FatheringAutism: Does YouTube’s Biggest Autism Channel Really Deserve the Accolades?10 min read

Let’s take a walk down Imagination Street.

Pretend you’re back in your teenage years.  Or, if you’re if you’re already in your teenage years, that you’re 14.

Now, let’s take away conventional communication.  That’s right.  You can’t form words.

It’s not that you’re deaf.  You can hear, alright; but your brain doesn’t have the ability to coordinate the muscles in your mouth to create speech.  You are limited to verbal sounds in the form of grunts, moans, shrieks, and giggles.  You’ll have to use technology or MASL (Modified American Sign Language) as your only communication tools.

Now, let’s take away the ability to execute complex tasks.  Your motor function is inhibited.  Your brain acts like something that’s simple for a lot of folks, such as folding laundry, is just as complicated and daunting as, say…advanced calculus.

Pretty frustrating, right?

Especially on top of normal teen things.

But then add the frustration of your father always holding a camera in your face.  The videos he makes go on YouTube for the whole world to see.

Your personal space is almost nonexistent.  And even your art is confiscated and monetized for your parents to sell; which people buy– because of your disability.

This doesn’t sound fair at all, does it?

Meet Abigail

Abigail Maass is the autistic child of prominent YouTube family channel, “FatheringAutism,” a show centered around the Maass family: parents, Asa and Priscilla, their daughter Abigail (Or Abby), and her older sibling, Isaiah.

Abby enjoys music, like any young teen.  She likes art; she often creates pieces that are made into shirts or other merchandise for the channel’s e-store.

But why do this?  And why is it enough to write an article about?

Looking through the channel’s content, there’s a completely different story being told from the one that is told outright.

If you look up “FatheringAutism” on YouTube, it says:

Battling the stigma of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) with a first hand look into the struggles, joy, and comedy of fathering autism.  For even more content be sure to check out the Fathering Autism social media accounts and our Patreon page.

Wait a second…what’s that?  On the banner?  Their logo.

“The proof is in the pudding”

Tale of the Tape

Their logo

Using the puzzle pieces as your channel logo is a HUGE RED FLAG.  Even though Asa and Priscilla have said they do not donate to Autism Speaks, directly, they don’t necessarily condemn the organization, either.

In fact, they often use the dog whistle, “vaccine damaged,” when referring to those parents that believe they have experienced their children’s decline as a direct effect of an adverse reaction to childhood immunizations.

When The Aspergian site founder, Terra Vance, explained to Asa and Priscilla during one of their live chats on YouNow how offensive and hurtful the puzzle piece is, and asked if they’d consider changing it, they said they wouldn’t and autistics shouldn’t be so offended and take everything so personally.  It was just brand recognition…

Vance explained that the widespread use of the puzzle was “a constant reminder to autistics that no one cares how autistics feel and no one was listening to what autistics have to say.”  When Vance opined that seeing the puzzle piece is like seeing a hate symbol, and that it’s heartbreaking that brands were more important than autistic people themselves, Asa again retorted that people shouldn’t be so offended by everything.  He visibly shrugged.

Let’s review the Maas track record on other topics:

  • Asa often calls those of us inside the Neurodivergent community, “trolls.”
  • Asa and Pricilla have mocked others within the parent community, which leads to bullying and harassment on other channels.
  • Both do nothing to raise up autistic voices nor use their platform to empower autistics.
  • In older videos, both have used anti-vaccine language, such as “vaccine-injured” or “vaccine-damaged.”
  • They use ABA, and have been unabashed about showing their daughter’s frustrations and struggles on camera.  They refer to sensory-seeking and motor control issues as “behaviors.”
  • They have broadcast Abby’s punishments and toilet training.
  • Neither of them take hard stances on any of the issues most pressing to their lives or the autistic community’s.  “ABA isn’t for everyone,” they said in one live stream.  Yet, ABA plays a significant platform on their site.

What’s the point of promoting yourself as an advocate if you don’t actually advocate for anything other than making money and playing the neutral party?

The channel shows no signs of slowing.  In 2018, Fathering Autism won a “Shorty” award in the “Parenting/Family” category.  As of that time, they had just 50,000 subscribers on YouTube.  In 2019, the show beat autistic content creators in two categories for the WEGO Health Awards.  Social Blade puts their subscribers count at just over 371,000 subscribers at the time this article was written.

