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Autism Advocacy: A Network Striving for Equity

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 88, No. 1

Tiina Itkonen, California State University Channel Islands
Robert Ream, University of California Riverside


In this exploratory case study, we examine the rise of autism on the policy agenda and the new generation of autism advocacy. We focus especially on interconnections between the rhetoric about autism in the media and the emergence and political effectiveness of Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism advocacy group. We portray how influential social actors frame the story of autism and how they have secured policy victories for youth with autism and their families. Whether issue framing affects policy by motivating network collaboration, or whether collaboration affects how social actors frame issues to affect policy is of fundamental concern in our preliminary analyses. We conclude by discussing implications for new research on the framing of the issue and network development.


Tiina Itkonen is an associate professor at California State University, Channel Islands. Her research agenda rests on education policy and special education, specifically, interest group involvement on which she has published articles and a book. She teaches in teacher credential programs and in political science. Before going onto higher education she spent a number of years in P-12 education as a teacher, program specialist, and worked for the state department.

Robert K. Ream joined the UC Riverside Graduate School of Education faculty in 2004 after completing postdoctoral fellowships at Princeton University and the RAND Corporation. He uses social capital theory and mixed-methods research techniques to explore the often overlooked relational dynamics that impact educational inequity.