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Aspies For Freedom

File:Aspie for freedom.png
Aspies for Freedom logo

Aspies For Freedom (AFF) was a solidarity and campaigning group that aimed at raising public awareness of the autism rights movement. The term "Aspies" refers to people who have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, but the group also welcomed anyone on the autism spectrum.


"There are many in the autism and Asperger’s community, like the former Aspies for Freedom, who worry that the minute a genetic test appears, it will spell the end for a lot of future geniuses, like (...Bill...) Gates. Maybe there will be fewer Thomas Jeffersons or Lewis Carrolls — remarkable thinkers who also fit the profile for Asperger’s."

—Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.[1]

The aim of Aspies For Freedom was putatively to educate the public that the autism spectrum is not always a disability, and that there are advantages as well as disadvantages. For this purpose, the group organized an annual Autistic Pride Day.[2] The group also campaigned against abusive forms of therapy, and against the idea of a cure for autism. AFF hoped to have autistic people recognized as a minority status group.


Established in 2004 by Amy and Gareth Nelson, AFF received coverage from publications such as New Scientist magazine.[3] As of August, 2007, The Guardian estimated the group's membership at 20,000.[4] Rob Crossan, writing for the BBC, confirms this 20,000 member figure and also mentions their "radical" belief that Asperger's should not be considered a disability.[5] Crossan mentions that, in part, this is due to the speculation by some historians that Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, James Joyce, Andy Warhol, and Thomas Jefferson were 'Aspies', though there was no knowledge of the condition during the eras when Jefferson, Newton, and Joyce lived.[5]

The protest against National Alliance for Autism Research, by then-AFF member Joe Mele, was the first anti-cure protest by an autistic person. The protest received international media coverage. [6] Seen as a pivotal moment in the history of the autistic community, Mele's protest was followed shortly by a protest against NBC's Autism Speaks campaign. There was also a protest against Cure Autism Now in 2005, and there is a current protest against the Judge Rotenberg Center for its use of electric shocks on autistic children.

Aspies For Freedom has an ongoing aim to have members of the autistic community recognised as a minority status group. This started in November 2004 after discussion and debate with members, after which a statement was released called 'Declaration of the autism community'.[7] This article detailed reasons for seeking such official recognition from the United Nations and the work continues towards achieving this. AFF was cited by The Guardian as a resource for autism employment assistance.[8]

The usage of the infinity symbol as a representation of autism, started by Aspies For Freedom in June 2004, was a reaction to the negative connotations associated with the jigsaw symbol commonly used by others to represent autism. The jigsaw symbol is seen by much of the autistic community as an insulting reference to the fact that autistics can appear to require "fitting in" with society, or as having "a bit missing".

The forum has been deleted and the website is inactive. According to founder Gareth Nelson the forum is closed and will not be going back up, nobody will be taking over, and it is not for sale.[9] Several forums have been set up by former members of Aspies for Freedom, with varying degrees of success. The most notable is Autism Friends Network,[10] which has similar aims to AFF.


The impact of autistic activism, including Aspies for Freedom, in particular, has stimulated scholarly discourse on the subject and has been covered in depth by multiple peer-reviewed journals.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

Aspies for Freedom has stimulated commentary from the bioethics community on whether or not prenatal genetic testing for autism spectrum disorders is ethical, moral, or if such prenatal testing could have the unwanted effect of a reduction in the number of geniuses in society, due to selective abortion. This concern has been raised because Asperger syndrome and Asperger like traits have been associated with achievement in mathematics, engineering and computer science.[1]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Caplan, Arthur. "Would you have allowed Bill Gates to be born? Advances in prenatal genetic testing pose tough questions". MSNBC. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 
  2. "Autistic Licence". London: Times Online. December 31, 2005. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  3. Trivedi, Bijal (18 June 2005). "Autistic and proud of it". New Scientist (excerpt via Archived from the original on 2007-08-15. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  4. Saner, Emine (2007-08-12). "G2: 'It is not a disease, it is a way of life'". The Guardian. p. 12. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Crossan, Rob. "Ouch Q&A #19: Aspies". Ouch! It's a disability thing. British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 
  6. Harmon, Amy (December 20, 2004). "How About Not 'Curing' Us, Some Autistics Are Pleading". New York Times. Archived from the original on 16 November 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  7. "Declaration From the Autism Community That They Are a Minority Group" (Press release). PRWeb, Press Release Newswire. November 18, 2004. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  8. "Work: Giving autistic people access to work". The Guardian. 2009-10-17. p. 2. 
  9. Aspies For Freedom website
  10. Autism Friends Network website
  11. Steven D. Emery; Anna Middleton; Graham H. Turner (2010). "Whose Deaf Genes Are They Anyway?: The Deaf Community’s Challenge to Legislation on Embryo Selection" (PDF). Sign Language Studies 10 (2): 155–169. ISSN 1533-6263. doi:10.1353/sls.0.0037. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 
  12. O'Neil, Sara (2008). "The meaning of autism: beyond disorder". Disability & Society 23 (7): 787. ISSN 0968-7599. doi:10.1080/09687590802469289. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 
  13. Ortega, Francisco (2009). "The Cerebral Subject and the Challenge of Neurodiversity". BioSocieties 4 (04): 425–445. doi:10.1017/S1745855209990287. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 
  14. Kenway, Ian M. (2009). "Blessing or Curse? Autism and the Rise of the Internet". Journal of Religion, Disability & Health 13 (2): 94. ISSN 1522-8967. doi:10.1080/15228960802581495. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 
  15. Broderick, Alicia A.; Ari Ne’eman (2008). "Autism as metaphor: narrative and counter-narrative". International Journal of Inclusive Education 12 (5): 459. ISSN 1360-3116. doi:10.1080/13603110802377490. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 
  16. Douglas Biklen (2009). "Representing Autism: Culture, Narrative, Fascination (review)" (PDF). Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 1 (1): 107–109. ISSN 1757-6466. doi:10.1353/jlc.0.0005. Retrieved 2010-06-12. 

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