The San Francisco Autism Society Deserves Better Leadership than Jill Escher. Here's Why.

Scott Badesch, President
Autism Society
4340 East-West Hwy, Suite 350
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
July 22, 2016
Dear Mr. Badesch,
I am writing to express my alarm over the unprofessional, divisive, and degrading behavior of San Francisco Autism Society President Jill Escher, and to request that the Autism Society reconsider having her lead our regional chapter.

As a fellow Bay Area parent of a high-support autistic teenager, it is extremely distressing to see Ms. Escher use her position and formal SFASA social media to openly push questionable scientific positions, belittle the needs of autistic people who can speak while making them feel excluded from the ASA community, and frame autistic people in general (and her own children specifically) as catastrophes and “damaged,” rather than deserving human beings with specific needs.
Ms. Escher demonstrated all of the positions above in a recent San Francisco AutismSociety blog post, but I'd like to highlight one passage:
“Autism has degenerated into a philosophy and personality identification rather than as the serious mental pathology. When just about anyone with a quirky or acerbic personality can be placed in the same simplistic diagnostic category as my catastrophically disabled nonverbal children, we have a scientific, moral, and practical problem.”
It is horrifying to see the president of a regional Autism Society chapter display such ignorance and ableism about the very population she is supposed to be serving. It is a basic autism understanding that being able to speak does not preclude having intensive support needs in other areas of life.  

It is also not Ms. Escher’s job to decide who qualifies as autistic. As a chapter president of an organization whose guiding principles include supporting “without regard to a person’s age, race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, income level or level of need on the autism spectrum,” it is her duty to support every autistic person in the Bay Area.
And as Ms. Escher has described herself as a “science junkie,” she must be aware of the research indicating that autistic people have dramatically higher-than-non-autistic suicide rates. When an autism organization official who is supposed to be in service to the autistic population dismisses legitimately autistic people as merely “quirky” – when many of those autistic people’s lives never made sense until they received an autism diagnosis, and who don’t feel like they fit anywhere except in the autism communities – she is compounding the feelings of isolation, alienation, and depression that contribute to those elevated suicide rates.

If the Autism Society is to properly support the San Francisco Bay Area region’s autistic people as well as their families, Ms. Escher cannot be allowed to use the SFASA platform to promote her extremely harmful personal opinions and agendas. And it is simply no longer enough for your organization to issue statements that Ms. Escher's writings "are not the positions of the Autism Society."

Thank you for your time,
Shannon Des Roches Rosa
Redwood City, California


  1. I'm not sure I understand the rage expressed. Surely, with a wide spectrum of possible needs, non-verbal, highly dependent people are likely to need more support than, say, a person with Aspergers who has a job and lives independently?

  2. It's fine (and necessary) to talk about individual support needs. It's not OK to attack someone who can speak because you assume that speaking means they have no needs and are fakers who are taking away attention from your kids' needs.

    Diversity of needs isn't a zero-sum game. The message of the Autism Society's national chapter is that everyone who deserves support should get it. That *should* be the SFASA's take as well.

    As I pointed out, when speaking or more independent-seeming autistic people's needs are trivialized or denied, that can worsen what is often a life-long struggle with feeling broken instead of human, and can have disastrous and even fatal consequences.

  3. I dislike the fact that the DSM eliminated the Asperger Syndrome dx, although because the ICD-10 has not, professionals continue to use it. This brings on these problems, in the first place. AS is consisdered PART of the Autism spectrum and everyone who meets that criteria can express themselves through speech. ASA is a non-profit, with tax exempt status. They have no RIGHT to bully and exclude the MAJORITY of individuals with Autism and receive money as an "Autism" charity. It is time to take legal action against the organization as a whole, if they do not get rid of these people and support all of us.

  4. Cure- and catastrophe-oriented comment linking to autism pseudoscience site removed.

  5. As the mother of a high functioning autistic girl, I'm totally insulted at this woman's words and actions. If I still lived in the bay area, I would be right next to you, pitchfork in hand.

  6. I appreciate the underlying sentiment, Anita, but we don't need pitchforks. We need rational discussion and action, and leaders who don't take policy criticisms as personal attacks.


Respectful disagreement encouraged.