scary ransom notes campaign

h/t to Kay at the Gimp Parade, Bev at Asperger Square 8, Ettina at Abnormaldiversity, Kaissane at Rettdevil’s Rants, Kristina Chew at Autism Vox, Hymes at Charlottesville Prejudice Watch, Stephen at Not Dead Yet’s blog and Anne at the Justice for All Blog:

ransom note that reads We are in possession of your son. We are making him squirm and fidget until he is a detriment to himself and those around him. Ignore this and your kid will pay…ADHD

Ransom Note that reads We have your son. We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives. This is only the beginning…Autism.

Ransom Note that reads We have your son. We are destroying his ability for social interaction and driving him into a life of complete isolation. It's up to you now…Asperger's Syndrome

Above are billboards and posters that the NYU Child Study Center is using. Besides the fact that these posters are inaccurate and exploitive, these posters portray some of the worst stereotypes about disabled people– that we’re not in our bodies, that we’re a detriment to others, that we’re tied to a pathetic fate, the list goes on and on. And as horrible as these posters are, this scare tactic is not new at all: much of the telethons used in the past (including the MDA Telethon) have a cure-it-before-you-catch-it message. Below is the message from Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. They are saying that 700 million people should see these ads. I hope you will send a note to the Center (information below) telling them this is NOT okay.

This campaign, which is expecting over 700 million impressions over the next four months, is highly inaccurate and spreads classic stereotypes against individuals with disabilities. There are a number of problems with the advertising campaign:

* The ads stigmatize people with disabilities by suggesting that we are a ‘detriment to ourselves and those around us.’

* The ads make people with disabilities feel shame and embarrassment.

* The ads contain inaccurate information: For example, while people with diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s often have difficulty with some forms of social interaction, we are not incapable of it and can succeed and thrive on our own terms when supported, accepted and included for who we are.

* The ads suggest that our true selves have been “kidnapped” by terrible “diseases” and that we need urgent treatment to become normal again. This “stolen child” stereotype has been associated with horrible abuses against individuals with disabilities, ranging from social cruelty to beating, electric shock and even murder.

* The ads do not inspire parents to bring struggling children to professionals for diagnosis and appropriate treatment but instead just make parents terrified that their children are doomed and destined to have horrible, sad lives.

* The ads convey an incomplete and inaccurate picture of the diagnoses they purport to represent; they fail to show the many strengths and abilities of the individuals with those diagnoses. They fail to show the opportunities for support, education and resources that the NYU Child Study Center should be offering to parents and individuals with disabilities.

It is extremely important that we let the NYU Child Study Center know that its language is unacceptable and encourage them to pull the campaign before it does irreparable damage to people with disabilities everywhere. As an organization of adults and youth on the autism spectrum, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network is working closely with self-advocates, parents, professionals and other concerned citizens from throughout the disability community to implement an organized response. However, our time is short and we need you to make your voice heard immediately. Below you will find contact information for the NYU Child Study Center, the director of the NYU Med Center and a number of businesses who have donated time, ad space or other resources to the campaign. We’ve provided a sample template for your letters but please feel free to substitute your own words and to call the Center and their supporters over the phone. If you use our template, please make sure to delete the sections you will not be using within the bold-bracketed components. Once again, the need for action on this is immediate, so please write and/or call now.

Thank you all for your efforts and please feel free to pass along this message to other individuals and groups. We will keep you informed and we ask that you please e-mail any responses you receive to so we can coordinate our response to this offensive advertising campaign.
Ari Ne’eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, President

Sample Letter Template:

Dear [Dr. Koplewicz/Van Wagner Communications/BBDO]:
I am writing to express concern about the NYU Child Study Center’s recent “Ransom Notes” campaign. Your statements about people on the autism spectrum and with other disabilities are inaccurate and offensive to me as [an individual with a disability/as a family member of an individual with a disability/as someone interested in seeing respect for individuals with disabilities] and as a concerned citizen. I urge you to pull the advertising campaign immediately from all venues, ranging from billboards and kiosks to print and online advertisements, and to take steps to ensure that the self-advocate community of adults with disabilities is consulted prior to future public relations efforts.

The NYU Child Study Center’s reputation with parents, professionals and individuals with disabilities suffers as a result of the inaccuracies and negative stereotypes promoted in the “Ransom Notes” campaign. These ads will not encourage parents to bring their children to your center, or any center. Rather, these ads will make parents afraid and ashamed of their children, resulting in more children going without helpful services and interventions. These ads are also a slap in the face to both the many youth and adults who survive and thrive with the diagnoses being so inaccurately described and to the many self-advocates, parents and professionals who have worked hard to change the public image of these disabilities so that youth and adults with disabilities can be fully included and accepted in school, at home, at work and in the community at large. I urge you to apologize to the disability community and to take immediate action to remove the offensive material from the public eye.

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.

[Fill in Name Here]

Contact Information:

NYU Child Study Center:
Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz
Phone: 212-263-6205
Fax:  212.263.0990
Dr. Koplewicz’s E-mail:
Communications Department:
Beth Rowan, Director of Communications
NYU Child Study Center
577 First Avenue
New York, NY 10016

This is the NYU Child Study Center website:

In addition, please take the time to copy Michael Statfeld Recanati at and Ira Statfeld Recanati at on your e-mails to the NYU Child Study Center. Mr. and Mrs. Recanati are the donors responsible for the creation of the NYU Asperger Institute. You may also want to contact Dr. Robert Grossman, Director of the NYU Medical Center, which has control over the NYU Child Study Center. He can be reached at 212.263.3269 and by e-mail at

Mr. and Mrs. Recanati and Dr. Grossman are NOT responsible for the offensive advertising in the “Ransom Notes” campaign but they are in a position to stop it. As such, if you choose to write to them directly, we encourage you to be cordial and polite in explaining our concerns and encourage them to place pressure on the NYU Child Study Center to pull the “Ransom Notes” campaign.

