An open letter to parents of Autistic children regarding Spectrum 10k

Spectrum 10k, what is it?

Spectrum 10k is the latest research project to be announced by the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. It is a collaborative effort with the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of California Los Angeles. On the 24th of August 2021, the Spectrum 10k (S10k) research project was announced. You may have seen it on the news, it arrived with a lot of celebrity endorsement and media coverage. You may have also seen that there has been a major backlash from the Autistic community.

This is of huge importance to the Autistic community (and the organisations that have issued statements against it), a community that your child is a part of. Here’s why.

S10k want the DNA and medical records of 10,000 Autistic people, including our children. They claim that they will use this data to look into “the cause” of autism and associated conditions, which they have suggested will aid in diagnosis and treatment. On the surface, this may look like a great idea, however there are some extremely grave concerns about what this research will ultimately mean for our future.

Let us consider what it would take to improve quality of life for our children. It’s not in our DNA. We absolutely agree that improving diagnostic services would be of huge benefit, the state of diagnostic services currently is appalling, perhaps barely legal. Some areas have waiting lists of 3-4 years just to be seen. Once you have acquired a diagnosis, you receive a piece of paper and are sent on your way, without support.

What happens next?

You arrive at school with your piece of paper that says “Autistic” on it, because you have probably been told that there is no support without a diagnosis. However, we all know that with or without diagnosis, there is very little (or no) support. The entire country’s SEND system is in crisis right now, and everyone of us has felt that effect in our own homes.

Here’s what our kids need.

They need better training and understanding in services (led by Autistic people), smaller class sizes, more places in specialist schools, more CAMHS staff with smaller case loads. This is not an exhaustive list. These are things that the Autistic community has been advocating for, for many years.

Simply put, autism + environment = outcome.

The answer is not in our DNA, we are not defective, we are different, and we need different environments. A cat is a cat, not a defective dog.

Think about how much the S10k project must cost, literally millions, wouldn’t that money be better spent on the suggestions above? How many specialist school placements could be provided? How much training could be given? How much of a difference could that money make on the ground, in front line services, rather than in the hands of Cambridge academics with no concept of what life is like for parents and our children on a day to day basis? They have no idea how hard we fight just to get our child’s most basic needs met.

Speaking on the small issue of consent, what would you actually be consenting to? You would be consenting to your child’s DNA, to be used not only in this project, but also any future projects the S10k team want to give that information to, including your child’s medical records. They say that the DNA data will be anonymised, how is that possible? Our DNA is individual to every single person.

“There is no way we can ever say that a future political leader or scientist won’t use the research for eugenics”

Simon Baron-Cohen (S10k project leader) [Source]

This means, that this research, could possibly be used to prevent the birth of Autistic babies.

Now let’s talk about co-occurring conditions, these are conditions that commonly occur within Autistic people.

There are many co-occurring conditions, and the S10k project claims that it wants to identify genetic markers for them, supposedly to improve diagnosis and develop “targeted therapies”. Conditions such as epilepsy, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and intellectual disability, etc. Lots of our kids have had genetic testing, scientists have been looking into this for years.

10,000 tubes of Autistic spit is very unlikely to even make a small dent compared to what has already been done in these fields.

So this means, they are either being very arrogant, or they are lying.

How is this work going to make changes in support provisions? Medicine? Healthcare? And therefore autistic well-being?

The answer, very clearly, is it won’t.

So what exactly are S10k trying to achieve here? Let’s look at the S10k team. At the front we’ve got Simon Baron-Cohen, a man who is largely responsible for research that perpetuates the myths that Autistic people have no empathy, or that we have “an extreme male brain”. This amongst other extraordinarily problematic fables. This is why diagnostic processes are so outdated and inaccurate. This is why thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Autistic people are being misdiagnosed or completely forgotten.

Simon Baron-Cohen is responsible for the invalidation of entire generations of Autistic people.

Now let’s look at his team mate. An individual named Daniel Geschwind. Geschwind has a hugely questionable history, starting with the most heinous; his involvement with “Cure Autism Now”. He hasn’t even tried to hide that association.

It gets worse.

When speaking at a UCLA symposium in 2018;

“If we know the mechanism, then we can prevent it. Cure the autism”

Daniel Geschwind [Source]

They basically have an eleven strong senior leadership team, all of which are focused on identifying causes, cures, and collection of genetic data.

Once again, for the people in the back, the key to improving Autistic wellbeing is not in our DNA. It is in better services, improved understanding, acceptance, accommodation, and appreciation. They can find 10,000 Autistics to spit in a tube, but they couldn’t find Autistic people and their families to ask what they actually need right now.

And that is why we suggest #BoycottSpectrum10k.

This letter was a collective effort from the team at #BoycottSpectrum10k

For more information on this campaign, please follow our social media on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

To read our full joint statement and sign, please visit here.

For another article about the concerns of the Autistic community, click here.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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