Citizen Autistic is the followup to director William Davenport’s film Too Sane for This World, which documents the lives of 12 people living with either autism or Asperger’s syndrome. In Citizen Autistic, Davenport explores institutional challenges faced by people within the community when dealing with a world that thinks they need to be “cured,” and organizations that exploit their condition and deny them self-advocacy.
The film begins by documenting the horrific practices inflicted under the guise of “treatment” at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Massachusetts, and the efforts to ban them. But it segues quickly into the conflicts within the autism community regarding the operations and objectives of Autism Speaks, the 1000 pound gorilla advocacy group.
Through interviews with people like Ari Ne’eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network Landon Bryce of the Autcast, Davenport paints a portrait of an organization that sucks up all the money using fear-mongering propaganda techniques that stigmatize people with autism, funneling the lion’s share into the search for a genetic “cure.”
Perhaps more damning, however, is the way in which people with autism feel they are denied self-advocacy by Autism Speaks. There are no people with autism on the organization’s board, and the activists interviewed feel that its goals are primarily defined by families who feel burdened by the challenges that autism can present and just want it to go away, rather than by people who feel that it is an integral part of who they are.
Davenport documents the lavish salaries that Autism Speaks pays its staff, and asserts that only a small fraction of the money it raises each year goes to provide services to people with autism. These kinds of problems are not new to big foot advocacy groups (I’m looking at you, Susan G. Komen), but the way in which members of the autism community feel exploited, stigmatized and excluded by Autism Speaks are. The film actually documents efforts of intermediaries to moderate discussions between advocates with disparate goals, and the film will hopefully play an important role in bringing the battle for self-advocacy to the fore.