What’s the Point?

The hot take here isn’t that of plain badgering of those we don’t like.  Instead, it’s that no matter how we in the autistic community try and address the concerns we have, Asa and Priscilla continue to push a narrative in which they’ve positioned themselves as true advocates– when in reality, they are ignoring, condescending to, and disparaging autistic people.  That’s more like exploitation of autism than autistic advocacy.

How do I know?

I was one of those fans.  I grew close to the Maass family, trusted them with very personal information.  In return?  Patreon tier rewards weren’t kept, my appearance was mocked, and my personal endeavor of becoming the first openly-autistic engineering test pilot was not recognized as an effort in the advocacy space, because “It didn’t hold a candle to their channel”.

But it gets worse.  In an email to the couple, I expressed my concerns about broken promises and the reward tiers.

This is when I was starting a for autistics-by autistics brand of products, called Stim Factory, employing Autistics to stock, review, design, and manufacture products and gear we all use, everyday, and do it at a living wage.

Asa and Priscilla expressed interest in this project, publicly on YouNow.  But when I tried to connect with them, to set up the one-on-one for advice on who I should be looking for as partners, I was shot down.  Here’s the email:

Yes Joseph I do care but actions speak louder than words right?

My lack of action in regards to joining your mission or endevour or whatever your group project is that you want to involve the special needs YouTubers is my fault.  My response to you of “sure, include me in your email” (or whatever I said) was likely misleading.  I was being nice.  […]

Meanwhile, organizations like Surfers for Autism, a group of non-autistics, have directly benefited from their relationship with the channel.

The Maass family continues to use their platform to keep the conversation and power of what services they use and endorse in the hands of the non-autistic status quo.  As if to say, while giving us the middle finger: “Screw your independence and feelings and livelihood, kids.  Here’s a surfboard and some lipstick, and give us some money.”

This, by far, is what makes them the opposite of advocates.

Building Bridges or Widening the Gap?

Recently, Priscilla joined an online Facebook group, Autism Inclusivity.  Autism Inclusivity has the express purpose of helping connect autistic people and non-autistics to share dialogues, get parenting tips, learn how to be better allies, and better understand autistic lives.  Actually autistic advocates and well-meaning parents of autistic children tried to start an educational dialogue with Pricilla, thinking that she truly wanted their advice.

Kristen from New Jersey advised, “I don’t doubt that you love your daughter, but please take these opinions and let them sit with you.  As a non-autistic parent, the best advice and insight I’ve received has come from autistic adults.  I know my son very well, but I don’t know how it *feels* to have a brain like his…It can be extraordinarily difficult to accept that what we have done or are doing as parents can be harmful to our children; especially when the rest of the world cheers.  But, we have to have the ability to self-reflect and make changes, when necessary.”

An autistic woman who wishes to remain anonymous offered this advice, “When a child is going through ABA, they will often act excited to go.  They seem happy but here is the rub (and something extraordinary about the brain)– when someone is being abused, their brain protects them.  Just like Stockholm Syndrome, the victim’s brain is tricked into loving their abuser because they provide the essentials.  The brain sees good in being fed or the small breaks in the abuse and connects it to the abuser.”

Pricilla, it turned out, was not there to listen and learn.  “Again, I can appreciate that some (most of you on this page) don’t agree with how we’ve decided to help OUR child.  At the end of the day we all have differing opinions and that’s what makes the world go round.   I don’t agree with you, and it’s okay.   I’m not going to falsely accuse you of things or call you the things you’ve called us.”

It came out later that Priscilla joined the group because “someone had sent [us] screenshots of people remarking about the behavior and attitudes toward Abigail as being abusive.”  Needless to say, she hadn’t truly come to learn, and it showed in her attitude towards these group members.   She had to be removed.

Someone had called social services on the Maass family, though there is no indication that it was a member from that group.  In fact, autistic people have been devastated over what they see as abusive behavior towards Abby on this channel since its first year of operation.  “Fathering Autism” is a frequent source of conversation in autistic groups, and abuse is always at its core.

