Action for Children's Diabolical Advertising Campaign
I am writing to protest the remarkably inappropriate advertising campaign you have running to apparently raise awareness of autism and how Action for Children charities can help. I have also seen the series of motherhood statements issued in response to similar protests, all more or less taking the combinatorial line that our intentions are pure and that these are Dan’s own words. The latter point may have had some validity if it were not for one expert who thought the whole thing smacked of brain washing and didn’t mind saying so. In fact some of the world’s leading experts have come out publicly criticising this advertisement. Here’s some of what they had to say:
From Dr Mitzi Waltz,
I had been hearing for several days about this advert. It has been incredibly distressing for many people with autism and their family member
I have now had a look and must say that I share their views. The voiceover distinctly says that his AUTISM was the problem, and implies that a special school is the solution to that problem.
You note above that families are struggling to cope, and I agree. As a parent, I have been in their shoes. The answer would not have been to remove my bullied, upset, hurt child to a residential school and then tell him that he needs to be a "better person."
The answer would be to provide support to struggling families and children in their own schools and communities, and to advocate for changing the system that seems to feel it is OK for young people with autism to be bullied and excluded.
This advertising campaign is disappointing and demeaning (by the way, the advert about the young carer also seems to fit the theme of accepting that children are dumped on, and that providing individual support without advocating for systems change is adequate.)
Dr. Mitzi Waltz
Lecturer in Autism Studies, University of Birmingham
(writing in my personal capacity)
From Professor Baron-Cohen
"Whilst I support any efforts to help children with autism and to alleviate suffering, I hope there will be more thought given to both the language and the imagery we use, to avoid risk of offence. For example, the name of the charity DAN contains the word "Defeat", as if autism is a disease like cancer against which we have to wage war. Autism is a complex mix of disability and strength, and whilst we need to work to find imaginative ways to reduce the disabling aspects, we do not wish to "defeat autism" since this would also eliminate the positive aspects. The latter include an excellent attention to detail, excellent memory for detail, and the ability to focus for long periods on a narrow topic. These features are not just seen in the high-functioning individuals or those with Asperger Syndrome but are seen right across the autistic spectrum. Sometimes these positive aspects can result in remarkable talents.
We need to work to get the balance right, between using treatments for those aspects of autism that need treatment (such as the language difficulties, the epilepsy, the self-injury, the gut issues, or the learning difficulties) and encouraging those aspects of autism that do not need treatment and are special, so that the person can fulfil their potential. An image of a child as a demon in an ad campaign is equally unhelpful if we are to educate the public about autism. These issues, about language and imagery, are important if we take seriously the notion of neurodiversity, and wish to show respect towards those who are neurotypical and neuroatypical."
Professor Baron-Cohen of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University
From Dr Tony Attwood
“I am very concerned that the advert gives a message that children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome are dangerous and potentially disturbed.
When the child refers to “correct errors in my behaviour” this seems to imply ‘brain washing’ and a sense of guilt for how he behaved.
Many of the behaviours I consider as coping mechanisms for the lack of understanding and respect from other people.
He refers to reacting when people insult him. Those that insulted him need the treatment.”
Dr Tony Attwood, author of “The Complete Guide To Asperger’s Syndrome”
Many other knowledgeable folk have protested this ill thought out campaign. It becomes apparent that Action for Children did not consult with anyone in the field before airing this sorry advertisement. For future endeavours, would you mind doing so?