Autistic people need us to act fearlessly this World Autism Month

A letter from Autism Speaks CEO

By Keith Wargo, Autism Speaks CEO April 2, 2024
Keith Wargo's headshot

With 1 in 36 children and 1 in 45 adults now diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the need for total and true acceptance – not just awareness – of autistic people and their needs is at an all-time high. It is not enough for autism to just be recognized, it must be accepted and accommodated. Autistic people should be celebrated for their differences and supported, unconditionally, in their needs. Until then, those living with autism will continue to be marginalized, underestimated, or overlooked. This World Autism Month, Autism Speaks is standing with the autism community to change that.

The increase in diagnoses in the U.S. has brought an influx of people searching for important resources and trusted recommendations as they navigate their world with autism. Unfortunately, in the last several years, we’ve also seen a significant rise in misinformation spread online, which is particularly alarming when it appears in conversations about autism. In fact, a recent study by Drexel University found that less than one-third of autism videos posted on TikTok were accurate, while 41% were inaccurate and 32% overgeneralized.

This trend is both devastating and damaging for our community. Misinformation can cultivate a hateful environment where people on various levels of the spectrum are vulnerable to offensive commentary and false beliefs, but it also can stand as a barrier to access the vital support services for the autistic community and their families that Autism Speaks and other organizations provide. Too often, we see members of the autism community, our partners and general supporters harassed online simply for citing a resource from Autism Speaks or recommending services, which have proven beneficial to them. The false information that is sometimes circulated online, about autism, our organization and others, can stop a person in need of support from reaching out to make a connection.

For this reason, I’m asking for your help

On behalf of Autism Speaks, this World Autism Month and beyond, I’m asking that those who care about, advocate for and champion the autistic community come together and #ActFearlesslyForChange

Together, we can create a world in which autistic people are surrounded by true friends and advocates, where their differences are welcomed and celebrated, not mocked, or ignored. A world in which reliable and evidence-based information is easy to find and where healthy debate can exist without discord or vitriol, where people aren’t attacked for asking a question or sharing a differing perspective. A world in which opportunities exist for everyone, no matter where they are on the spectrum, and where the same praise is given to one autistic person’s little wins and another’s major milestones. A world in which autistic people, their families and friends can live fearlessly.

For nearly two decades, Autism Speaks has been a leading source of information and a force for meaningful connections within the autism community. We’ve been steadfast allies, advocating, supporting and standing with autistic people at every stage of their journey.

Our strength comes from the courage of those who are autistic; from caregivers tirelessly championing their cause, from the therapists working with families, from teachers fostering safe havens in the classroom, from the doctors providing early diagnoses, and from the employers daring to embrace diversity – your fearlessness fuels our mission.

In a previous message, I acknowledged we won’t always get it right, but we will always work to do our best to reach our organizational goal of helping those with autism reach their fullest potential.

Today, I am asking you to join us in pursuit of that goal. Pledge now to #ActFearlesslyForChange and join us this World Autism Month as we work to build a better world for those with autism.