First autistic chairman of county council committee elected

A councillor with autism has spoken about his ambition for West Sussex County Council to do the best it can for children and young people.

Paul Linehan (Con, Bramber Castle) was elected chairman of the children & young people’s services scrutiny committee on Wednesday (June 8).

He told colleagues that he thought he was the first autistic person to hold the role.

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Mr Linehan said: “My motivation for being here is not a personal ambition, it’s an ambition for the service to ensure we are doing the best that we can do for our children and young people.”

Paul Linehan

As described by the National Autistic Society, autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.

One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

Explaining how disability could affect his behaviour, Mr Linehan told the meeting that he could occasionally be ‘direct and abrupt’.

He added: “It’s not intentionally ill-mannered – it’s just my neurodiverse brain processing the information right there and then and spitting out without having the opportunity to write things down.

“I like to do things very carefully.”

Mr Linehan replaced Stephen Hillier as chairman.

His experience with children’s services stretches back to childhood.

He told the meeting he was brought up in care from the age of one – and spoke about the ‘different environment’ in the 1970s and 80s.

This included receiving corporal punishment from a social worker ‘because I happened to upset the foster family’ – something which would horrify people today.

He added: “I’m pleased to say that now in 2022 things have changed radically since then.

“We no longer have those kind of experiences, or I certainly hope not.”

A former member of the 7th Parachute Regiment, he did his doctorate in psychology, looking at criminal offending and how early childhood abuse correlates with later offending.

To chuckles from his fellow councillors, Mr Linehan said: “I’m probably in the most uncomfortable position in the world right now.

“After today, I’m going to go home, I’m going to listen to this, I’m going to analyse everything I’ve said and I’m going to rest for a few days to recover from it.”