The Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network (AWN), an organization primarily led by autistic people of color, is appalled by the August 13 Today Show article, “Why there’s a war between parents of children with autism and autistic adults.” This article minimized decades of neurodiversity advocacy, platformed a known hate group, and included no identifiable people of color in its initial publication. We join a national coalition of renowned Black-led autism organizations and advocates who are also speaking out against the article, including The Color of Autism, Thriving on the Spectrum, Fidgets and Fries, and Not Your Mama’s Autism podcast.
Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, AWN’s Equity, Justice, & Representation Consultant, said,
“As a Black autistic parent of autistic and non-autistic children, I feel extremely erased and hurt by this article. Not only does it largely exclude the perspectives of people of color and other marginalized groups who are autistic adults and/or autism parents, it also fuels a polarizing and narrow narrative that doesn’t sufficiently reflect the realities of many lived experiences concerning autism and parenting.”
Camille Proctor, founder and executive director of The Color of Autism, is a Black mother of an autistic teen. She reached out to the editor to express her concerns. Reportedly, both the editor and the author have “profusely apologized” for this egregious erasure and the writer has pledged to make revisions to the article to make it more inclusive of diverse perspectives.
Yet, even with these remedial actions, the fact that a leading publication would think it appropriate to erase Black autistic voices and other autistic people of color speaks volumes. Such erasure is profoundly disturbing, especially given the pervasive and well-documented racial inequities that exist in the autism community. Data has consistently shown that from autism screening to diagnostics to treatment to research to media to education and beyond, autistic people of color fare worse than white peers, and Black autistic people in particular experience even more pernicious racism and ableism. Autistic people of color’s experiences with racism further compound the discrimination and lack of acceptance that every autistic person experiences.
A group of prominent Black advocates have joined to demand specific redress and new policies to prevent similar erasure from taking place again. Members of this collaborative include Morénike Giwa Onaiwu of AWN, Camille Proctor of The Color of Autism, attorney Lola Olley, Tracey Hawkins of the tech startup Thriving on the Spectrum, and autistic educator Tiffany Hammond of Fidgets and Fries. All are Black parents of autistic children, in addition to several identifying as disabled, including half as autistic specifically.
“As a Black Autistic parent raising two Black Autistic children,” said Tiffany Hammond, “the lack of diverse voices chosen to be photographed and interviewed for this article was infuriating, heartbreaking, but not surprising.”
It is reprehensible that the Today Show would publish an article about autism that omits Black voices. Hastily adding in a few quotes from parents of color with autistic children in a clandestine manner after being called out is not an acceptable way to take accountability.
Today Show must publish a follow-up article featuring numerous and diverse voices of people of color, especially Black voices, who are trusted and vetted BY the community. This would be the minimum action necessary to mitigate some of the harm Today Show has caused.
We demand news outlets tell our stories, and future stories center the voices of marginalized individuals, particularly those of the Black community as well as other people of color. This also requires a long-term commitment to hiring and paying autistic and other disabled people of color in the newsroom, photojournalism, and editorial departments; sourcing authentic representation from the most impacted communities; and uplifting stories about people, communities, and issues outside of the most privileged in society.