Petition calls to dismantle Queen’s Autism Speaks Canada branch

“[We want to] replace misconceptions about neurodivergent people on campus”

Vera Aube started Stop Autism Speaks two weeks ago.
Supplied by Vera Aube

Vera Aube, ArtSci ’23, was diagnosed with autism over the winter break. After three and a half years at Queen’s, they now feel “validated” to speak out on behalf of the neurodivergent community.

Aube is petitioning to stop the Autism Speaks Canada (ASC) branch at Queen’s, alongside three neurodivergent friends. Almost 500 people have signed the petition since it opened around two weeks ago. The petition requests that the AMS “dismantle” Queen’s branch of ASC and replace it with another organization or support service.

ASC at Queen’s is a club that allegedly seeks to educate people about autism but, according to the petition, perpetuates “harmful mindsets.”

“It's scary to have [ASC] as the biggest representation [of people who are neurodivergent] because it presents us as an issue to society,” Aube said in an interview with The Journal. “[Autism] is just a different way the brain works, and I don't think there's a need to fix that.”

The Stop Autism Speaks Instagram account is sharing the petition and has an anonymous form that shares anecdotes from people who are or have close family members who are autistic.

Aube reached out to the AMS to investigate ASC two years ago and said they were ignored.

“Being neurodivergent, it's hard to build up the courage to email about those things and talk about them,” they said.

The “I Am Autism” commercial released by ASC in 2009 sparked controversy in its depiction of neurodiversity, according to Aube. The commercial spoke from the point of view of “autism” and describes how the presence of an autistic person could cause family issues.

“It depicts autism as this raging scary disease that will tear apart your families and make sure you never have another happy moment in your life.”

At the time of publication, a part of ASC’s mission is to research further the “causes” and “interventions” of autism. In Aube’s experience, autism is not a problem that needs to be “solved,” but something “we need different understandings [of] and help for.”

ASC rebranded in 2016 to “better serve the autism community,” they said in a statement to The Journal. The organization has autistic employees, family members, and professionals specializing in autism.

“It is obvious [ASC] is trying to rebrand and put as many asterisks to their history, but it’s far too late. Their damage has been done,” Clara Toth, ArtSci ’24 and a member of Stop Autism Speaks, wrote in a statement to The Journal.

According to a 2021 independent audit by RSM, ASC’s financial statements align with Canadian accounting standards for not-for-profit organizations. In September 2020, they added three new board members on the spectrum.

“Some people with autism are unable to advocate for themselves, while others can do so easily,” ASC’s statement said. “ASC works diligently to ensure all people are heard and strive to be representative of the diversity of the autism communities.”

Stop Autism Speaks wants to create a space where people who are neurodivergent can get support, like weekly meetings where neurodivergent peers can listen to one another.

“There are so many different autistic organizations that have been doing much better, like A4A—Autistics for Autistics Ontario,” Aube said.

Stop Autism Speaks is planning a rally on behalf of the autistic community at Queen’s.

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