'We are proud of our autism; we're not broken'

SEATTLE - Local autistic residents will protest the national nonprofit Autism Speaks during their annual fundraiser this Saturday at Seattle Center in opposition to the organization's mission to find a cure for autism.

Despite the fact that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control classifies autism as a developmental disorder, members of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) say autism is a part of who they are, and they don't want a cure.

"We are proud of our autism," said Matt Young, leader of the Washington Chapter of ASAN. "It's not something to be ashamed of. We're not broken."

ASAN has a long history of opposing Autism Speaks, claiming the organization describes autism as a tragedy and portrays autistic people as damaged and broken.

"They use these tragic depictions of autism to drive vulnerable, desperate parents to donate large sums of money to fund research into ways to eliminate this 'tragic' condition from existence," Young said.

Autism Speaks is hosting a fundraising walk at Seattle Center on Saturday. We reached out to the organization for comment but have received no response.

ASAN's primary objection to Autism Speaks is the suggestion that autism should be cured.

"A lot of their funding goes towards eliminating autism - to basically eliminate us as a people," Young said. "Very little goes to practical support for autistic people living today doing our best to make our way in this world."

Young said he would rather see funding go toward efforts that improve the quality of life for autistic people, such as employment support, education, healthcare and communication devices for autistic people.

He said Autism Speaks' message is dangerous for the autistic community, especially given the organization's size and vast funds.

"They sensationalize the hardships of raising an autistic child," Young said. "They use a pity-driven narrative to scare up funding. That doesn't serve any of us."

The protest will be held Saturday, Sept. 28 10 a.m. at Seattle Center.