Members of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network protested in front of the Washington Monument Saturday morning during Autism Speaks’ event, Walk Now for Autism Speaks.

Both ASAN and Autism Speaks are nonprofit organizations that focus on autism advocacy; however, ASAN is run entirely by autistic individuals, while Autism Speaks does not include autistic leaders and focuses on preventative research.

“Most of what they do is … preventative care. … We don’t want to be prevented. I am not a puzzle piece,” said Lydia Brown (COL ’15), who identifies as autistic and interns for ASAN.

The protest featured five to 10 ASAN representatives holding posters with slogans such as “Autistic is awesome” and “You are perfect the way you are.” The protesters did not harass the walkers, and some Walk Now participants stopped to speak to the ASAN representatives and took pamphlets.

Brown first discovered ASAN in 2009 while researching Autism Speaks. Through her research, Brown discovered that only 4 percent of Autism Speaks’ budget actually goes back to family services, while 44 percent of the funds support research.

“Autism Speaks has no funding for alternative and augmentative communication — things that would make our lives better, like speaker-to-text and sign language services,” Brown said.

Unlike Autism Speaks, which has no autistic individuals on its board, ASAN is run entirely by autistic individuals. The organization was founded in 2005 and gained prominence through a successful campaign to remove billboards in Times Square that equated autism to stealing the life of a child,
“The only people [who] can really speak to the autistic experience are autistic people. It is important that people understand what we want and need,” ASAN Director of Community Engagement Melody Latimer said.

ASAN focuses on providing support and public policy advocacy for autistic individuals through programs such as the Empowering Autistic Leaders Project for college-aged students. ASAN also help autistic adults — for whom the unemployment rate can be up to 80 percent — find jobs and live as independently as possible.

Latimer said the protesters attempted to convey a message of optimism.

“What we’re trying to say is, ‘Look, its not all bad — we were your child at some point,’” she said. “I’ve found that a lot more people have begun listening to us, are taking our word for it.”

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