I understand that your executive decisions on corporate sponsorship are not going to be easily influenced by a few well-written blog posts or a few nicely-edited images. I understand that fame begets fame and that there are many practical advantages for an organization to partner with another well-established organization.
But all of this understanding and practicality means little when I look into the eyes of my 16 month old niece.
She hits all of the developmental checkmarks, some of them well in advance. She makes great eye-contact and speaks a few words...in two languages, no less. She smiles, laughs, plays, and drives her poor mother crazy with her agility, speed, and curiosity.
But I assure you that she wouldn't be an ounce less loved, an ounce less adored, celebrated, and even spoiled, if this were not the case. I would tell her this in a heartbeat. Her mother would tell her this in a heartbeat, as would her father, her grandparents, and most everyone else who knows her.
You would tell her this, too, wouldn't you? I would like to believe that you would tell every child out there that their being loved, respected, and accepted isn't contingent on their ability to do what the textbooks say they should be doing or to not do what the textbooks say they should not be doing. You would tell them this, right?
Autism Speaks wouldn't, at least not as the organization is presently run. Much of the advertising and information put out by Autism Speaks is a message of one's worth, one's acceptability, being largely based on how one measures up to the checklists set out by doctors, that one should not exist unless one is "healthy" and "normal." The proof is everywhere, as many of these heartfelt pleas have already mentioned (but, for your easy access:
news/news-item/autism-speaks- washington-call-action, in which autistic children and their families are implied to be "not really living"; also, see http://www. autismparentingmagazine.com/ issue-14-asd-options-living- independently/#.U7XmWvldUnV).
I do not want my niece to grow up in a world where messages like this, messages of fear and hatred, are shoved in her face, especially not by her colorful, happy, singing friends at Sesame Street.
I want her to grow up up in a world where she knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that she is still worthy, still loved, still so incredibly precious to this world regardless of what challenges she faces or what flaws she may have.
I want her to grow up in a world where autistic aunts don't have to worry that their nieces will be treated with less love and respect than they deserve if the child grows up to be "like them."
And you, my friends at Sesame Street, can help us to create this world. You have already done a pretty good job at this by creating a community of characters that love and accept each other in spite of--no, because of--their differences. You can further this message by partnering with organizations that preach the same celebration of diversity.
Autism Speaks is not that organization.
Thank you for your time.