On April 30, YouTuber Mark Rober and Jimmy Kimmel will be hosting a livestreamed fundraiser event for NEXT for Autism, called Color the Spectrum, which will be accompanied by A-list celebrities like Chris Rock and John Oliver.
It is a kind and noble gesture for celebrities to be supporting autistic people, but the cause they’re contributing to is not in the best interest of the group in question. As Autism Acceptance Month is nearing the end, it would be helpful for autistic voices to be front and center in the conversation. Disabled people often say, “Nothing About Us Without Us.” In regards to this ordeal, autistic people mean exactly that.
Fundraising proceeds for any disabled group should go to disabled-led organizations, and the community you’re raising funds for should be an active part in all stages of planning and production. That’s the “with us” part.
Anything “without us,” however well-intentioned, can have the unfortunate effect of harming rather than helping. That’s what happened with funds that NEXT has raised. In that Twitter thread, @AutSciPerson explains that NEXT has helped create the Center for Autism & the Developing Brain (CADB), which is part of the New York Presbyterian Westchester Behavioral Health Center.
The main problem with CADB is that the organization states directly in their mission statement that they are “conducting research that enhances the understanding of the causes, treatment, and prevention of autism spectrum disorders” (They have since edited the page, but screenshots will be provided proving the statement above). The idea of preventing autism has the potential for pregnant mothers to detect an autistic child in the womb, which could cause the child to be aborted, similar to the prenatal test for Down Syndrome. In Iceland, 100% of Down syndrome babies were aborted between 2008-2012, culling the population by a large margin. Autistic people are afraid of a similar fate to happen to future generations, which is why the community condemns NEXT for Autism.
NEXT’s past is just as dark as the present. In a Town & Country article from 2006, NEXT’s co-founder, Harry Slatkin, stated that he wanted his autistic son, David, to drown in the pond in their backyard. A person with such twisted thoughts should not be an authority on services for autism, which is another reason why the celebrities involved in Color the Spectrum should strongly consider withdrawing from the event.
What can they do instead?
Firstly, they can withdraw from the event publicly, which will gain the celebrity praise from autistic people everywhere. They can then support autistic-led charities such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network, and direct others to support them as well.
Next, they can seek out and amplify autistic people’s voices. A few individual advocates worth noting are Quinn Dexter from Autistamatic and JayJay from Not Another Autistic Advocate. Sharing the petitions autistic people create, which intends to help the community, would be wonderful too (the one in the link is to change Mark Rober’s NEXT fundraiser to benefit an autistic-led charity).
Lastly, they can take action to encourage inclusion and representation in their industry.
As of right now, some of the celebrities have listened. YouTuber Colleen Ballinger has withdrawn via a comment on one her videos. Karl Jacobs tweeted through his private account, @THEHONKBOY, that he will be withdrawing from the event unless if the charity being fundraised is changed. Finally, Rhett & Link stated that they too will no longer be participating in the event.
While there has been no response from the remaining celebrities, which include the likes of Andy Samberg, Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, Jack Black, and Terry Crews, ten days still remain before the event begins. Until that time, the opposition against NEXT for Autism from autistic people needs to be heard and spread.
Now what can the reader do? Simply put, just spread the word. The more people know about NEXT and the issues regarding Coloring the Spectrum, the more chances there will be to create lasting change for the autistic community at large. And hopefully, a future where autistic people will be embraced by those around them, rather than being “prevented.”