A US advocacy group that has come under sustained criticism for seeking a ‘cure’ for autism has dropped the aim from its mission statement.
Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism. It quickly established itself as a major force in autism advocacy and research thanks to a $25 million donation from businessman and philanthropist Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot.
In 2006 it merged with the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and in 2007 with Cure Autism Now (CAN); both organisations are associated with the biomedical model of autism and a focus on genetic research into its causes, treatment and potential ‘cures’.
Controversy soon followed, however, as the Wright’s daughter, Katie publicly criticised the organisation for not spending more on investigating the now discredited claim linking autism to childhood vaccines, while others criticised it for giving too much credence to environmental as opposed to genetic factors.
The organisation was also slammed for spending a small percentage of its income on services for those with autism, for negative campaigning and fundraising that emphasised the ‘burden’ of autism, and for its executive pay.
These criticism finally led to disability activists launching a ‘Boycott Autism Speaks’ campaign in January 2014, which targeted sponsors, donors and supporters.
Autism Speaks’ revised mission statements says:
Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families through advocacy and support; increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder; and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions.
Autism Speaks enhances lives today and is accelerating a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow.
The change has been welcomed by some critics but others remain skeptical.
The Boycott Autism Speaks blog says that while Autism Speaks has removed the word ‘cure’ from its mission statement words like ‘solutions’ and talk about research into the causes of autism show it has not distanced itself completely from its previous approach.