Autistic self-advocacy became organized in the 1990s as a part of the disability rights movement. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network was founded in 2006 in response to the lack of representation of autistic voices in the national dialogue on autism, and became widely known in December 2007 after a successful letter-writing protest campaign led to the removal of the “Ransom Notes” billboards in New York City, which had compared autism to a kidnapper snatching children from society.
Our founders believed that in order for autistic people and all people with disabilities to enjoy equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency – the four goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act – we needed representation wherever issues that impacted on our lives were under discussion. ASAN was started by autistic adults who were unhappy with the prevailing public dialogue on autism, believing that the autism world would be better served by ending the misguided search for a “cure” and focusing on empowering and supporting autistic people and all people with disabilities to live the lives we wanted.
From 2006 to 2010, ASAN grew as an all-volunteer organization, developing an initial chapter network and a national profile by standing up to those who talked about autism without autistic people. In January 2011, we acquired 501c3 tax-exempt status and our first grants, leading to the hiring of our first staff members and the establishment of our main office in Washington, DC. Today, ASAN’s activities are diverse and broad ranging, including not only advocacy but also programming in leadership development, technical assistance, employment opportunities, publications, community based participatory research, public policy analysis and education and other efforts to help inform decision-makers and the public about the autism spectrum and the perspectives of those on it.
ASAN also plays a critical role in the broader disability rights movement. While we are an organization run by and for autistic people, we believe strongly in cross-disability advocacy and organizing. As a result, most of our policy work and a significant percentage of our organizing and technical assistance activities are focused more broadly on people with disabilities in general or on the community of people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). We believe strongly in the values of cross-disability collaboration and have significant partnerships with other self-advocate controlled organizations as well as parent and provider organizations with whom we share common interests.