BBDO New York:
BBDO New York designed and contributed the advertising for the NYU Child Study Center’s “Ransom Notes” campaign. Please contact them to express your displeasure and explain why these advertisements are so offensive to individuals with disabilities.

John Osborn
President and CEO of BBDO New York
BBDO New York
1285 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019
(212) 459-5000
John Osborn’s e-mail:
Press Relations at BBDO:

Van Wagner Communications, LLC:
Van Wagner Communications, LLC has donated significant billboard and kiosk space to the NYU “Ransom Notes” campaign. Please write and call to their New York office to explain to them why these advertisements are so offensive to individuals with disabilities and to urge them to withdraw their support.

Tel: 212.699.8500
Fax: 212.699.8521
47-50 Van Dam Street
Long Island City, NY 11101

Van Wagner has another address and phone number here:
(212) 699-8400 phone
(212) 986-0927 fax
Richard Schaps, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Van Wagner Communications, LLC.
800 Third Ave 28th Floor
New York, NY 10022
This is the Van Wagner website:



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25 responses to “scary ransom notes campaign

  1. This campaign is horrifying. What the hell are they even trying to achieve? What is the point in trying to scare parents about something that isn’t true and then simultaneously claiming that there’s nothing the parents can do? I don’t even know how to look at these as anything but offensive.

    And as a side note, why are all of the “kidnapped” children male?

    Anyway, I sent the letter off.

  2. pennylrichards

    As a parent, I see only discouragement in these signs. I love my kid; these signs say I’m wrong to love a kid who’s got a diagnosis, wrong to enjoy the things that make him unique; it says that I should instead feel robbed, threatened, and desperate. It says that I should blame the diagnosis for the ways he’s marginalized, instead of seeing the real “villains” in discriminatory policies and blatant disablism.

    I can’t imagine trying to explain those signs to my children.

  3. I believe there were a couple of other ones (depression? bulimia?) in which the “kidnapped” child was described as female. Perhaps those ones have had less exposure in the disability blogosphere because they are more reactive behaviours and less actual neurodiversity (I have as major problems with the conflating of the two categories as i do with describing either of them as some sort of evil, external entity which “kidnaps” a child, but i’m not sure how fully i can articulate them)…

    The only reason i haven’t blogged about this subject is because so many other excellent bloggers have. In addition to the ones you mention, Ettina and The Gimp Parade have covered it… probably more as well…

    Bev of Asperger Square 8 has produced some responses, i believe…

  4. Ah, you actually got Ettina. Sorry. There was another one (another autistic female blogger, IIRC, not Ballastexistenz), but i can’t remember which one…

  5. OK, this is getting spooky. I swear when i first posted my comment, Bev was first on your list and you hadn’t put Kay on there. My visual perception must be being extra weird tonight…

  6. hehe, shiva! : )
    what does IIRC stand for?

  7. IIRC=If I recall correctly

  8. thanks penny, i thought it might stand for the name of a blog that i hadn’t heard of or something.

    in response to your comment, i didn’t even think about how it’d make parents feel. i have NO idea how i’d be able to explain these posters to a child. that’s one of the most sickening parts, i think, because things play such a big part in the development of our identity.

  9. This “campaign” is proof positive that there are folks out there who are just plain diabolical! I refuse to believe that they just “don’t get it”, not with all of the disability activists out there with whom they could have consulted for the real picture. It’s as if they’re on a mission to stigmatize, demonize, and marginalize us.

  10. dread what a great point. i think this boils down to ableism isn’t “real”, it’s just a big misunderstanding and if we do enough “awareness” it’ll go away. but why this is not okay should be obvious to EVERYBODY—why does it take awareness to say this is bad? saying that puts the fault back on us.

  11. Please say this is not real. I want to go back to bed after seeing this campaign.


  12. Jesus christ, what the hell is wrong with these people. I do not understand this even a little bit. I’m with dread1myn, this isn’t ignorance, it’s pure maliciousness.

  13. Oh my God! I’m going to have to take some Nexium before I can even address this. I am FUCKING furious.

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  18. It’s pretty amazing that people can remain so ignorant, but people tend to be very “local”, limited to their small worlds. Einstein said “It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom”. That’s why raising awareness is sooooo important. Keep cracking. Someone is listening.

  19. Too little too late?
    It took Harold Koplewicz too long to realize that hurting people you want to “help” is not acceptable collateral damage. We should write these officials to thank them for pulling the ads and request that they keep an eye on Dr. Koplewicz to make sure he doesn’t try anything this dirty again to drum up business in the name of public awareness:

    Kenneth Langone, Board Chairman
    New York University Medical Center

    Martin Lipton, Board of Trustee Chairman
    New York University

    John Sexton, President
    New York University

    Robert Grossman, Dean & President
    New York University Medical Center

  20. I’m sorry for missing this one too – I read about it, but I dropped the ball on posting about it.

    It’s awful that anyone would think of this, even considering they dropped it after criticism.

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  22. CJ

    I am wondering if anyone in charge of this ‘ransom note’ idea has a child with autism or any other learning disablility? I think so many people are trying to label children who just may be different and they are not allowed to just BE LEFT ALONE~

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