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January 2016



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The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is very pleased to announce the recipients of our 2016 Autistic Scholars Fellowship! ASAN awards $5,000 tuition scholarships to 4 to 6 Autistic college students who demonstrate a strong commitment to disability rights advocacy, Autistic culture and community, and disability accessibility and inclusion on college campuses. We are extremely proud to include these exceptional self-advocates in our inaugurating class of Autistic Scholars. The six fellowship recipients are listed below. Click here to view our official announcement of the 2016 fellowship recipients.

Jessica Benham

University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Jessica is an Autistic doctoral student in Communication and a master’s student in Bioethics at the University of Pittsburgh. She holds a master’s degree in communication studies from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her primary research interests lie in investigating the rhetorical and ethical constructions of disability in society. Her thesis, Proud to be Autistic: Metaphorical Construction and Salience of Cultural and Personal Identity in #StopCombatingMe, presents research on Autistic self-advocacy through a neurodiversity perspective. A firm believer in the value of Autistic culture, Jessica is also an advocate for Autistic rights, interested in creating sensory friendly spaces in educational settings, increasing access to IEPs for Autistic children in public schools, helping parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals better understand Autistic people, and reducing barriers to employment for Autistic adults.

Manuel Díaz

University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas)

Manuel is a multiply neurodivergent Autistic Mexican-American student. He is currently studying physics and mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the founder and president of the student organization Texas Neurodiversity. He enjoys weightlifting, dancing, and stimming. His future plan is to get a doctoral degree in Theoretical Physics.

Leanne Libas

Saddleback College (Mission Viejo, California)

Leanne is a first-year student college student who is planning to become a special education teacher. A CAYLF (California Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities) 2014 alumna, she continues to advocate in the disabled community. After gaining recognition from writing “Breaking Out-My Autism Story” on the Art of Autism’s website, she is currently one of the web site’s monthly bloggers. During her free time, she likes to read, sing, and watch YouTube videos.

Howie Jordan

University of South Carolina Upstate ( Spartanburg, South Carlina)

Howie Jordan is a senior mathematics major at the University of South Carolina Upstate. He enjoys reading, writing, and stage acting. He is excited for this opportunity to continue advocating and spreading Autistic culture.

David James “DJ” Savarese

Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio)

DJ is a non-speaking autistic student at Oberlin College who types to communicate. DJ been advocating for autistics—specifically, nonspeaking autistics—since he was invited to present at his first conference at the age of 13. For the past 8 years, DJ been working on an ITVS-funded documentary film due out next year that seeks to raise understanding about the movement, sensory, and emotional aspects of nonspeaking autistics as well as their untapped potential. A poet, a memoirist, and a playwright, DJ has published his work in Disability Studies Quarterly, Stone Canoe, Autism Life Skills, and on several websites.

R. Larkin Taylor-Parker

University of Georgia Law School (Athens, Georgia)

Larkin is a second-year law student at the University of Georgia interested in disability rights. She is also an autism blogger, social media expert, and avid recreational tuba player.

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