Social networkers switch off for autism awarenessby Monique Ross, abc.net.au
November 1st 2010 3:40 PM
Thousands of people around the globe are switching off their Facebook and Twitter pages today to raise funds and spread awareness of autism, but the initiative has sparked concern from some in the autistic community.
Participants including Buzz Aldrin, model Miranda Kerr and actor Steven Segal, have thrown their support behind the Communication Shutdown, vowing to stay logged off for the day.
They also pay $5 for a charity app, which spreads word of the shutdown through status updates, tweets and profile pictures.
But some members of the autistic community say a social networking blackout does little to increase awareness of the challenges faced by those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
About one in 160 Australians have ASD, which affects people to varying degrees and is characterised by communication difficulties.
The Communication Shutdown is the brainchild of the AEIOU Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that provides early intervention therapy for children with autism in Australia.
Marianne Harvey, from SapientNitro, the marketing agency involved with the Communication Shutdown, says thousands of people are participating in 40 countries around the world.
"If they shut down for one day, they will feel a sense of disconnection and a sense of frustration. By creating a little empathy, we hope to encourage a wider understanding and acceptance of people with autism," she said.
Fiona Stack, who is taking part in the shutdown, says she does not know if she has gone a day without posting something online since she joined social networks and blogs.
"So far I'm fine. It's only 24 hours, so it's kind of ridiculous if I couldn't get by without it," she said.
"The funny thing is that what I would want to post today is that I am doing the Communication Shutdown, but of course I can't post it."
Participant Danielle Quarmby, who has two children with ASD, says it is a "smart way to make a point".
"[It] is a really clear parallel to the difficulties those with autism face when confronting social language and interaction," she said.
"I don't feel that I personally will get a greater understanding, at least not as a result of the Communication Shutdown directly.
"But it has prompted me to blog about autism, which I don't do all that often despite it being part of our everyday life.
"When trying to explain the difficulties of autism, or the diagnosis of it when it comes to my kids, it can be hard to find the words. I'm glad that it has made me think about it in more detail."
But the shutdown has sparked concern from some people, including Corina Becker, who was diagnosed with autism at age 17.
She says there are two common stereotypes about people with ASD and believes switching off will do little to break them down.
"One is that of the brilliant autistic savant, who has incredible visual memory, or mathematical skills, or musical talent," she said.
"The second is of the hopelessly disabled non-verbal child rocking in the corner.
"Other than communicating that they're not going to be online, [participants] aren't really sharing any information about autism."
Ms Becker is shunning the Communication Shutdown in favour of a different idea: Autistics Speaking Day.
"Autistic people [are going to] speak up with our experiences, difficulties, strengths, needs and wants," she said.
"This way people unfamiliar with autism are able to learn about autism directly from us."
Kathryn Bjornstad, who was also diagnosed with autism at 17, was also involved in the idea to speak up instead of switching off.
"Autistic people are going to be using the internet to tell the world what their lives are really like, and people who aren't familiar with the autistic community will have a chance to listen," she said.
"I think it would be a shame for people to shut down to be like us for one day, only to miss out on what we have to say."
Spectrum of opinions
Ms Bjornstad says the people behind the Communication Shutdown "meant well".
"But it's more of the kind of advertisement and philosophy that is harmful to the autistic community," she said.
"It ignores the fact that autistic people are actually less socially isolated because of inventions like the internet, and it does a poor job of explaining what autism is like.
"Staying off of Facebook will not mirror the social isolation that many autistic people face. I don't think that anything they do could mimic this."
Ms Harvey says she can understand why members of the autistic community have expressed concern.
"Our aim was to create empathy in the wider community. There's no way that we would ask autistic people to give up their tools of communication," she said.
"There are a wide spectrum of opinions."
Ms Harvey says she is glad the Communication Shutdown has prompted events like Autistics Speaking Day.
"Although our executions are paradoxical, we believe we have the same goal," she said.
"I would hope that the two events can complement each other," she said.
First posted November 1, 2010 15:33:00
Original Page: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/11/01/3054067.htm
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