Lindt Chocolate partners with Autism Speaks

I’m a little bit late in posting this (PhD life has caught up to me, it seems), but the issue is still ongoing: Lindt Chocolates has partnered with Autism Speaks for a fundraising campaign. Lindt plans to donate funds from the sales of its gold chocolate bunnies and bunny ears to Autism Speaks.

One of the things I love about the newly vamped is its actions feature: there’s a growing community of neurodiversity advocates there, mostly due to the blogging efforts of Kristina Chew and Dora Raymaker, and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network has been able to create form letters/petitions via the interface. In short, it is now incredibly easy to send protest letters to various organizations and companies. ASAN provides you with a stock letter for the controversy du jour, which you can edit, and ASAN sends the letter as an email to the desired parties. It’s pretty cool. You can view the Lindt action here.

Back to Lindt…

Apparently, their support of of Autism Speaks has been going on for a while now. And, I’ve just learned that Toys R Us has additionally been partnering with Autism Speaks. Starbucks began printing blurbs about Autism Speaks on its coffee cups two years ago, and Hulu receives some of its sponsorship from Autism Speaks.The list of Autism Speaks’ BFFs seems never-ending.

Autism Speaks has a tremendous amount of corporate and media support. It’s little wonder that the autism controversy isn’t even rendered as a controversy in popular discourse. When I try to explain the concept of neurodiversity, for instance, to someone new to the autism fold, a typical remark resembles the following: “That’s stupid. Why wouldn’t someone want a cure?”

Autism Speaks’ toehold on autism discourse in popular media de-de-de-controversializes autism, de-de-de-ideologizes autism, re-re-re-pathologizes autism, and re-re-re-silences autistics. (And yes, I tripled the prefixes on purpose — something, anything, to effectively represent my emphatic tone here.)

Additionally, because of cure-minded groups like Autism Speaks (they aren’t the only one with media clout), neurodiversity comes across as some sort of fringe group of fame-seekers. Last year’s New York Magazine feature on the movement sported the following byline: “A new wave of activists wants to celebrate atypical brain function as a positive identity, not a disability. Opponents call them dangerously deluded [emphasis mine].” Moreover, a fairly recent Good Morning America segment on neurodiversity — which featured wonderful spots with Ari Ne’eman and Kristina Chew — ended with an incredulous Diane Sawyer showcasing both her doubt and her journalistic ethos.

I think the frustrating thing here is that, to the public masses, neurodiversity seems so new, so “out there,” so contained and so rare. Neurodiverse advocates are either painted as too disabled or too autistic to understand how badly they’re “suffering,” or as too high-functioning to know what “real” autism is. It’s a frustrating catch-22, to cite the novel that my book club recently finished.