Henry Frost has ASD and is nonverbal; he communicates through a voice-activated iPad. In 2012, when he was 13 years old, Henry was denied entry to Watson Middle School in Tampa, FL, which was across the street from his house. The school district demanded that he show that he could manage the stairs and transition between classrooms, take tests that no other child has to take for admission, and “prove” that he should be there. Henry rightfully saw this as discrimination. After watching the documentary Wretchedness and Jabbers about activists with ASD (coupled with learning about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in class), he was inspired to start the “I Stand with Henry” campaign to take action and demand that he and others have full access to equal education. 

Henry Frost and his service dog sit on the steps of a building; Henry is holding a sign reading “The Equal Rights Act of 1964 granted equal rights to all people. I am a person. I want these rights.”
Henry Frost and his service dog, Denzel, protest outside a downtown Tampa building during the Republican National Convention in 2012. Photo courtesy of Lauri Hunt.

Thus began the age-old battle between the student and family fighting for inclusion and the school district, which argued that his needs were best met by the special education charter school he was already attending. In an attempt to gain admission to Watson Middle School, Henry attended classes virtually. His mother feared he would fall behind without in-person instruction. “Please see me as a person like you,” he said through his iPad. “I would like the chance to try.”

A Facebook picture of the preteen protesting with a sign reading “The Equal Rights Act of 1964 granted equal rights to all people. I am a person. I want these rights” (pictured above) went viral. NPR and The Huffington Post covered the story. A petition was created on Change.org that gained nearly 6,500 signatures, and Henry ended up being allowed to attend Watson Middle School. He excelled in general education and in his Advanced Honors and Gifted classes. In 2013, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network presented him with their award for Service to the Self-Advocacy Movement. 

Henry has written several articles for Ollibean, and reminds us how crucial self-advocacy is.   

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