I personally think calling child protective services was a step too far on the part of whomever did it, but I also believe that whomever made the call did it because they were genuinely concerned for Abigail.  They feel she’s exploited and her right to privacy, bodily autonomy, and personal agency– three very firmly-held values to autistic people– are being exploited.

Autistic people are repeatedly telling the world that their struggles should not be sensationalized, their meltdowns should not be broadcast, and they should not be trained like pets.  Yet, the world continues to platform people like Asa and Priscilla Maas as ambassadors of autism.

Autistic people have tried to reach out to the Maass family for years, to no avail.  But, this article isn’t meant to be a “hit piece.”  I’m just presenting the facts.  It’s up to you, the reader, to make up your own mind.

Autism-Friendly Alternatives

If you’re reading this, and would like to avoid such toxic people, I’ve compiled a short list of family friendly channels.

1.  OurLANDINGcrew on YouTube

2.  Haley Moss on Instagram

3.  Autism Family’s Channel intro “Alaska Dawn”

4.  SBSK’s YouTube channel

5.  Autastic Tom’s YouTube Channel*

6.  Kodi Lee’s YouTube Channel*

7.  Autistamatic*

8.  Faith, Hope, Love, Autism – Philip Reyes & Family*

These channels, amongst others, empower Autistics and help adults with kids on the spectrum get a grasp on how they can better their interactions and relationships with their kids without harsh interventions, such as ABA.

The Maas’s do love their children.  They’ve managed to carve out a way to ensure that Abigail, who will likely always need support care, will be financially secure and cared for for life.  They took a situation that causes many parents decades of anxiety worrying about how their children with disabilities will survive without them and they found a way to make sure their daughter would be supported in the future.

The brilliant author and thought leader Toni Morrison said to her students,

When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else.  If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.  This is not just a grab-bag candy game.

The Maas family, and all families and stakeholders who are not autistic, need to consider why they’re being heard over the voices of autistics.  Non-autistic people need to realize that they are, much like the puzzle piece, popular by merit of brand recognition.  And once they gain a platform, they need to listen to autistic people and cede their platform to the people most affected by their “brand.”

Stim on, friends!  🤙🏽🤘🏽✌🏽

*Editor’s note: The editors of The Aspergian have not reviewed the content of some of the YouTube channels recommended by the author of this article.  Sharing these channels, therefore, is not an endorsement of their content by the site but by the individual author of this article.  Sites or channels marked with an asterisk [*] are endorsed by our site.

Joie the MAD scientist

Diagnosed as twice exceptional at age 6, Joie has always had their hands in building some amazing contraptions, most of them to help “hooman”kind.
His passion for learning quickly turned soured, though, once they realized just how non-inclusive the academic space can be to neurodivergent peers.
One of his favorite projects is the Turner Method for Calculating Living Wage, which has (so far) been tested against MITs current model.It is, safe to say, outperforming all models; as one should expect, from a disgruntled genius autistic.

11 Comments

  1. Rather new to this site.  Over all, y’all really seem to have good heads on your shoulders.

    This article gives me a few spots of hesitance however.  First off, although you were very gracious and I’ve no doubt you do intend this as an unbiased “lay-out-the-facts” piece, it still quite clearly displays your position.  Going from a request for readers to make up their own minds to, in the very next paragraph, calling the Maas family toxic, seems disingenuous.

    The next but is more of a personal opinion.  I’ve heard it stated that the desire to help other autistics is a part of growth, of maturity, for autistics.  Your quote by Toni Morrison is in a similar vein.  I disagree, strongly.  If an autistic person has a passion for advocacy, a desire to help out those in similar circumstances, then all the better.  In fact, I likely would see it as a sign of maturity.  But if autistics are not inclined toward that path, then let them follow their own dreams.  The attempt to help or encourage autistics should not be paired with strings, requiring they too need to pay forward.  Paying forward is a good philosophy for the self, but a poor one to demand of others.

    Anyhow, as said earlier, I’m enjoying the site.  This article also was a good read, and judging solely by the information given I tend to agree on your stance.  I’m looking forward to future reading.

