Ruby Nation

Ruby Nation
Ruby Nation: The Webcomic

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cartooning for a Cause: Autism Speaks and Burrito Bob

On a more serious note than my usual blog discussions of superheroic disabilities and PR-enhanced goblins, I was able to use my cartooning abilities towards a cause I believe in.

The neurodiversity blogger abfh wrote a scintillating essay on the response shown by Autism Speaks supporters to civil protestors. For those who don't know, Autism Speaks is an organization devoted to speaking for autism and Asperger's-- if you consider autism a disease that will prevent your child from ever being normal, functional, and happy. They have a lot of support and very deep pockets, and they use it to create awareness- but towards the end of treating autism as a childhood epidemic, and working towards a cure. Their slogan involves " solving the puzzle ", as though a child with cognitive differences is inherently incomplete and needs to be fit together into a preordained form more in line with the social contract.

In a fair world, these people would be treated with the same amount of dignity and respect ( by logical people, at least ) as those camps that try to " pray the gay away ". This is not a fair world, so Autism Speaks has gained a lot of notoriety. They even got director Alfonso Cuaron to do a PSArepresenting Autism as a big scary voice over. They take the understandable desire for parents who want their child to succeed and warp it into bigotry against diversity. Worse, they claim they can speak for autistic people, including autistic adults ( who they pretend do not exist ).

As a person with high-functioning autism, who has had plenty of experience living with difference and the stigmas attached and doesn't want to see that imposed on anyone else by a big company with celebrity support and dubious science, I can speak. And here are the things I say in response...

1.) I'm not going to ever be cured. Even if you developed a pharmaceutical solution much like the mutant cure in X-Men 3, I'd still have all the knowledge and experience that I've gained as a neuro-atypical person-- and I wouldn't just assimilate. Having that identity is just as significant as the neurological quirks that caused it, so if you want to cure me, you'd be better off using your funds to make autistic-hunting Sentinel Robots.

2.) I don't think that people who think differently should be stigmatized by disability. Nobody, even if they function at a very low level, is useless to society. Everyone has something to contribute, and the contributions of a " classic autistic ", the kind who apparently can't live an adult life without Autism Speaks' intervention, give far more than bigots trying to impose order.

3.) The things that have helped me be able to function as well as I do ( which is far from perfect ) came from the love and devotion of my family, my teachers, my friends online and off, and my partner. To know that I am appreciated creates a much better framework for improvement than subjecting children to various medical/behavioral treatments.

4.) Your voice-over PSAs don't speak for me, but Alfonso Cuaron speaks for you. When your opinions are represented by the director that took the third Harry Potter book and made it a pointless, pretentious display of special effects artistry that make The Robin Sparkles Films look like Orson Welles' works, you are by default made of Fail.

Okay, ending rant due to the personal stakes. But the bottom line is this...abfh mentioned an Autism Speaks supporter throwing a burrito at a protestor, in a display of characteristic reasoning ability. She asked for someone to design a mascot around that theme, with a dollar sign attached to characterize the size of their pockets and the stakes involved, so thus I put together my take on Burrito Bob. It's not the best design, and it does look very stupid. But that's the role of satire, isn't it? For all their faux-caring about the disabled children, an organization putting out a bigoted agenda deserves to be treated with all the dignity of an anthropomorphized piece of lard and grease.

Thank you to abfh for putting up the sketch, and for everyone speaking out for autism and disability rights.


  1. Well said! As someone who works with children with differences every day my most rewarding moments are those when I am rewarding for accepting the children for who they are and supporting them with a big smile, a touch, a learned concept or a shared silence. It is so easy to forget the advantages of true diversity in the name of a pretend one. There are still colleagues of mine who profess to believe that 'those' kids will never learn to be in the regular world and should be in schools together to form 'real' friendships. What? What is the regular world? I don't think I want to live in it. And what is a real friendship? Would this person put my children who have a mixed race heritage in a school only with 'their' own kind? You are quite eloquent and I see a book building that could change the views of many. Kudos! And hurray for bob burrito.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Anonymous. Your praise makes me feel justified. I'm glad you're working with kids with differences, especially from a perspective that cares about them as individual human beings. Keep up the good work.

  3. I have just started reading your blog as a comics fan and then stumbled on this - as a parent of a child with autism, who works with autistic kids and their families, it brought a real smile to my face. Thanks :)