It’s the weekend. You want to go out to eat. You don’t want takeout. You want to sit down and feel fancy, dammit, even if your kids are climbing on you with food smeared on their faces. Maybe you’re thinking about going to Chili’s. If you’re a supporter of science and autistic people, you might want to choose another restaurant.
Chili’s recently announced that on April 7, they’ll be donating 10% of profits to the National Autism Association.
What’s wrong with that? It’s nice to donate to autism organizations.
Yeah, well. Let’s look at the NAA. Here’s their position on vaccines:
Is that all? I mean, they don’t say vaccines are bad.
Right. First of all, there’s no reason to play at a controversy anymore. There is no link between vaccines and autism. This is done. We know this. Continuing to promote that wishy-washy “Parents need to decide for themselves” attitude is disingenuous at best. Second, they link to the National Vaccine Information Center.
So? That sounds reasonable.
If you’ve read Deadly Choices by Dr. Paul Offit, you’ll know why NVIC is not as innocuous as it sounds. If you haven’t read that, here’s an example of the kind of “information” the NVIC provides:
So, back to the NAA itself.
Even if the NAA doesn’t support vaccines, so what? If they’re doing other things to help autistic people, why does it matter if Chili’s donates to them?
First of all, vaccines do matter. Recent outbreaks of measles in the US in areas with low vaccination rates show us that vaccines are very much still relevant. But aside from that, let’s look at some of the interventions that the National Autism Association recommends:
According to Jay L. Hoecker, M.D. of the Mayo Clinic, the Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet has no benefit and could be harmful. There doesn’t appear to be any legitimate source recommending the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for autism, either, and like other restrictive diets, it can cause nutritional deficiencies.
Are you still not convinced? Take a look at this:
They suggest hyperbaric oxygen therapy and chelation as viable treatments for autism. Yes, they have
some sneaky CYA-ese a disclaimer at the bottom of the page suggesting that parents consult with a doctor before trying any of these treatments, but it would be just as easy, and infinitely more responsible, to just leave those and the other ineffectual “treatments” off of the page, especially considering the site encourages parents to seek out DAN! doctors, who are more likely to approve of these treatments than a normal, science-based doctor.
But the NAA site gives good advice, too!
Yeah, there are some decent tips and resources given on their web site, but if anything, that makes them more dangerous. If the web site seemed like a hotbed of fringe theories, the average person wouldn’t pay much attention. Unfortunately, by mixing in harmful advice with sensible information, the truly horrendous ideas start to look reasonable by association. By supporting this organization, Chili’s is, intentionally or not, promoting those views.
UPDATE: Chili’s is now earmarking their donation for the NAA’s Big Red Safety Box program. This is somewhat of an improvement from donating to the organization in general, but it still indicates approval.
The push for “autism awareness” in general shows a shocking lack of awareness. Autism Speaks, probably the best-known autism-related charity, benefits from chocolate bunnies, light bulbs, and so much more, while ignoring actual autistic people and speaking of autistic children as burdens, or as victims trapped within their own bodies, rather than neurodiverse individuals.
Autism Speaks and the National Autism Association (among many other despicable organizations) aren’t aware of what is actually good for autistic people. Corporations aren’t aware of what they’re supporting when they donate to these organizations. Consumers aren’t aware of what they’re supporting when they purchase from these corporations.
It’s time to turn “autism awareness” around. We’re all aware that autism exists. We’re aware that it can be difficult for autistics and their parents. Now we need to be aware of what we’re supporting, and accept autistic people as they are.
UPDATE 4/6/2014: Chili’s has canceled their donation to the National Autism Association. On the Chili’s blog, they wrote:
Chili’s is committed to giving back to the communities in which our guests live and work through local and national Give Back Events. While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday’s Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests.
We believe autism awareness continues to be an important cause to our guests and team members, and we will find another way to support this worthy effort in the future with again our sole intention being to help families affected by autism. At Chili’s, we want to make every guest feel special and we thank all of our loyal guests for your thoughtful questions and comments.
So, if you need a restaurant to host your awards night, it looks like Chili’s might be worth considering, if they learn from this experience and are more careful in choosing the recipients of future donations.
Featured image by photosteve101 on Flickr