Autism Community Clashes Over Cancelled Chili's Fundraiser
The decision by Chili's to cancel an autism fundraiser has earned the restaurant chain both praise and scorn from the autism community.
The fundraiser, which would have donated 10 percent of the restaurant chain's proceeds nationwide today to the National Autism Association, was cancelled Sunday after critics called the charity "anti-vaccine."
"While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday's Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests," the restaurant chain said in a statement. "We believe autism awareness continues to be an important cause to our guests and team members, and we will find another way to support this worthy effort in the future with again our sole intention being to help families affected by autism."
Despite an absence of evidence linking vaccines to autism, a small but vocal faction of the autism community still believes the two are connected. On its website, the National Autism Association says vaccinations "can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions."
Some autism advocates praised Chili's decision to cancel the fundraiser.
"Anti-vaccination organizations such as NAA promote dangerous 'treatment' methods such as chelation that harm autistic children and young adults," Stephan Ray wrote on Chili's Facebook page. "We hope that you will continue to support your autistic customers, neighbors and employees by choosing to partner with an organization that promotes the strengths of autistic people."
Some supporters even encouraged Chili's to add vaccination awareness to its list of fundraisers.
"It would be helpful if you'd spend a bit of time on the fact that measles outbreaks all across North America are hospitalizing mostly unvaccinated children and it's only a matter of time before someone is permanently disabled or dies due to measles," Velvet Page wrote on Chili's website. "Since vaccines actually have nothing whatsoever to so with autism, it might be nice if you were to promote vaccination campaigns alongside promoting help for children and families living with autism."
But some critics called the cancellation a "cowardly" bow to pressure from the pro-vaccine camp, while others saw it as a withdrawal of support for people with autism.
"Since Chili's does not wish to support this group, I will no longer be able to support Chili's," Dennis Roach wrote on Chili's Facebook page.
Some people even criticized Chili's for pitting the autism community against itself.
"I am sad to see something you meant for good to turn out to be something that only gave those warring against each other opportunity to take advantage of it for their own benefit," Toni Welch wrote on Chili's Facebook page. "When people do this, no one wins. Not either side, and certainly not those who would have been helped."
In a statement responding to the canceled fundraiser, the National Autism Association thanked Chili's for "taking a chance" and said it would continue to raise funds for its "Big Red Safety Box Program," which aims to help protect people with autism from wandering-related emergencies.
Autistic children are sometimes known to wander off when unsupervised, as in the high-profile case of Avonte Oquendo in New York City.
"Though NAA has changed our mission and efforts in recent years to focus on autism safety, namely wandering prevention, controversial views about vaccines remained on our website," the organization said on its Facebook page. "We respect their decision and ask everyone to please speak words of love and kindness."
The NAA did not respond to requests for further comment from ABC News.