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Calls to Action

Why this advocate with autism is encouraging everyone to vote

January 19, 2016
The following is a blog by self-advocate Brandon Arkland.

The 2016 cycle kicks off in Iowa and we want to make sure all adults with autism and their families are prepared. Autism Speaks is encouraging voter registration and we’ve asked Brandon Arkland, a self-advocate volunteer from Iowa and first time voter, to help. 

My name is Brandon Arkland. I am a 20-year old junior at Iowa State University studying business management.  I have grown up with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome to be exact, and was diagnosed at the age of five. In 2016, I will have the opportunity to vote in my first presidential election, along with hundreds of thousands of other young adults on the autism spectrum. Autism impacts many people my age. We need to exercise our right to vote and participate in the political process. I want my community to be heard and I plan to use the opportunities I have living in Iowa to ask the candidates some questions. 

I currently live in Ames, Iowa but was born and raised in Webster City, Iowa. I haven’t always been politically active. In all honesty, it started after I graduated high school.  I graduated from Iowa Central Community College only one year after high school with my Associates in Arts Degree because I obtained a year’s worth of credits while I was in high school. This will allow me to secure my Bachelor’s degree with 3 total years of paid college.

One day while I was researching events for autism I came across the “Day on the Hill,” sponsored by the Autism Society of Iowa. I contacted their Executive Director and asked her if I could just simply attend this event. We got to talking and eventually she asked if I would like to speak at the State Capitol. I spoke at their event about multiple concepts and topics. Some of these included my transition from high school to college, my medicine, and how I deal with topics. I spoke in front of state legislators, and CEO’s of other companies, parents of children with autism, and people with autism.

After that, the Executive Director of the Autism Society asked me to join their Board of Directors. Eventually I spoke at the capitol. I met some interesting people and politicians. After I spoke there and had the opportunity to meet them, I received a letter in the mail asking if I would like to be on the Autism State Council. Of course I said yes!

Although I am young, I am a very strong, outgoing autism advocate and now currently serving on the Iowa Autism State Council, the Autism Society of Iowa’s Board of Directors, as well as Autism Speaks U at Iowa State. Autism Speaks U has only been a club on the Iowa State campus for 3 years, so it is relatively new. It had turned out that their last president graduated, and no one assumed her leadership role. I wanted to get the club going again, so I contacted the officers from last year, along with the advisor. Even though it is only my first semester here, through my hard work, and with my accomplishments I mentioned to them, the club was revived and I was appointed president of the club.

I stay politically active through being on these boards and councils. My service on the organization boards allows me to participate in the development of functions that raise awareness about autism, sometimes even to our political leaders. The council operates much more differently. With them I discuss what needs to be done for those living on the spectrum in the state of Iowa. Together, we write up proposals for policy initiatives we want passed and work to get them approved.

My experience there has helped me realize that we need a strategic plan to address the issues of the autism community at the local, state and national level. If I could ask one question to the candidates, the number one thing on my mind is “What are you going to do for people with autism to improve their quality of life?”

I will continue looking for opportunities to meet the presidential candidates as they travel around Iowa. I look forward to hearing from them because this is important to me.

If you are an adult on the spectrum who is not registered to vote, I encourage you to register today. If you are the family member of an adult on the spectrum who might need assistance registering to vote and participating in the elections next year, help them.  Help us let our political officials learn that our votes count.

Some states require you to register over a month in advance!  If you live in one of the early states – Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina or New Hampshire – don’t let February sneak up on you and make sure you know when registration deadlines are.

(See links below for more voter registration information.)

After you are officially registered as a voter, celebrate by ordering your My Vote Counts official t-shirt today here then take a selfie in your brand new shirt and email it to us at advocacy@autismspeaks.org for a chance to be highlighted in our Autism Votes program in January or post it on social media using #AutismVotes2016.

Together, we can change not just our own world but the world.

LINKS:

IOWA – https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/voterinformation/voterregistration.html

NEVADA – https://www.dmv.org/nv-nevada/voter-registration.php

SOUTH CAROLINA – http://www.dmv.org/sc-south-carolina/voter-registration.php

NEW HAMPSHIRE – http://sos.nh.gov/VoterRegFAQ.aspx