Fundraiser for Autism Speaks meets opposition from autistic students

Hannah Daniel

Texas Neurodiversity members boycotted Taco Xi, an Alpha Xi Delta event benefiting Autism Speaks, Thursday night.

For $5, event attendees received all-you-can-eat breakfast tacos and a performance by local indie rock band Sharks in the Deep End. AXiD hosts the event each semester to raise funds and awareness for the sorority’s national philanthropy, an autism science and advocacy organization.

Texas Neurodiversity is a student organization that advocates for individuals with various styles of neurocognitive functioning such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD. Five members, four of whom are autistic, stood on the street outside the sorority’s house with a poster that read “I’m autistic; Ask why we don’t support Autism Speaks” and distributed informational flyers.

The flyers, created by a nonprofit organization called Autistic Self Advocacy Network, listed complaints regarding the allocation of funding to advertisements over serving families and the limited representation of autistic people on the Autism Speaks board.

Manuel Diaz, physics senior and Texas Neurodiversity president, said Autism Speaks perpetuates societal stigma against autism and is generally not supported by autistic people.

“The advertising depends on offensive and outdated rhetoric of fear and pity,” Diaz said. “It presents the lives of autistic people as tragic burdens on our families and society. It’s pretty offensive to people who are actually autistic, like me.”

AXiD chapter president Cristina Rebello said Autism Speaks’s allocation of funding to family services is limited because the organization focuses more on research than directly working with families of autistic individuals.

Rebello said AXiD’s ties to autism advocacy extend beyond support for Autism Speaks.

“I think that we try to be very respectful of the cause, and I know we have members in our chapter who are part of other organizations on campus who work with other autism charities,” said Rebello, a math and economics senior. “Our sorority officially supports Autism Speaks, but we try to support the community as a whole.”

Texas Neurodiversity sent articles written by autistic people about Autism Speaks to the chapter’s Facebook page with the suggestion that the sorority donate the proceeds to a different autism charity but received no response, Diaz said. Rebello said she never saw the message.

Diaz said Texas Neurodiversity protested in front of the sorority house on Rio Grande for about 10 minutes before they were asked to leave, after which they relocated to the intersection of 26th and Rio Grande.

AXiD volunteered at the Autism Speaks Walk on Oct. 9 and is currently coordinating a new program in which members will volunteer weekly at a local school that caters to the needs of autistic children. 

Hannah Fipp-Rosenfield, philanthropy vice president for AXiD and visual arts studies junior, said autism is a cause that is near to her heart because she works in a lab that aims to help autistic children.

Diaz said he doubts AXiD’s methods, not their intentions.

“I think they mean well,” Diaz said. “I do think their intentions are good, but they’re misguided.”