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Was Seattle Children’s Hospital wrong for autism bus ad?

Seattle Children's Hospital has agreed to pull down bus ads featuring a young boy with the message: "Let's wipe out cancer, diabetes and autism in his lifetime," after receiving complaints on their Facebook page. (AP Photo/file)

Seattle Children’s Hospital has agreed to pull down bus ads featuring a young boy with the message: “Let’s wipe out cancer, diabetes and autism in his lifetime,” after receiving complaints on their Facebook page.

The feedback said autism isn’t something that needs a cure or to be wiped out and that the ads were not sensitive to those in the autistic community.

“Autism is a lifelong disability for us to adapt to, not a medical infection to be overcome with some kind of ‘cure,'” said Matt Young, an autistic man who wrote a blog drawing attention to the ad. “Please remember this when creating ads that refer to autism, or when speaking publicly about autism. It is not okay to talk about autism as a purely negative thing to be eliminated or wiped out. Remember, when you talk about autism, you’re not talking about a faceless, mindless disease, you’re talking about autistic people.”

KIRO Radio host Luke Burbank acknowledges this is a sensitive subject that impacts many people, but he believes work to eradicate autism can still be conducted while supporting those in the autistic community.

“It’s a little weird to act as if seeking an end to autism is somehow hurtful towards people who currently have autism. I think you can both provide help to, and love, and support, and treat as equals people with autism, and recognize that it is a syndrome that has a very negative impact on the lives of a lot of people.”

Co-host Tom Tangney says autistic people don’t necessarily think autism is something that should be “wiped out.”

“The way we see autism is not the same way that a lot of people with autism feel,” says Tom. “One of the best books I read in the last decade was this Andrew Solomon book “Far From the Tree.” He talked to me about how some in the disabled community are actually mad at do-gooders who want to make them, the so-called disabled, normal.”

Tom shared a clip from his interview with Andrew Solomon:

“At its most extreme, I think the idea was put forward by someone with autism, Jim Sinclair. He had this sense that the autism is so fundamental to who he is, it’s so fundamental to who all autistic people are, that when you pray for a cure, you’re really praying to have a different child instead of the one you have.”

But Luke points out that there are some people with very serious cases of autism and Sinclair is making the case that no one should be “cured.”

“I think it’s as audacious for him to say he gets to decide who does and doesn’t have autism because that is what he’s advocating for. He’s saying, ‘Don’t “fix” me and also don’t “fix” future potential autistic children.'”

“There are people who grow into adulthood and are completely unable to function in this world, and I think the idea that that’s just like, ‘Hey, that is just them doing them,’ that’s their journey. I don’t find that argument very convincing.”

Luke acknowledges he himself isn’t autistic, nor does he have an autistic child, so he may not be understanding this in the same way those close to autism would, but he still thinks picking Children’s Hospital as a target is a little off base.

“In this world, we need to identify who is on our side and who isn’t, and Seattle Children’s is on the side of autistic children and their families. They raise tons of money,” says Luke. “To single them out and make them apologize and walk this thing backwards it just to me, it’s like you’re really going after the wrong people.”

Either way, Seattle Children’s issued a statement on its Facebook page that included an apology for the ad:

“We are sorry for the hurt and anger these ads have caused – that was never their intent. We at Seattle Children’s fully support the autism community, and have therefore made the decision to remove these ads starting next week.”

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