Speaking Spookily About Autism

On Sunday, while my kids and I were watching football, this advertisement came on TV from Autism Speaks:

 

It’s a public service announcement featuring singer Toni Braxton and her autistic son, and focuses on the long odds of Toni Braxton becoming a pop star vs the much higher odds of her having a kid with autism. As the somewhat spooky music and voiceover  detailing  Toni Braxton’s career progressed (her odds of becoming a pop star were one in a million…) I could see both my kids getting nervous:

“Dad, what happened to her?? Did she DIE?!?!”

I told them that as far as I knew she was still alive.

“Then why is the music spooky”

“I’m not sure.”

Finally when the punchline came, saying the odds of having a son with autism were much higher than the odds of Toni Braxton becoming a pop star:

“Dad? Did her son die then?!?”

“No, it says he has Autism.”

“Like my friend from school!?!?”

“Yes.”

“Is my friend going to die!?! But he’s so NICE!!”

And that’s the problem. From the tone of the ad it makes it seem that this singer and her son’s lives are pretty much over, the rest will be struggling and just getting by. We clearly know that’s not the case, there’s more than a million people with autism going on with their lives. Why are they casting these what I imagine are well meaning ads with such a tragic, dehumanizing rhetoric?

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7 Responses to Speaking Spookily About Autism

  1. katiesci says:

    Ugh, I haven’t seen it but that sounds horrible! So much for trying to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

  2. eeke says:

    @ katiesci – autism does not qualify as a mental illness. I wish the media would quit making that inappropriate connection.

  3. Julian Frost says:

    From the tone of the ad it makes it seem that this singer and her son’s lives are pretty much over, the rest will be struggling and just getting by. We clearly know that’s not the case, there’s more than a million people with autism going on with their lives. Why are they casting these what I imagine are well meaning ads with such a tragic, dehumanizing rhetoric.

    Thank you so much for this smackdown of Autism Speaks, Namnezia. We (autistics) are now totally fed up with this organisation. Its message is, as you so correctly say, one of “tragic, dehumanizing rhetoric”. A few weeks ago, Suzanne Wright put out an “action call” that did much the same thing. The reaction from those on the spectrum and their parents was outrage.

    • namnezia says:

      That’s the thing I don’t understand about a lot of so-called advocacy groups, it’s not clear what kind of awareness they raise. Like this whole pink ribbon thing and breast cancer, it’s not clear to me what they mean by “raising awareness” or whether it makes them raise more money for their cause, or if its more just a way for others to feel good about themselves by feeling like they are somehow helping a cause by wearing pink. I’ve no doubt that these organizations are well intended, but to some degree there seems to be a huge disconnect between their campaigns and the people for whom they are supposedly advocating for.

  4. Anon says:

    As an academic on the spectrum (Asperger’s – at least I was prior to DSM-V) I find these kinds of campaigns incredibly offensive and ignorant. I recognize that on the spectrum I am extremely high functioning. I also will admit that many of the individuals at the lower end of the functioning spectrum really are non-functioning and thus the doom and gloom view really is part of the grieving process. At the same time, I am always amazed at the views towards Down’s kiddos and the (generally, or at least most vocal) positive view of the parents. Maybe it’s because there is more of a spectrum of functionality in autism which means that people don’t go through the stages of grieving as quickly as the parent of a child with trisomy 21?

    I will say, that as much as possible I disclose my status as a way of showing what you can accomplish on the spectrum. However as a lowly graduate student I also am aware of the real risks involved in disclosure and thus limit it more than I would like.

  5. Pingback: Autism Speaks: Follow Up Post | autismjungle

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