Ed Asner’s Response to Autism Speaks Criticism
I really want to talk about something that happened over the last week. A well-respected science journalist, named Steve Silberman, released an op-ed piece in the "LA Times" entitled "Autism Speaks needs to do a lot more listening." Liz Feld wrote a beautiful response that is available on the Autism Speaks website. I urge everyone to go read it.
My father actually wrote a response that was not in any newspaper or not on a national website, and I certainly would like people to hear what he has to say. It's not often I have to shout out what he has to say, but this time I really feel it's worth it, and I wanted you all to hear it. I'm going to read it to you. This is Ed Asner's response to Steve Silberman's op-ed piece. I'm going to need my reading glasses for this.
"Steve Silberman's op-ed piece in the "Los Angeles Times" titled "Autism Speaks needs to do a lot more listening" was an interesting example of the pot calling the kettle black. Silberman issues all sorts of examples of how Autism Speaks is running in the opposite direction of what individuals with autism are in need of. It seems as though he took the hyperbole of the Boycott Autism Speaks group without actually researching what Autism Speaks does.
I'm the father of a son, and a grandfather to grandsons on the spectrum. In my 19 years of being connected with autism, I find it hard to come up with another organization that has done more for individuals with autism than Autism Speaks has, or does.
Silberman is quick to criticize an annual fundraiser that Autism Speaks is called Light Up The Blues. I was lucky enough to be in the audience this year, and one of the highlights of this concert over the last three years has been the event's celebration of the talents of individuals with autism. Spencer Harte, Nick Guzman, Rio Wyles, Matt Savage, Lexington Aaron, and Xolie Morra have all graced the Light up the Blues stage with some of the biggest stars in music and have risen to the occasion.
He also criticizes the Autism Speaks walks, which bring hope to thousands of families across the country and connects them to valuable resources. Silberman asks readers to imagine an all white NAACP, making a preposterous comparison to the executives and board of Autism Speaks. Many of the board members and executives of Autism Speaks have children on the spectrum, and I'm one of them. There are parents, parents who, like me, want to see their children and adults living with autism have the best chance at a life they richly deserve. While I agree that it is time for an individual with autism to be on the board, this comparison is misleading, at best.
I am a parent that has been helped by Autism Speaks, and I believe that anyone with a horse in the autism race has been as well. While Autism Speaks' Science Department continues to lead in that area, Autism Speaks has made great strides in other areas. Their resource toolkits are available for free on their website. They help many people through their autism treatment networks, two of which are in Southern California, the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles and the Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Irvine.
In the issues of housing and employment, they have come a long way, with the news that they are working on housing legislation in three states. There is a housing portal that individuals with autism and their families can use to find housing. Autism Speaks has formed a partnership with TheSpectrumCareers.com, a website run by an individual with autism dedicated to finding employment for individuals with autism. They helped pass insurance legislation in 42 states, and also were instrumental with the passage of the ABLE Act. Autism Speaks offers annual community grants, swimming grants, summer camp grants and an iPad grant program. They work in training first responders and have addressed the issue of wandering.
It is important to mention that one of AS's biggest criticisms has always been that they are too big, and that the science dollars aren't going to anything tangible, which I don't personally agree with. I feel it is extremely important to point out the Missing Project, one that Silberman dismisses. This partnership with Google will map 10,000 full genomes of individuals with autism and their families and will live on the cloud and be available to all who are researching in autism. The fact that this large organization is creating something available to all, that is not proprietary, not trademarked or copywritten, that I believe should and will lead to a better understanding of autism and better treatments for individuals with autism, is something that everyone should be talking more about.
I believe in this organization that is doing everything it can to change the world for people like my sons and grandsons." - Ed Asner.
Now I'm just going to say one quick thing about this, then we're going to move on. I work at Autism Speaks. I chose to work at Autism Speaks because I believe in what they're doing. I believe that they are the only organization out there that can move the way we need to move in this world. The only way for us to really do it is to work with other people and other organizations and to be together on this because it's a very small world. We need to stick together, or it's not going to get done.
I have three sons with autism, all differing levels of autism. Each one of them I feel incredibly blessed to have in my life. I have a brother with autism who is 27, who is finding it very hard to get a job. I think it's important for him to be able to work in this world as an individual with autism. I'm going to continue doing everything I can to fight and make sure that they have the life they need, that they have the life they deserve, because they deserve it. They deserve to have a chance at a fruitful life. I believe that what Autism Speaks is doing is going to help them get there.