Autistic Student Wins the Right to Go to School

Henry Frost had a pretty simple goal: he wanted to go to school like any other kid. Unfortunately, his Tampa, Florida school district put some obstacles in his way, claiming that the autistic student should attend a specialized education program rather than mainstreaming at Wilson Middle School. Frost and his service dog, Denzel, didn’t take the district’s suggestion lying down.

He took to social media.

Frost has several health conditions, including his autism, which interfere with his ability to communicate, and he relies on an iPad to interact with the people around him. His familiarity with technology turned out to be a boon when his school district told him he didn’t belong in a conventional classroom, because he was able to harness the power of social media to reach out for help. With the publication of a picture that went around the world, he publicized his plight and also raised awareness about discrimination against disabled students in general, many of whom are forced into segregated programs against their wishes.

Henry’s battle for civil rights was also informed by the growing autistic self-advocacy movement, which puts autistic people square in the center of discussions about advocacy. After watching “Wretches and Jabberers,” a film about autism and self-advocacy, Henry’s way of interacting with the world changed radically, and his parents credit the film with his self-realization that he had a voice, could use it and had a right to participate in discussions about his education and life.

He took to the streets during the Republican National Convention to draw awareness to disability rights, a particularly critical issue right now due to threats to funding for disability services across the U.S., and he connected through social media with fans all over the world who became interested in his cause, including fellow self-advocates like Ari Ne’eman. Frost is one of the faces of a new generation of autistic people who refuse to remain silent and sit by the sidelines while decisions are made about them and people talk over them. He prefers to be square in the middle of the conversation.

In an interview with reporter Ariane Zurcher at the Huffington Post, he noted one of the major complaints disabled people, particularly those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, have about interactions with the nondisabled community:

Please don’t talk about me in front of me. I can hear you. I can read your lips. I can read your body language. It feels terrible. Sad. But it feels great when you treat me like I am smart.

Frost’s statement mirrors the call to action of the disability rights movement: “nothing about us without us.”

His lobbying effort worked: in a 14 hour meeting with the school district to iron out details, he won the right to attend the school of his choice with an aide to assist him in the classroom. An important battle for Henry (and Denzel), but also a signal to autistic students across the country who may be longing for a chance to participate in a mainstream classroom instead of being isolated in a special services program.

Henry asked for his chance, and he got it.

Related stories:

College Options For Autistic Students and Students with Disabilities

How IQ Tests Underestimate Autistic Students’ Intelligence

School Uses “Riot Gear”-Like Shields On Autistic Students

Photo Credit: Autistic savant, author, and speaker Daniel Tammet, by Steve Jurvetson


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you S. E. smith, for Sharing this!

Misty Lemons
Past Member 5 years ago

Way to go! At my child's school they've just put a policy in place to double punish students. If a child goes to the time out room 3 or more times in a semester they will be excluded from any social activities at the school. They were already punished, why punish them more and ostracize them? Parents were not even asked for their input on the policy. It was snuck under the radar and put on a recent newsletter more of as an afterthought rather than a proper announcement. I for one am not standing for this and have put together a petition that I plan on bringing to the school board at their next meeting. I need as many signatures I can get. Please, support the children. It is appreciated.

Mary L.
Mary L5 years ago

I am impressed by the young man's passion and willingness to speak for himself. Way to go Henry, keep it up!

robin s.
robin s5 years ago

shame on this school system for its actions. i have a disabled son and our parish schools are required to make mainstream classes available to all students. no place should be allowed to segregate students just because they have a disability. good for him

Kamryn M.
Kay M5 years ago

good for him.

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia5 years ago

Such a shame he had to fight for the right to be educated in the way he wants. I am so happy he won.

Lucie G.
Lucie G5 years ago

well done. I wish him well.

Nils Lunde
PlsNoMessage se5 years ago

Wish him success

Adrian Moctezuma
.5 years ago

That´s nice for him

Robyn Brice
Robyn Vorsa5 years ago

Good for him. A very brave young man indeed.