School Board Member with Autism Fights for Marginalized Kids
Autism Warrior: Nicole Vander Meulen
Nicole Vander Meulen strives to be a catalyst for change. She is not just the managing partner at Vander Meulen Law Firm and a member of the Madison Metropolitan School Board—she is also open about her identity as a woman with autism. She resides in Madison, Wisconsin, with her cat, Tigger.
Nicole considers her graduation from the University of Wisconsin Law School to be one of her most significant accomplishments. She is also deeply proud to be the first openly autistic individual to serve on a school board in the nation.
Elected in 2017, Nicole has fought to make the school system more inclusive for marginalized children and to increase funding for special education programs.
Nicole is most inspired by people who are changemakers—those who challenge the status quo to improve the lives of others. In particular, she admires Representative John Lewis, President Barack Obama, and innovative artists like Lin-Manuel Miranda. It is a dream of hers to meet Miranda one day!
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Nicole hopes to be re-elected and continue her work on the Madison Metropolitan School Board. In the future, she plans to run for the Wisconsin State Legislature.
Advice for families affected by autism
Nicole encourages families to help their ASD children expand their horizons and learn new things: “Please challenge us to accept new ideas, new foods, and new people. Practice social etiquette at home by acting out what is going to happen at an event and how people may respond.”
She also says parents must always keep in mind that their child should be treated with empathy and compassion: “My advice is to treat your child the way you want to be treated. Just because we are autistic doesn’t mean we’re completely immune to the world around us…Most importantly, realize that we are capable of love, joy, and acceptance. We just show it differently than most people.”
This article was featured in Issue 104 –Transition Strategies For Kids With Autism