SEATTLE – Seattle Children’s Hospital has pulled ads from King County Metro buses after advocates for the autistic community were outraged by what they saw as an appeal to "wipe out autistic people."
The ads showed a young boy and read "Let's wipe out cancer, diabetes and autism in his lifetime."
Members of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s Washington chapter launched an online campaign in response, posting comments on Seattle Children's Facebook page and sending emails in protest.
"We take it as an assault on our personhood and identity," said Matt Young, a member of ASAN who has autism himself. "There's no distinction between autism and autistic people. You're talking about wiping out autistic people."
Katharine Fitzgerald, director of marketing and health promotion at Seattle Children's, said the goal of the ad was to raise awareness of the diverse research the organization is conducting.
"We do research around the entire spectrum of children's diseases and conditions," Fitzgerald said. "We chose things that are dissimilar [for the ad] to show the breadth and depth of our research."
But, Young said Seattle Children's shouldn't invest research dollars in finding a cure for autism.
"It's a part of who I am," he said. "It's inseparable from my basic personhood. There's no such thing as a non-autistic me. We should instead be looking for ways to help us live full lives with accommodations needed to survive in a world that was not designed for us."
Fitzgerald said she understands some embrace autism and aren't looking for a cure, but she said others feel strongly that researchers should keep looking for a cure for autism and other neurodevelopmental diseases.
Young said he's not surprised.
"There's such a climate of fear around autism," he said. "So that is where the money goes. People don’t think about the social consequences of that. It is a tragedy for these people to feel there is something chronically broken about us."
While Fitzgerald said about half of the feedback from the Seattle Children's ads was positive, the slogan is currently being removed from Metro buses and online advertising.
"The ads were causing more harm than good," Fitzgerald said. "We were certainly not advocating we would wipe out people with autism, diabetes or cancer. It's about our quest to improve quality of life for patients and families with a broad array of diseases and conditions."
The bus ads were part of a $70,000 campaign by Children's. Fitzgerald said the same advertisement appeared on a downtown Seattle billboard between May and June, though the organization did not receive any negative response to it then.