Sesame Street has always been a place where children of all walks of life, colors and disabilities can go and find camaraderie and good times. Diversity is embraced and celebrated on Sesame Street. When the autistic community found out that the show was partnering with the organization Autism Speaks, there was so much disappointment that a petition has been started asking Sesame Street’s producers to reconsider their decision.
As it turns out, there is even a Boycott Autism Speaks movement. Apparently, the organization not only spends very little of the money it raises on actual services for autistic people, but the language they use for their fundraising efforts is full of fear mongering and imagery that does not fairly represent the autistic community.
The key issues with Autism Speaks include, but are not limited to: having no autistic board members, more funds go into research to eradicate the disorder rather than helping those with autism, only 3 percent of their revenue is spent on services and they use scare tactics to inspire people to donate money by portraying autism as a tragedy.
Besides some extremely dubious practices, Autism Speaks and similar organizations, have become outmoded forms of autism advocacy. For the most part, people with autism are proud and fully embrace their differences from the neuro-typical population. Parents of autistic children are also quite fond of their kids’ eccentricities. One mother stated that she does not think she would know how to deal with an average child, “It would be so boring.”
Rather than attempting to wipe out autism by assimilating children to some arbitrary idea of normal behavior, or worse yet, molding them into typical model children, many families affected by autism are taking a different approach. Parents are accepting the paradigm shift brought on by raising an autistic child. This alteration in thinking has not caused tragedies but has instead inspired enlightenment. The ability to speak out with a united voice is just one manifestation of this phenomenon.
Adults with autism are rallying together against the collaboration between a show they grew up with and an organization that does not speak for them. Amy Sequenzia, an adult with autism, has asked Sesame Street to not join up with a group that routinely silences autistic people. She wants all autistic children to grow up feeling proud of who they are.
Lei Wiley-Mydske is not only an autistic adult, but has an autistic child. She told the makers of Sesame Street that if they truly wish to celebrate diversity, they need to end their partnership with the much maligned Autism Speaks. Messages of fear and despair are misleading and labeling autism as something shameful is how the organization has made all of its money. She goes on to say that autism is essentially a different way for brains to interpret the world. Stories deserve to be told by the people who experience them. Wiley-Mydske pleads with the producers to not aid in the continuation of Autism Speaks dominating the conversation with their harmful rhetoric.
The autistic experience is an opportunity for people to learn and grow. It is a wake up call to a society that has relied too heavily upon antiquated ways of approaching children, spirituality and education. Groups like Autism Speaks need to either make some major changes by catching up to the rest of the movement or throw in the towel. Until they do, the autistic community will continue to request that important businesses and institutions, like Sesame Street, sever ties with Autism Speaks.
Opinion By Stacy Lamy