In Seattle, a bus advertisement with the best of intentions recently sparked outrage among some in the autism community. So much so that the Seattle Children's Hospital, who sponsored the advertisements, had to pull them from all buses.
Next to an adorable boy's smiling face was one sentence: "Let's wipe out cancer, diabetes, and autism in his lifetime." It seems like something with which no one could disagree --- who wouldn't want to wipe out autism? In fact, there are actually more than a few people who believe it's not something we should try to wipe out, but rather something that should be embraced.
Matt Young, co-leader of The Autistic Self Advocacy Network's Washington chapter, explained why it's offensive to some via his Tumblr account.
[The ad] may look to you like a simple message of hope, calling for an end to medical conditions that destroy lives. But despite popular opinion, that’s not what autism is. Unlike cancer or diabetes, autism is not a life-threatening condition. Autism itself often enriches lives; it is the fear, desperation and hatred that our culture currently holds for autism that can and does destroy lives.
It's not the first time we've heard this argument, and I understand it ... to a degree. I also admire him and those who hold these beliefs greatly for embracing the differences this disability brings with it -- but it is a disability. For so very many families, autism presents incredibly painful and difficult challenges. It can be heartbreaking and devastating, financially and emotionally. Parents of children with autism worry about their safety every day and lie awake at nights worrying about their future. While it may not technically be a disease (and no one really knows, so it could be), it can be no less harmful to a family than cancer or diabetes.
For some on the high-functioning end of the spectrum, it may just be part of what makes them them. However, I have a hard time believing that anyone -- if given the chance -- wouldn't prefer to live (or have their children live) in a world without every emotional and social advantage they could have without a disability.
Wishing away something that affects your child's health doesn't mean that you don't love your child (or yourself) as they are. I don't know one family affected by autism who doesn't wish they'd never heard that word, even though they love their children fiercely. And society wanting to spare people the pain that comes with autism doesn't mean we hate people who have it. Does society have a long way to go when it comes to understanding autism and embracing those who have it? Absolutely, but I also don't think that means we shouldn't do everything we can to stop it from affecting anyone we can.
Do you understand/agree with the reason people wanted these advertisements pulled?
Image via Beverly & Pack/Flickr