Quick Note: This post contains an analysis of a problematic advertising trend I have seen. The trend concerns me as a neurodivergent person and as a psychologist. The language and opinions about disability justice and support services reflects my experience and expertise but is not the end-all, definitive “right” way to approach this topic. Make sure you listen to a variety of voices in the community – we are not a monolith! If you’re neurodivergent and disagree with my takes, that’s okay too. My stance is not more important or valid than yours.
In recent months, I have noticed an influx of Facebook advertisements promoting lawsuits against various companies, including baby food, over-the-counter painkillers, and medical procedures for “causing” neurodivergence. Usually they blame these companies for autism, but sometimes the lawsuit is about ADHD or another form of neurodivergence. Since most of the claims seem to focus on autism, that is what I will discuss in this post, but the topic is applicable to other neurodivergences too.
The adds all follow the same template: A law firm asks if you or your child is autistic (usually they use the person-first language (PFL) of “has autism,” which a 2022 survey showed 80% of the autistic community rejects. If an individual prefers PFL, that is valid, but those outside the community should respect the majority preference), and if you or your child was ever exposed to some product. If they were, the add claims, you are entitled to compensation because this evil, horrible company has cursed your family with autism, and what could be worse than that?
Many of these lawsuits target the medical industry and products that have definitively been proven to not cause autism, so they spread dangerous misinformation by making these allegations. If a parent decides, for example, not to vaccinate their child because they were misinformed that vaccines cause autism, and their child contracts a fatal, preventable illness, the anti-vaxxers who perpetuated that myth are to blame for that child’s death.
Furthermore, many in the autistic community see their neurodivergence as an inherent part of who they are – essentially, if you somehow “removed” or “cured” my autism, I would no longer be me. The message that parents should forego medical procedures that could keep their child healthy and safe because that procedure might make their child autistic tells every autistic person, “It is better for children to die of preventable illnesses than to grow up and be like you.”
So, not only do these lawsuits promote information that has been proven false, but they make statements that actively harm the autistic community. I highly encourage you to report these adds for spam and misinformation, because that is what they are. Instead of assigning blame for what “made” someone neurodivergent, we can support our neurodivergent loved ones and listen to them about their needs and priorities for care.
It is true that autistic people can experience challenges, some of which are caused by living in a world not designed for them and some of which come from disability. Each person, regardless of neurotype or disability, deserves to have their support needs met. (This is actually the topic of my next book. Stay tuned!) If you or a loved one is autistic and is looking for support, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network, and Neuroclastic offer free resources and education from an affirming standpoint.