In 2009, Autism Speaks, the largest autism-focused organization in the United States, released a public service announcement entitled “I Am Autism.” In the three-minute video, a deep, menacing voice introduces himself as Autism, the disorder itself, and speaks to non-autistic parents of autistic children. As ominous music plays in the background, Autism threatens parents and pledges to destroy their lives: “If you are happily married, I [Autism] will make sure that your marriage fails . . . I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams . . . I will make sure every day you wake up, you will cry wondering, ‘Who will take care of my child when I die?’” (“I Am Autism”). In the final minute of the video, non-autistic parents take over as narrators, declaring their commitment to defeating Autism through a coalition of other parents, scientists, doctors, and educators. The video quickly drew controversy, with autistic adults denouncing the autism. Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN)—an autistic-led autistic advocacy group—criticized the video, explaining, “We don't want to be portrayed as burdens or objects of fear and pity” (Wallis). In response to overwhelming criticism by autistic people, Autism Speaks took down the video, apologizing for the harm caused while still justifying the validity of its message.
Original Publication Citation
Osorio, R. (2020). I am #ActuallyAutistic, hear me tweet: The autist-topoi of autistic activists on Twitter. enculturation (31), 1-46. https://www.enculturation.net/I_Am_ActuallyAutistic
Osorio, Ruth, "I Am #ActuallyAutistic, Hear Me Tweet: The Autist-Topoi of Autistic Activists on Twitter" (2020). English Faculty Publications. 199.