Yuh-Line Niou Running to Become First Openly Autistic Member of Congress

New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou could make history as the first openly autistic member of Congress.

Niou, a progressive Democrat who has represented parts of Lower Manhattan since 2017, announced her run for New York's 10th Congressional District on Saturday in what could become a historic run for office. She has previously been open about being on the autism spectrum and is one of a handful of autistic state legislators across the U.S.

Should Niou win the election, she would become the first openly autistic member of Congress and the highest ranking openly autistic official in United States history. Historians have speculated that some historical politicians may have been on the autism spectrum, but none have had official diagnoses.

She told Newsweek Saturday evening she was not even aware of the historic nature of her candidacy. She said she was diagnosed with autism when she was 22 years old—it is typical for autistic women to be diagnosed as adults, as women and girls are often socialized to mask their traits.

Yuh-Lin Niou could become first autistic congressperson
Yuh-Lin Niou, above, announced her campaign for Congress on Saturday. If she wins, she would become the first openly autistic member of Congress. Courtesy of the Yuh-Line Niou campaign

Niou said her autism has influenced her ability as a legislator on topics ranging from education, housing and transportation—and that having more diverse perspectives in office makes for better policy.

"I think that it's always positive to have a lot of different lenses when we're talking about policy," she said. "I think that I'm probably somebody who does understand that every single issue that we actually navigate and work on is a disability issue."

She has never hidden her autism diagnosis, but it was first reported in a 2020 Refinery29 article—prompting an influx of emails and text messages from people thanking her for sharing her story, she said.

"I realized that I needed to talk about it more openly, and that it was important for people to see," she said. "It changed a lot of peoples' thoughts, and I talked to a lot of parents and I talked to a lot kids who wanted to have that conversation—just wondering if I went through some of the same things that they did."

She said seeing an autistic lawmaker in Congress would have been "amazing to see, and amazing to know as a kid."

Niou joins a crowded Democratic primary in a newly-redrawn congressional district containing parts of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.

She will face off against several high-profile New York politicians including former Mayor Bill de Blasio and Representative Mondaire Jones, who currently represents suburbs north of the city. The district is deeply Democratic, so whoever wins the primary in August will be the overwhelming favorite to win the general election in November.

Niou announced her candidacy in the 10th District only hours after the map was released on Friday. A previous iteration of the congressional map was struck down by the court.

The historical nature of her candidacy did not go unnoticed on social media following her announcement. "Folks, she's running. V excited for the possibility of the first openly autistic Member of Congress," wrote journalist Sara Luterman.