was.
Autism Speaks, this is not an isolated incident- neither the murder, nor the rhetoric that surrounds it.
Charles-Anthoine Blais, 6, was drowned in the bathtub by his mother in 1996. The media made sure everyone knew just how devastating it was to have an autistic child, and how understandable this murder was. The murderer was showered in letters of support from parents of autistics. The court ruled that this murderer could be employed in advising parents of autistics, and she was offered a job at Société de l’autisme. The judge said that she did not represent a danger to society- autistics, it seems, are apparently not a part of your society.
Casey Albury, 17, was strangled to death in 1997. Her mother, if such a loving word can be used to describe her murderer, was sentenced to a measly five months. Before she was out, they were writing plays sympathizing with Casey’s killer, and newspaper articles titled ‘Loved to Death’.
Dale Bartolome, 27, was killed by his father in 2002. The news speculated, as usual: “What kind of pressures, however unintended, must the son have brought to bear on his parents?” One finds it hard to imagine that such pressure was equivalent to the pressure of the bullet Dale took through his head that July night.
This is a fraction of a fraction of the murders perpetrated on autistics. Remember Katie McCarron, Matthew Goodman, Mark Ownens-Young-Rogan, Pierre Pasquiou, Wayne Winter, Jim Helm, Stephanie Jobin, Daniel Luebner, James Joseph Cummings, Patrick Markcrow, Willie Wright, Jason Dawes, Terrence Cottrell, Tiffany Pickney, Nozuma Shinozaki, Angelica Auriemma, Casey Collier, Gabriel Britt, Eric Bland, Rylan Rochester, Jeffrey Bogrett, Maggie Caraballo, Brahim Dukes, Justin Malphus, Charles Mancill, Abubakar Nadama, Matthew Vick, and all the others. Remember their brutal murders, the slap-on-the-wrist sentencing for their killers, and the media response. We must remind you to remember them, because we found no mention of them on your site, despite the plentiful articles of any breakthrough towards prenatal testing or elimination of autistic traits. Why is Autism Speaks more interested in getting rid of us, than protecting us?
A pattern is clear. When an autistic murders a neurotypical, the media blames autism. When a neurotypical murders an autistic, the media blame…. autism. If a gay man is beaten to death, do we blame homosexuality? If a black man is murdered, do we blame blackness? When a parent commits sex-selective infanticide, do we blame femaleness? No. Such victim-blaming would be unacceptable; those who engage in it would be condemned in the eyes of all decent society, and rightly so. But, when an autistic is murdered, we blame autism. We blame the victim.
We charge that there exists a pervasive pattern of victim-blaming, shifting the responsibility for the killing of autistic people away from the bigotry, hatred, and murderous impulses of those who butcher us, and onto autistics ourselves- we who face these murders. Again and again, the cry, when an autistic is murdered- if only parents had more support! We won’t deny this point; more support is needed; in a society designed to meet the needs of one type of person, it is difficult to be responsible for a child whose needs, modes of thought, and ways of communication, are often radically different from those of other people. We advocate for more support and better, more respectful support. But, the lack of support does not excuse the murder of autistic people. It does not make murder any less murderous. It does not excuse the sick victim-blaming of the neurotypical press. This devaluing of autistic life and sympathy for our killers constitutes a culture of death aimed at our very existence.
Where does this culture, this apologism for the murder of autistics, this degradation of autistic lives and perspectives, this image of the autistic as the tragic burden whose murder is understandable, come from?
It may behoove us to take a look at the rhetoric used by those who dominate the national discussion on autism- chief among those groups being Autism Speaks.
Autism Speaks has been criticized and condemned repeatedly by autistic self-advocates for their portrayal of autistic people. The most visible and memorable of these was, of course, Autism Every Day, a film in which a mother declares, in front of her autistic daughter, that she wishes to kill that daughter and herself- but won’t, because of her neurotypical child. It’s bad enough that the life of an autistic is so worthless- but to say that it is worse to leave a neurotypical child deprived a parent, than it is to actually murder an autistic, is appalling and disgusting. Autism Speaks has never apologized for this video or removed it from circulation, and in fact prides itself in the film’s realistic portrayal of ‘heartbreak’. It surely warms every child’s heart to learn that his existence is a cause of heartbreak. What does that tell us, about what this organization thinks about the worth of autistic people?
Even when not explicitly making excuses for and sympathizing with the murderers of autistics, Autism Speaks’ rhetoric and message disenfranchises and disempowers autistic people. We hope that by now you are familiar with these complaints, but we will reiterate them in short. Time and time again, we are portrayed as burdens. We are infantilized and presented always as ‘children with autism’ as our default state. The focus is always on the parents and families of autistics, and how autism effects them, rarely if ever, beyond a few sanitized and neutered token cases, on the wishes, perspectives, or ideas of autistic people. Autistic self-advocates are ignored or marginalized- a trend dramatically illustrated by the total lack of any people on the spectrum in the board of directors. The organization focuses proportionally little of its energy on accomodation and empowerment, and great resources on prenatal testing and the elimination of autistic behaviors which inconvenience neurotypical people. The message of Autism Speaks is clear. We are a burden. We are not wanted. In the all too many narratives, it is better that we die or are never born, than that we burden you any longer. Such thought and messages are exactly what lead to media apologetics for murder, and enable and empower those who would kill autistic people.
Autism Speaks, we will not beg. We demand, as autistic self-advocates, that you cease this rhetoric against autistic people. We demand that you enfranchise autistics within your organization, that you listen to and value autistic self-advocates (including, especially, the majority who are critical of you), that you cease this focus on ‘families with autism’ and ‘autistic children’, and that you cease your pervasive, profoundly (and ironically) un-empathetic and dehumanizing portrayal of autistic people as burdens. We demand an apology for ‘Autism Every Day’, and a general apology for your disenfranchisement of autistic voices. We demand that when this sort of hateful speech and murder-apologetics pops up, that your organization move to condemn it, as it should be condemned.
We are the autistic. We will not stand another murdered friend. We will not stand being blamed for brutality perpetrated upon us. We demand human respect and dignity. We will not apologize for being ‘burdens’ in your lives; your hate, your contempt, and your murders are a greater burden that we must bear. We are sick- sick of being murdered, sick of dehumanizing rhetoric, and sick of excuses.
Autism Speaks, until you change, the blood of the murder of our autistic brothers and sisters flows from your tongues to stain red your hands. Remember Jeremy, and all the others, and change your ways.
Freak Liberation Front