ASA York to Take Down Billboards

Earlier today, ASAN sent ASA York the following letter:

To the Autism Society of York, Pennsylvania:

The York, PA Autism Society has a well established history of working to advance understanding and support for families in the York and Adams county area. Your involvement with the HOPE playground, your extensive Spanish language resource list and your other activities set positive examples for other organizations throughout Pennsylvania. It is with this history of positive efforts in mind that we are forced to express our grave concern after having been contacted by a number of Autistic adults and family members about your current billboard campaign depicting Autistic children as kidnapping victims.

For decades, autism has been regrettably associated with fear and stigma. In the early years of the autism community, Bruno Bettelheim’s characterization of mothers of Autistic children as at fault for their child’s neurology ruined lives. In later decades, the same fear, stigma and constant search for blame persist even as science has discredited that particular causation theory. As we, Autistic adults and youth ourselves, attempt to assert our voices in the national conversation about us, we find ourselves characterized by those who often speak on our behalf as though we are burdens on society and individuals devoid of the full measure of personhood and humanity. Such mischaracterization threatens our efforts to be included in our homes, our schools, our communities and our collective society. By making the autism message one of fear, stigma and hostage-taking rather than one of civil rights, inclusion and support for all, our desire to be recognized as full and equal citizens in our communities is hurt.

The use of stolen-child imagery is one of many common motifs in autism awareness advertising. Unfortunately, it serves to send a message that Autistic people are less than fully present in our own bodies and are less than fully human. Such characterizations are frequently utilized to justify violence, prejudice and segregation against Autistic adults and children. The autism and Autistic communities deserve better than this.

It is due to these concerns that we respectfully request that the “Kidnapped” bill boards be taken down. We stand ready to work with you, the Autistic community of Pennsylvania, and any other interested parties to formulate an ethical replacement that sends a message of hope and support to Autistic people and our families rather than one of fear and dehumanization. Whatever awareness these billboards may bring, it is more than outweighed by the stigma and ignorance they add to a public conversation about autism that is already too full of such things. We believe that, working together, a better solution can be found.

Due to the public impact- locally and throughout Pennsylvania – we request a response no later than three business days (Thursday, August 20th). I can be contacted at and by phone at 732.763.5530. Our Pennsylvania director can be reached at We request that you include him in your response.


Ari Ne’eman
Autistic Self-Advocacy Network

Not long after, ASA York replied.

Dear Friends in the Autism Community,

Regretfully it has been brought to the attention of the Autism Society of America – York Chapter – that our recent billboard campaign has caused undesirable confusion within the community. The intention of the billboard campaign was aimed at generating awareness to the general public and was in no way created to cause a malicious stir within the community. As a parent of a severely affected nine year old with Autism I can truly understand your passion regarding advocacy and respect for our children.

We thank you for your thoughts and concerns. I apologize for the misunderstanding and want you to know we will promptly remove the billboard posting.

Respectfully yours,
Amy Wallace
President ASA York

Short version: ASA York will be removing the billboards, thanks to the efforts of a number of people e-mailing and calling them this weekend. We have been able to join together as a community to voice our concern, and were heard. In a single weekend. How cool is that?

If you’d like to thank Amy Wallace for her prompt response that answered our concerns, her e-mail is . Considering some of the local community projects that ASA York has participated in, it looks like we could see more community involvement to come.

York, PA ASA’s Billboard Blunder

Some of you might remember the Ransom Note Campaign that NYU Child Study Center ran briefly in December of 2007. Briefly because the disability community, 22 Organizations including ASAN, objected to conditions ranging from Autism to ADHD to Depression being depicted as kidnapping or possessing children. They were swiftly removed.

And it got a good amount of publicity, both within the disability community and in the MSM. A victory won, and after such coverage It should be obvious that this sort of analogy is inappropriate at best, damaging at worse.

I’d like you to meet York county, PA’s ASA chapter. Or rather, thanks to Club 166’s post,(and subsequent letter), their most recent billboard:

want a clearer image? well, it’s up on their website, too, with the oh-so-descriptive note of “Several new billboards can be seen around York….”:

Hm. Okay, so it’s a parent quote, but why would this seem like a good idea in light of recent events? Even if this is something the parent said out of desperation at a support group meeting, why would it be okay to plaster on a billboard where everyone could see- including the children whose lives it is speaking so derisively about? (I’m leaving alone the larger question of why any parent dealing with ANY child with a disability feels so alienated as to feel this desperate for now.)

Right now, I’m working with ASAN to gather more information and organize a PA reaction to this. We are hoping to get them to take these billboards down- and hopefully to understand why they weren’t appropriate in the first place.

Right now, we are in the first part of this process- ASAN has sent a letter to ASA about their York chapter and we’re working on one to ASA-York to be sent in the next few hours.

If you, as an individual or as part of an organization, would like to contact ASA York to let them know how you feel about the bill board, here’s their contact info:

e-mail 2:
Phone Number: 717-801-1272

Please remember to be polite when contacting them. If you choose to call, make sure it’s in normal business hours EST (New York Time) and be polite- no foul language, etc. Just a straight forward statement of complaint, short and sweet.

I’ll keep you updated if I discover any more information, and on any further actions we attempt.

EDIT: Since posting this entry, the announcement on the launch of the billboards has been purged from the ASA-York site. If I obtain further info, I will post it tomorrow in a new entry.