Autism Speaks Partnering With Google to 'Cure' Autism Sparks Backlash

A research project spearheaded by the controversial autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks and the tech behemoth Google has drawn the ire of some Twitter users, who argue that its ultimate goal to "cure" autism is problematic.

MSSNG, which was launched in 2014, involves the collection and sequencing of DNA from people with a personal or family history of autism. The two absent letter I's from the word "Missing" in the title are meant to represent genetic gaps, per ABC.

Such genetic material is stored in a database that was built with Google technologies. Currently, data on 11,312 individuals, including 5,102 with autism and 6,079 without autism, is available, according to a PDF that can be downloaded from the project's website.

The project says this information will be shared widely with researchers in the hopes of eventually enabling "the identification of many subtypes of autism."

However, the project, which some people point out seems to aim to eradicate a specific phenotype from the human gene pool, has been roundly criticized on Twitter.

On March 30, the popular Twitter page @AnarchistMemeCo shared a screenshot of the MSSNG Project's website homepage accompanied by screenshots of Tweets that read, in part, "I am not a disease, please do not try to f***ing cure me" and "f*** google and f*** Autism Speaks."

The post seemed to strike a chord with many other netizens. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had racked up more than 32,000 likes. Many decried the project's mission as "eugenics." One commenter even compared it to Nazi policy.

"Something about pushing specific 'undesired' traits out of the gene pool sounds like a certain group of people from WW2," they wrote.

I mean yeah but It's about principal, not methodology. Removing the genes through science and killing the person have the same effect of curating the gene pool.

— Manic (Evil) (@ManicComix) March 31, 2021

However, dissent reigned in the replies as well. Some commenters argued that critics of MSSNG overlooked what they see as the pronounced negative impact autism can have on the overall quality of life.

"It's not an attack on autistic people to say autism should be cured. It is a medical condition that hinders human development/behavior," user @backlogrob wrote. "Learning to live with autism and feeling good about yourself doesn't mean doctors shouldn't study it more for a cure. This is not mean to say."

Actually, you could lead a full life just fine if the world wasn’t centered around catering to neurotypicals and condemning autistics for what we can’t do. Autism is only considered a disability because it causes people to function in a way considered non-efficient for society.

— micah loves noasaki (@MagicalAidol) March 30, 2021

In turn, those critics contended that the negative impact in question only existed because "neurotypical" people—people who think and act in a way that is considered acceptable and "normal" by broader social standards—stigmatizes autism for the purposes of creating a cognitively homogeneous society.

"Actually, you could lead a full life just fine if the world wasn't centered around catering to neurotypicals and condemning autistics for what we can't do," user @MagicalAidol wrote. "Autism is only considered a disability because it causes people to function in a way considered non-efficient for society."

The topic of autism and autistic representation has been hot on the internet in the past few months, as earlier this year singer Sia received major backlash for her movie Music, which was accused of grossly misrepresenting people with autism.

Autism Speaks has yet to address the controversy.

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Google has come under fire for partnering with controversial organization Autism Speaks. Getty/David Paul Morris