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Chili's cancels autism fundraiser after controversy

Maureen used to be obsessed with baseball -- and then she had children. After she welcomed her son, Charlie, and his extra chromosome, she discovered her passion for writing about Down syndrome and disability-related issues.

With two...

Did they make
the right choice?

Apparently, Chili's new tagline is, "When we can't stand the heat, we get out of the kitchen."

The restaurant chain Chili's canceled a fundraiser with the National Autism Association (NAA) on Monday after its Facebook page blew up with debate about the link between autism and children's immunizations.

The company said, "While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday's Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests."

See, Chili's missed the part of NAA's website titled "Causes of Autism," where the organization says, "Based on parent reports — including parents representing the National Autism Association — sharp regression occurred in their children directly following immunizations."

Oops! Not popular! You see, the link between autism and vaccinations was reported in a study that has since been labeled fraudulent.

But wait. We're getting distracted.

Focus on families, not vaccines

A Chili's fundraiser for the autism community isn't about vaccines — it's about a community struggling to support those living with autism, and a company that wanted to support an organization that provides programs and services to those families.

Unfortunately, Chili's bit off more than it could chew when its community relations team failed to identify a noncontroversial autism organization to support.

Except, what organization in the autism community — in any special needs community — isn't riddled by controversy and debate today? Hearing "autism" sparks emotion. Period.

More funding, fewer distractions

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports autism affects 1 in 68 children. Every day, more families are searching for answers and desperate for help, resources, therapies, services and programs that can help their loved ones with an autism spectrum disorder achieve their potential.

Is NAA irresponsible for perpetuating the results of a fraudulent study? (I say, yes.) Should we all follow CDC guidelines and vaccinate our children? (I say, yes.)

But the mistake Chili's made was in failing to say, "We're supporting NAA because NAA supports families in the autism community." Pulling its fundraiser after taking a beating in social media says, "We will only support the autism community until you drag us into your yucky debates."

Get a spine, Chili's.

In the world of special needs, everyone has an opinion, and while controversy and debate are plentiful, funding is short. Stand up, Chili's, and say, "This isn't about vaccines or divergent opinions. This is about supporting our families in the autism community."

Oh, and next time, do your homework.

More about autism

The truth about love and autism
Study: Vaccines not linked to autism
Parenting and autism: Jessica's story

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