An autistic teen helps others advocate for themselves through a tool he has developed to help others who struggle with speaking in public or in a crisis situation.

18 year old Brandon Mitchell is a senior at Columbus North High School who was diagnosed with autism at age 2. He has developed 25 wallet sized self advocacy cards which include tips for others about how they can recognize a disability and help those affected.  He believes that the cards will allow better understanding among law enforcement officers who can then provide assistance.

Mitchell carries his own card which lists his disability and contact information for his parents.  He partnered with Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers and special education teacher Mary Hamlin on the project. He developed the cards after he was approached to provide help last summer. The idea is to allow an officer to understand the issues of an individual who may be deaf or unable to speak due to being on the autism spectrum

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“The more information we have, the better we can help people,” Myers said. “Families will feel better knowing their loved ones have these cards.”

Hamlin has worked with Mitchell for four years.  She praises him for being an advocate for himself and others.  At one time, she said, Mitchell struggled with communication, resulting in phone calls to his parents. He uses is cell phone to communicate by text, and Hamlin often receives texts from him after school.

“Brandon has grown and matured in many ways, but I’m most impressed with his emotional growth,” Hamlin said. “It is impressive that as a teenager, he now embraces and accepts himself as a person with autism….Yes, it impedes his communication. But with embracing this, he works diligently to improve and he will ask for help from those he trusts when he either does not understand others or if others do not understand him,” Hamlin said.

Renee Mitchell is proud of her son’s accomplishments, such as being employed at the JayC Food Store and obtaining a driver’s license.

“He feels comfortable and accepted, and that makes a huge difference,” she said. “His emotional development is probably what I’m most proud of over the last few years.”

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