Ari Ne'eman (pronounced "NAY-man") is an Autistic Autism rights activist. He co-founded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and was appointed to the National Council on Disability in 2009, holding the role until 2015. He currently serves as a consultant to the American Civil Liberties Union and is the CEO of MySupport.com. He has worked for self-determination, an end to abuse, and an end to anti-autism agendas including that of Autism Speaks.
Ne'eman was born on December 10, 1987, and grew up in East Brunswick, New Jersey. His Autistic traits were clear from an early age. He was bullied in high school, and experienced severe social anxiety that caused him to engage in self injury.
Ne'eman was placed in a school for students with developmental disabilities, an unhappy experience that would influence his position on disability segregation. Ne'eman felt frustrated with the school's approach, which focused more on making students act normal than on helping them succeed academically. He eventually managed to succeed in convincing others to let him return to a regular school.
"What is, I think, most frightening to me is that for many students out there that kind of message is absorbed—the idea that they are inferior is absorbed, and that can be very damaging because it really puts a limit on people's potential."
Ne'eman co-founded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), a leading autism organization embodying the principles of self-determination, human rights, and neurodiversity. He remains president and has gained a leadership role in the broader autistic community.
Ne'eman was appointed to the New Jersey Special Education Review Commission in February 2006.
Ne'eman was one of President Obama's appointees to the National Council on Disability, a controversial move that received criticism from those who believed he was "too high-functioning" to have an opinion, and some people made anonymous threats against him online.
Autism Speaks Criticism
Under Ne'eman's leadership, ASAN has spoken against Autism Speaks. This began with the infamous "I Am Autism" video, which portrayed autism as a life-destroying demon. ASAN has released flyers breaking down Autism Speaks' budget, urging people to "consider the facts" before donating. ASAN has also released a joint letter co-signed by many autism and disability organizations, which asks the sponsors of Autism Speaks to reconsider and breaks down complaints against the organization.
The goal is to achieve “better quality of life and better services for autistic people across the spectrum. As long as that’s what guides us, I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
Ne'eman believes that autism is a disability, not a disorder to be cured or prevented, and is concerned that cure efforts are based upon eugenics. Ne'eman argues that autistic people need support, accommodations, and acceptance instead. Ne'eman believes that the dominant autism conversation on autism is highly lacking, focusing on cures and pity instead of improving quality of life.
"Going back to the dark days of Bruno Bettelheim and “refrigerator mothers,” the focus of the conversation has been on placing the blame for autism, and on trying to make autistic people something we are not and never can be: normal. This focus on a cure has prevented us from actually helping people."
Ne'eman believes ways to help would include research on things that help autistic people who already exist, more services, development of alternative and augmentative communication (AAC), improved access for disabled people (such as social media websites encouraging disabled people to rate buildings on accessibility), and more.
- Nominee to Disability Council is Lightning Rod for Dispute on Views of Autism
- Madness Radio: Autism Self-Advocacy: Ari Ne'eman
- Special Education Review Commission Report, April 2007
- Wired Exclusive: First Autistic Presidential Appointee Speaks Out
- Time: "I Am Autism:" An Advocacy Video Sparks Protest
- ASAN: Horrific Autism Speaks "I am Autism" ad trascript
- Before you donate to Autism Speaks, Consider the facts (PDF)
- 2014 Joint Letter to the Sponsors of Autism Speaks
- New Jersey: Another View on Autism