HEALTHY LIVING
06/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Alex Barton And The New Wave Of Autism Activism

New York Magazine has a detailed and intensive article on a new wave of autism rights activists. These new activists want "to celebrate atypical brain function as a positive identity, not a disability. Opponents call them dangerously deluded."

The impetus for all of this? An NYU Child Study Center advertising campaign:

On December 1, the NYU Child Study Center came out with advertisements in the form of ransom notes. One said, "We have your son. We will make sure he will not be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives. This is only the beginning." It was signed "Autism." Another said, "We have your son. We are destroying his ability for social interaction and driving him into a life of complete isolation. It's up to you now," and was signed "Asperger Syndrome."

Autism activists reacted strongly, spearheading a huge protest:

The chief organizer was 20-year-old Ari Ne'eman, who has an Asperger's (autism without speech delay) diagnosis. In a memo to his Autistic Self Advocacy Network, he denounced the campaign as relying on "the oldest and most offensive disability stereotypes to frighten parents." While people with diagnoses of autism and Asperger's have difficulty with social interaction, he added, "we are not incapable of it and can succeed and thrive on our own terms when supported, accepted, and included for who we are."

You can read the whole story here.

The New York Magazine article comes on the heels of 5-year-old Alex Barton being voted out of his kindergarten classroom. Alex Barton is in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism. According to his mother:

"[The teacher] took him and stood him in front of his classmates this week, asked every single child to tell Alex why we don't like him... in his words, tell Alex why we hate him," [his mother] explains.

After having each child ridicule the boy, she says the teacher continued belittling him.

"Then they had a vote on if he deserved to stay in the class or not," says Barton.

Like a twisted reality show, Barton says in a 14-2 vote, his classmates voted the five-year-old out of the classroom.

Alex's mother is fighting back and considering pressing legal charges. You can also help support Alex Barton by writing to his school board.

So, it would seem that a new method of confronting mental disorder discrimination is brewing. The New York magazine story about autism advocacy follows on the heels of a May 11 story in The New York Times about the burgeoning "mad pride" movement, which aims to fight the stigma of mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and even, in some cases, celebrate it.

So what do you think? Do you think it's empowering or dangerous for people with autism and mental illness to celebrate their conditions? Please share below in comments.