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Friday, January 13, 2023

Autistic School Board Member

In The Politics of Autism, I write:  "Support from the general public will be an important political asset for autistic people. Another will be their sheer numbers, since a larger population of identified autistic adults will mean more autistic voters and activists."  Previous posts have discussed autistic officeholders and political candidates in New YorkGeorgiaTexas, and Wisconsin.

 Carolyn Jones at EdSource:

As a new school board member, Joshua Brown is prioritizing special education in his rural Northern California district. But his perspective is unusual: He has firsthand experience with the district’s special education program — as a student.

Brown, 19, has autism and is one of only a handful of people known to have autism nationwide to serve in public office. He was sworn in on Nov. 7 to serve on the Shasta Union Elementary School District, a one-school district in the foothills west of Redding that he attended as a child.

“When I was at that school, I had some challenges. It was hard for me,” Brown said, noting that he had difficulty making friends and succeeding in class. “I am absolutely determined that no student should go through what I went through.”


“Basically, I view the world differently than other people,” he said.

Brown is one of a small but growing number of people with autism who hold public office. At least three serve on state legislatures, and an unknown number serve on smaller boards. DiverseAbility magazine identified Sarah Hernandez, an assistant professor at a university in Massachusetts, as the country’s first autistic woman elected to public office. In 2019, she was elected to her local school board.

Jessica Benham, elected in 2020 to the Pennsylvania state House of Representatives, told a journalist that it’s important for people with disabilities to advocate for themselves politically, not rely on others to create laws and policies protecting their rights.

“For a long time now, autistic people have been really effective policy advocates, and certainly some folks have held elected office who have not been open about their diagnosis,” Benham said in Spectrum magazine. “But having somebody who is loud and proud, as it were, means that people can’t ignore the way their policies impact people like me.”