I have just sent the following to the ASA re an Action for Children TV advert:
I am writing to complain about the recently aired, unethical “Meet Dan” advertisement, part of Action For Children’s new media campaign. While I commend the work Action for Children does as a charity, and have no doubt of their good intentions, I object to this campaign, under the follow sections of the ASA code:
11.3.4 Ethical responsibility
Charity advertising must reflect a broad sense of ethical responsibility
Note: These advertisements should:
a. not exaggerate the scale or nature of any social problem
b. respect the dignity of those on whose behalf an appeal is being made
c. treat with care and discretion any issues likely to arouse strong emotions.
The problem Action for Children seek aid for is exaggerated by the use of highly emotive imagery. A monster is shown jumping around in an urban landscape, attacking the other people who are normal but rushing around. As this image plays a boy’s voice-over says, “I used to lash out if something pushed my buttons or I wasn’t able to do something. Things that wound me up were if they’d insulted me I would physically hurt that young person.” Then we see that the monster has a sad looking normal boy trapped inside, looking out through its mouth. Straight after that image is shown, the boy says the words “My parents sought out help with my autism because it was becoming a pain in the bum.” This exaggerates the problems autism causes and implies that autism is making him a monster. It connects autism with aggressive, anti-social, monster-like behaviour.
My son (who is on the autistic spectrum) isn’t a monster. He’s a human being with social and communication difficulties.
The Action for Children charity has not here respected the dignity of vulnerable children and young people who are the very people they are supposed to help. This ad shows how Action for Children choose to portray autism by using Dan’s story, with his poor self image and worries. They have used the troubles and fears of a vulnerable child to generate pity and fear, to make them appear to be heroic in saving even tragic cases like Dan. They cannot claim that they were merely giving him a voice. The harm to other vulnerable young people just like Dan, is too great to be ignored. There is a great deal of misinformation in the public sphere about autism.
I feel that this advert grossly misrepresents autism, portraying it as an external monster to be defeated. Many people believe children with autism don’t have a disability, they’re just badly behaved and this video reinforces this.
Aggressive behaviour is not one of the diagnostic criteria for autism or Asperger syndrome. The video implies that autistic children are more likely to act aggressively than typically developing children.
The representation of autism by the media is a very sensitive area, especially coming so soon after a great deal of public discourse about the possibility of prenatal screening. The Action for Children campaign isn’t merely offensive. It also misrepresents autism, portraying it as an external monster to be defeated. It will damage the self esteem of young autistic people in particular to see autism, an integral part of themselves, depicted as monster trapping them, as something to be defeated. They will themselves depicted as frightening beings whom others fear.
Action for Children have used the problems of autistic children to raise their profile, but have misrepresented the condition. This is utterly unethical. Every airing of that ad furthers the potential for damage.
To end, I would like to use the words of Action for Children themselves. In a report produced by the charity, they say (regarding the current government’s policies): “With regard to younger children, the emphasis has been on children’s vulnerability and support for parents. With respect to older children, there has been a tendency to demonise them and to fail to see young people’s viewpoints, which is at odds with ministers’ avowed wishes in other contexts to listen to and be seen with young people.”
Action for Children know that to demonise children is wrong, that to fail to see their viewpoints is wrong. I would like to see Action for Children withdraw this advertisement, apologise to the autistic community and commit to seek the input of autistic-run advocacy organizations, and well informed mainstream autism organisations like the National Autistic Society in future advertising and fundraising efforts.
Don’t often get wound up enough to complain but as my son can’t voice what the ad means to him then I will!!!