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Autism Society Rocked By Suspected Fraud

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The former head of an Autism Society chapter is accused of stealing as much as $80,000 from the group, but that’s not stopping her from hosting a conference later this month keynoted by Temple Grandin.

Law enforcement in Suwanee, Ga. have charged Cynthia Pike, the former executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Georgia, with 16 felony counts of theft by conversion, according to documents obtained by WSBTV in Atlanta. The charges come after an audit found thousands of dollars missing from the group’s coffers.

Police say that Pike was giving herself extra pay without consent from the autism organization’s board and spent the group’s money on her personal cellphone bills. So far, authorities said they found as much as $40,000 was misused and they’re still working to identify where another $40,000 went, according to the television station.

Pike, however, said the charges are baseless.

“I unequivocally state that I am innocent of these false charges,” Pike said in a statement posted on the website of Georgia Autism Conferences — a company Pike formed last September.

Pike is scheduled to host her new group’s first autism conference later this month, featuring several nationally-known speakers and exhibitors. The event will be keynoted by famed autism self-advocate Temple Grandin and exhibitors scheduled to participate at the event include everyone from Autism Speaks to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and assistive device maker DynaVox Mayer-Johnson, according to the conference website.

“I know of no other reason why my former employer would initiate these false allegations other than to ruin me personally and professionally. I do not believe that it is coincidental that this occurred right before my company’s first big conference,” Pike said.

Officials at the Autism Society say the Georgia chapter’s board brought in an outside accounting firm to conduct an audit when they first suspected fraud late last year. They subsequently alerted local police.

The group now has a new executive director and is prepared to take legal action to secure the return of any stolen funds, according to a statement from the organization’s national office.

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of this matter, we want each donor and supporter to know that the Autism Society of Greater Georgia remains open for business and has taken all the right actions,” said Scott Badesch, national president of the Autism Society.

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Comments (12 Responses)

  1. Thomas Charles Wood says:

    This is why as an Autistic, I do not support the Autism Society here in New Hampshire. I prefer to give my time & effort to Ari Ne’eman’s Autistic Self-Advocacy Network & Jim Sinclair’s Autism Network International (AUTREAT).
    I can “speak for myself” I do not need “Autism Speaks”…

  2. fairlady68 says:

    Yes, Thomas, some of these so-called advocacy organizations are in the game for reasons other than actually enabling and empowering people on the spectrum.

  3. Carmen Allen says:

    This does not surprise me at all. I was contacted years ago by the adults on the spectrum who were thrown off the board of the ASA – Georgia Chapter. Interestingly, those at Georgia ASA nor Ms. Pike were seen as helping the adults and the issue back then was also about money being misappropriated. Honestly, I don’t know of any autism organization or many advocacy agencies that are not in it but to push their political agenda. Personally, I’m tired of them all and IMO, we need to defund them all. Our tax dollars should not be giving nonprofits money to speak for us because that is how we end up with abuse of power and people. They need to raise their own money, given to them by people who they serve. Otherwise, these organizations become nothing more than political machines and not about the people they serve.

    Just sayin

  4. Thomas Charles Wood says:

    Autism Network International (AUTREAT) is 100% run by Autistics.
    Autistic Self-Advocacy Network is also 100% run by us Autistics.
    We are not “helpless”, & we are not stupid either.
    We know what is best & in our own interest.

  5. Dr Robert Fettgather says:

    Disability economics ought to alert the public that our most
    Vulnerable and marginalized citizens are often represented by non profits including regional centers where careerists salaries are far more important than service delivery

  6. Glen S says:

    For someone who claims to have Autism to continue to use antiquated language when he refers to individuals with disabilities is shameful. I have written it before on this site. Not all organizations are founded to give “directly” to individuals. If we denounce every organization out their because it funds research, we would have to denounce the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, United Leukodystrophy Associate, etc. The list goes on.

    One cannot complain about handouts and accept handouts at the same time.

