Columbus protest against Autism Speaks

On Sunday, October 10, I joined forces with a dozen individuals and protested the Autism Speaks Walk for Autism at Ohio State. We faced 18,000 walkers, several of whom screamed at us, berated us, tried to exact physical harm upon us. One walker had to be physically restrained by a friend and a walk official; and at another point, a car full of walkers swerved at our faculty advisor in a mock attempt to hit her, and they drove off laughing.

Me, a white woman with blonde hair, holding a blue sign that reads People not puzzles. There is also a light blue puzzle piece crossed out in red on the poster.
Me holding a sign: “People not puzzles!”

I managed to maintain my composure throughout the protest, regardless of the insults thrown our way, regardless of the noise and clamor and overt hostility of the event. But then I came home and started sifting through an hour’s worth of video footage — and I broke down. Sobbing, shaking, rocking. It was so intense, all so intense.

I don’t want the next generation of autistic people to face this crap. I want it to be different for them. I want them to take pride in who they are as autistic people, and I want those who love them to take pride in who they are as autistic people. I want autistic ways of thinking, being, and knowing to be valued and validated. I want autistic people to have a say in the decisions that concern them.

And most importantly, I want there to be autistic people.

Video recaps of the protest:

Our protest attracted media attention from 10TV, ABC 6, and independent journalists. Even today — Wednesday, four days later — random strangers notice the Autistic Pride button on my backpack and exclaim, “Hey! I saw you on the news! You talked about where the money goes for that autism walk.” These things help — knowing that our four-hour ordeal has had some tangible effect, has furthered our cause.

We were featured on the ABC 6 news, and I provided a brief soundbite:

We also created our own video of the protest. Nick J. was our cameraman extraordinaire, and I did the editing. The video is still painful for me to watch — especially toward the end, while we’re chanting Autism Speaks needs to listen, and, in an alarming touch of irony, the walkers drown us out by collectively screaming O-H-I-O!

As I replay the clip, I have to cover my ears, tuck my chin down into my chest, breathe heavy. It is hard to watch, but it is a poignant example of Autism Speaks’ attempts to silence us, to refuse to listen to us, to never let autistics speak.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a thank you. Thank you. An incredible number of people, local and distant, helped us through this protest. And despite the protest’s emotional toll, perhaps even because of the protest’s emotional toll, I’m glad we did it. And I know that we need to continue doing it. Change is long and hard. But it’s happening.

Protesters face the crowd of walkers
Protesters face the crowd of walkers

11 thoughts on “Columbus protest against Autism Speaks”

  1. No matter what anyone else says, we’re doing the right thing. Even if we fail, that’s what matters. If rights struggles were easy and always won by the first groups of people who bring them up, they wouldn’t be called struggles.

    1. Jessica: Totally. It’s hard work, but it’s necessary work. And I plan on continuing it. But man… that was one intense protest.

      Glad to have you with us. 🙂

  2. If it makes you feel any better, I honestly think that neurodifference rights will be successful sooner than one of the other rights movements which I hold dearly in my heart, youth rights. To oversimplify things, youth rights is at the “ignore you”, maybe the “laugh at you” stage, while neurodifference rights are at the early “then they fight you” stage. Somewhat selfishly, I hope that the success of neurodifference rights will help youth rights, because one of the bullshit arguments they always throw at us is “the young brain”, as if minor differences in how info is processed (differences that are hard to even prove) justify bigotry.

  3. Hi there, I saw the posts about the protest on the ASAN website and I was intrigued. I wish I lived closer to Ohio so I could come to one of your meetings. I attend Michigan State and I have Asperger’s. I was wondering where you got your “Autism Speaks doesn’t speak for me” shirt.

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  6. “I want them to take pride in who they are as autistic people, and I want those who love them to take pride in who they are as autistic people.”

    I don’t. I want them to not HAVE to take pride in who they are as Autistic people because they are accepted regardless of their neurology.

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