Controversial New Movement: Autistic and Proud
A new crop of autism activists say stop looking for a cure, and start accepting.
June 10, 2008 — -- Ari Ne'eman and Kristina Chew say they are the faces and voices of autism's future.
They're part of a controversial group hoping to radically change the way others look at autism. Their message: Stop the search for a cure and begin celebrating autistic people for their differences. It's a message that has some parents of autistic children bewildered and angry.
Ne'eman, 20, is the founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, a non-profit group aimed at advancing autism culture and advocating for "neurodiverse" individuals.
"We believe that the autism spectrum and those on it, are important and necessary parts of the wide diversity present in human genetics," Ne-eman says on the ASAN Web site.
Ne'eman was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a less severe form of autism, as a child.
"I think the others around me knew I was different from as early as I can remember," he told "Good Morning America."
When Ne'eman says that looking for a cure for autism is the wrong approach to take, he understands why some parents are upset -- especially those with very low-functioning, non-communicative autistic children.
"I think that one of the key issues to remember is that anti-cure doesn't mean anti-progress," he said.
Kristina Chew, a professor at St. Peter's College in New Jersey, is one of the growing number of parents involved the movement.
When her son, Charlie, was diagnosed with severe autism, Chew said, "I was completely in a gulf. I didn't believe it for months."
Chew now believes that autism treatments and so-called cures are a waste of time. She said she'd rather see Charlie, now 11, benefit from better support services and education.
"My son is who he is. He's not going to change; he's always going to be Charlie. And at the same time, I loved him just for what he was," Chew said.
Parents like Chew and autistic adults like Ne'eman joined forces several months ago, after seeing an edgy new campaign to fight autism from the New York University Child Study Center that implied children with autism are held hostage by the disorder.
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