To the Autism Society of York, Pennsylvania:
The York, PA Autism Society has a well established history of working to advance understanding and support for families in the York and Adams county area. Your involvement with the HOPE playground, your extensive Spanish language resource list and your other activities set positive examples for other organizations throughout Pennsylvania. It is with this history of positive efforts in mind that we are forced to express our grave concern after having been contacted by several Autistic adults and family members about your current billboard campaign depicting Autistic children as kidnapping victims.
Image: Billboard stating “If 1 in 150 children were kidnapped we’d have a national emergency. We do. Autism.”
For decades, autism has been regrettably associated with fear and stigma. In the early years of the autism community, Bruno Bettelheim’s characterization of mothers of Autistic children as at fault for their child’s neurology ruined lives. In later decades, the same fear, stigma and constant search for blame persist even as science has discredited that particular causation theory. As we, Autistic adults and youth ourselves, attempt to assert our voices in the national conversation about us, we find ourselves characterized by those who often speak on our behalf as burdens on society, as not fully present within our own bodies and as individuals devoid of the full measure of personhood and humanity. Such mischaracterization threatens our efforts to be included in our homes, our schools, our communities and our collective society. By making the autism message one of fear, stigma and hostage-taking rather than one of civil rights, inclusion and support for all, our desire to be recognized as full and equal citizens in our communities is hurt.
The use of stolen-child imagery is one of many common motifs in autism awareness advertising. Unfortunately, it serves to send a message that Autistic people are less than fully present in our own bodies and are less than fully human. Such characterizations are frequently utilized to justify violence, prejudice and segregation against Autistic adults and children. The autism and Autistic communities deserve better than this.
It is due to these concerns that we respectfully request that the “Kidnapped” bill boards be taken down. We stand ready to work with you, the Autistic community of Pennsylvania and any other interested parties to formulate an ethical replacement that sends a message of hope and support to Autistic people and our families rather than one of fear and dehumanization. Whatever awareness these billboards may bring, it is more than outweighed by the stigma and ignorance they add to a public conversation about autism that is already too full of those things. We believe that, working together, a better solution can be found.
Due to the public impact- locally and throughout Pennsylvania – we request a response no later than three business days (Thursday, August 20th). I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 732.763.5530. Our Pennsylvania director can be reached at email@example.com. We request that you include him in your response.