Autism billboards removed after outcry

One of the controversial Autism SA billboards. The organisation abandoned its media campaign after complaints. Picture: Supplied

One of the controversial Autism SA billboards. The organisation abandoned its media campaign after complaints. Picture: Supplied

Published May 30, 2013


Johannesburg - Efforts to get South Africa talking more about autism by erecting controversial billboards backfired for Autism SA (ASA) after an uproar on social networks.

The offending billboards, in and around Joburg, were taken down on Tuesday and Wednesday, about two weeks after being put up.

In March, the organisation sent e-mails warning its members that such a campaign would take place, and asking for their support, help and understanding to make the campaign a success.

Controversial slogans, comprising misconceptions and myths about the condition, on the billboards read “Autism is for black people”, “Autism is for white people”, “Autism is for possessed people” and “Autism is for violent people”.

“With these highly controversial statements, we’re aiming to shock people – to start a vital conversation and to get people asking questions about autism,” the e-mail said.

The body’s national director, Jill Stacey, said the suggestion had not been met with resistance, and they proceeded with the campaign.


However, the Autism SA Facebook page was awash with complaints from concerned parents of autistic children and from adults with autism.

One parent said: “Autism South Africa – your organisation no longer speaks for my ASD (autism spectrum disorder) family.

“I call for the resignation of your national executive committee and every person in your organisation responsible for this horrific insult, and that the ads be removed within the next week.”


Autism SA has since apologised to its members and has followed up with a new campaign with statements such as “Autism affects all races equally” and “Autism does not always affect intellectual ability”.

A media statement said the previous campaign was meant to get people talking.

“The campaign, which sought to elicit a controversial, sensationalised response from the public in order to spark discussion and debate, created a strong negative response from those within the autistic community.

“The creative treatment focused on common misconceptions held by South Africans, seeking to drive traffic to the group’s website, where the correct information was available,” said the statement.

Many of those who complained argued that the controversial statements would result in people with autism being stigmatised, isolated and even bullied more, as not many people would bother to go to the website.

Carol Kaserera, who has a five-year-old son with autism, said it was understandable that people got upset, but if she had seen the billboards, she would have read again and if she had not understood, she would have sought clarification.

Another mother of an autistic child, Sihle Dube, said the billboards had been in very bad taste.

“I’m very disturbed. They (Autism SA) should have consulted with parents of autistic children and people who have autism to find out what campaign they thought would work,” she said.

Stacey said the campaign had received a lot of support from its members, but about 20 people were angry and posted messages on Facebook.

“We decided we would rather remove the pain than continue to run the campaign.” - The Star

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