  7. Electric says:

    @TCW, ever heard of “people first” language? You put the person before the condition, and the term autistic puts more focus on the condition than the individual. You may as well say “paralytic individual” or “afflicted with _______” for that matter. Terminology changes and it’s not all about being politically correct; it’s about empowering people with disabilities, intellectual or otherwise. I also agree with @Glen S. that not every worthwhile organization is meant to give directly to the people in its targeted population, like, “Here, take this money and get what you need.” It’s great that you, TCW, can speak for yourself and are not helpless. However, there are people with autism who are nonverbal and cannot advocate for themselves. They need more support. This is where compassionate staff can hopefully team with involved family members to provide excellent services for the individual. To not give directly to people with autism doesn’t mean that an organization does not have the individuals’ best interests at heart. It can mean that money is needed for research or to go toward direct services and supports. I believe that this ASA chapter is the exception, not the norm.

  8. KA101 says:

    FWIW, I’m aware of person-first and still refer to myself as an autistic person–if not just an autistic or “autie”. I’m not sure whether or how Glen S & Electric were diagnosed on the spectrum. I presume that they are fellow spectrum members, because NTs have no standing to challenge TCW’s language as shameful or non-empowering.

    (Asking about his choice of language, such as “I’m used to seeing person-first language. Is there a reason you put the disability first, Mr. Wood?” is a way to obtain clarification without attacking the speaker.)

    In my experience, autism–being a *pervasive* developmental disability–is not something that can be separated from me. I perceive things through autistic senses, think about them in an autistic fashion, eat with autistic taste, and dream autistic dreams. Every line of code in my subsystems is autistic**. Autism is inseverable, and if it could somehow be separated from me, whatever non-autistic portion that remained would be so significantly different that calling it KA101 would be inaccurate.

    A more colloquial version of the statement is that KA101 is not a car, and his mother did not order the optional “autism package” at conception. To take the analogy further, such a package might include variant headlights, engine, transmission, fuel system, controls, & instrument panel; probably a different sound system; variant seating; definitely a hatchback rather than a trunk–even on a normally trunk-having model; and an old, non-crumpling chassis–even if models that year had crumple zones. In short, so many changes would be required to revert the vehicle to the base model that you’d functionally have a different car.

    Thus, person-first’s implication that autism is some non-essential thing to me is incorrect. “Autistic person” is an accurate phrase, one I find entirely acceptable, and how I self-refer. I appreciate that other autistics might not share my opinion, and they may self-identify as they wish.

    **Yes, that’s modified-echolalia.

  9. Shaun says:

    Glen S & Electric: Wow, can you come across as any more arrogant and patronizing? We all know what person-first language is and we’ve all rejected it, as a whole. It is shaming and inaccurate and would not be acceptable in any other minority group–nor would your presumption of having the right to label members of a minority group over what they themselves would use.

    Electric, I work for a disability advocacy organization and with people of many levels of ability, including nonverbal people. They can all advocate for themselves to SOME degree, the problem is generally that people like you don’t seem them as human beings enough to notice. You also seem very confused as to what the rest of the room is actually talking about.

    Glen S, money going toward unwanted research is not a “handout” and does not benefit any of us. Services are not “handouts” either. I assume you’re sighted. Is every public building that provides electric lighting for YOUR convenience giving you a handout?

  10. Mooncalf says:

    Like TCW, KA101 and the vast majority of AUTISTIC folk I know – and I bet I know more than you do – I too know all about the so called ‘person centered language’ and like my peers I too despise and reject it.

    Such arrogence and condecention to tell us AUTISTICS what we should call, think about ourselves. Have you heard the phrase – NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US! ? If this were any other disability, would we be having this discussion? If this were any other disability would you be dismissing us because we can communicate and some of our peers can not and this lack is convienient to the agenda of those who would use it to speak for us to victimize us all?

  11. Glen S says:

    @Thomas, KA101, Shaun, Mooncalf: Wow, could you all be more stuck in the 1950’s? The vast majority? I’m not sure what circles you all run in, but the vast majority of self-advocates recognize the need for a change in attitude and language use. I strongly suggest some education and research outside of your immediate circles.

  12. Glen S says:

    Shaun, “arrogant and patronizing!” Really? I think you accuse others of that which you are guilty. Ya’ll assume you speak for the masses. Another claims to “know more” individuals with autism than the rest. In case you are even curious, “person first language” was first recognized by individuals with and parents of individuals with disabilities.

    Personally, I don’t care if adults with autism what to create a sub-sect of society for themselves. The problem is by selfishly thinking only of yourselves, you are doing harm to the greater number of parents out there who would like to find helpful, cost effective treatments.

    Please wake up, and discover the harm you are doing to those for whom you claim to speak.

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