    1. Author

      Dear sky.  Thank you so much for the kind critique!  Yes, I’m rather upset about the way some of the language turned out in this piece.  My editor, Terra, pushed this article out on my behalf, as I was in the hospital during the final edits.  I gracefully apologize.  And would like to clarify that: yes, I do want to stay fair and play with just the facts.  However, I wanna also say that I think the overall point being made is that Asa and Pricilla ARE acting in bad faith, because of the evidence written here. 

      1. I totally agree.  I was on alive feed where they said they didn’t care what #actuallyautistics said because they know there daughter better.  Their site is actively using Abby to make as much money as they can for personal gain, It is obvious they love her, but did they get her permission to do this.  I find them deeply offensive and not very bright.  They use ABA on Abbu and then film her having meltdowns because of it.  I’m really worried that she is damaged.  They say she has the brain of a 3 year old.  I doubt it!  She looks VERY aware to me and is being treated like the child she is NOT.  I wouldn’t talk either as she is talked over,

        1. Yes, she seems very smart to me.  I feel so bad for her with all the ABA talk, “good girl”, “nice job”s, etc.
          I agree it’s obvious they love their kids.  But they also seem lacking in curiosity and much too trusting of authority, promoting status quo.

    2. Sky,

      I’ll take responsibility for this article’s bias.  Three people worked on this as Joie was in the hospital a few times in the writing of this piece, and as it was about to be published, a big event (Priscilla entering one of our autistic-led groups) and my conversation with them in live chat during one of their broadcasts kind of changed the message.  There were really upsetting, damning things that we decided not to include, where the Maas family had insulted people’s looks and were quite shockingly worse than portrayed in this piece. 

      It’s quite intimidating to be an autistic person making a point about one of the mainstreams’ accepted (but harmful) institutions regarding autism.  We’ve never had an article so heavily revised and edited, and then finally just released.  It was a heavy one with a lot more to the story. 

      Anyhow, I’ll take responsibility for the edits. 

      But, if someone claims to be an advocate, which they do, then they do put themselves up for scrutiny from the population they claim to be advocating for if said population finds they are undoing all their hard-fought efforts.  Asa and Priscilla aren’t autistic.  They don’t legally owe it to autistic people to listen to them and advocate for them, but that’s what they should do.  At the very least, they should not be harmful.  And while they’re free to do what they want, similarly, autistics are free to object. 

      1. Thank you for your response.  It appears from reading the rest of the comments coming in from this article that there’s quite a bit more to this story.  I was only giving my thoughts on the article.  I’ve never heard of the Maas family before this and just wished to give my thoughts on an interesting read.  Honestly, given my distaste for this sort of conflict, I was far more interested in the other topic I mentioned, about the idea that people should be required to advocate (not in reference to the Maas family, but a more broad application of the Toni Morrison quote). 

        I do not have enough information to judge the situation (and beyond an interesting read, I’ve little desire to get involved).  From what you and Joie both claim, it does seem as if the Maas family are yet one more example of people taking advantage of autism.  I still do hold to my belief that the article comes off as overly antagonistic for a piece that claims to simply lay out facts, but that is somewhat lessened by clarifications in comments. 

        I would have replied to Joie’s response, but had difficulty with my phone…  Not even sure I’m doing this response correctly.  Anyhow, I really do appreciate your responses and hope, however this situation turns out, it ends up for the best.

  2. Stim On, and Prosper.

  3. I think the key here actually is that Abby did not consent to her parents filming her in any way.  You could call it exploitation that they use her to make money while she is not free to voice her opinion about it.  The same goes for other channels of parents filming their children.  I have a link with an explanation of why family vlogging is bad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQBD0KXISCA&t=993s

    I agree with you including Special Books by Special Kids in your list of recommended channels: they are so respectful and considerate over there, with nonverbal people just the same as verbal people.  Everybody should just go there.  They don’t only interview autistics, but lots of different people and I think that only adds to the amount of wisdom you can get there and the strength of their message that everyone is worthy of friendship and love.

  4. Thanks for the viewing list!  My sister, who has Down syndrome, loves YouTube and sometimes I wonder where are good places for her to learn about disability.

    I’d also like to recommend Neurowonderful (Amythest Schaber) as an excellent autistic YouTuber who discusses autism.

Talk to us... what are you thinking?