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How the phrase 'Let's go Brandon' made a little boy with autism feel loved

Brandon Brundidge, 9, thought anti-Joe Biden flags were made by kind strangers who wanted to show him their support. "They're cheering for me!" he said.

The phrase used by Donald Trump supporters to show their dislike for President Joe Biden inadvertently made a 9-year-old boy with autism feel loved and supported.

Brandon Brundidge, 9, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old.

“His autism presents as social anxiety, and he's very fearful of a lot of things — you know, like being around and talking to people," Sheletta Brundidge, Brandon's mom, told TODAY Parents. "And he stutters, so he will talk with his hand over his mouth — he thinks that he can catch the stutters as they come out."

Brundidge, 50, has four kids, three of whom have been diagnosed with autism. Since traveling via plane presents a challenge, the Minnesota-based family vacations in their RV, driving to various states with attractions that are autism-friendly.

Sheletta Brundidge pictured with her four children.
Sheletta Brundidge pictured with her four children.Courtesy Sheletta Brundidge

In March, during a Spring Break trip to Houston, Texas to attend the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Brundidge suddenly noticed her usually-shy and anxious son start to act uncharacteristically outgoing.

"We were in an RV park, and my son kept saying, 'Mom, these people here love me!' And I was like, 'Boy, what are you talking about?'" Brundidge explained. 'And he said, 'They got my signs up everywhere! They were waiting for me to get here!' I just saw this sudden confidence come over him."

First, Brandon told his mom he wanted to get in the RV Park's pool.

"He's afraid he's going to drown in the tub when I bathe him," Brundidge added. "He doesn't like the shower because he's scared water will get in his eyes. Suddenly, he wanted to get in the pool?"

Related: ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ explained: A look at the phrase that became code for criticizing Biden

Then Brandon asked if his mom would take off his bike's training wheels. Shortly after, he was walking up to strangers, saying hello and telling them how well he was doing in school. Then, to his mother's shock, he tried to ride his brother's hoverboard.

"I didn't know what was happening to my child," Brundidge said. "First he was scared. Hell, now I'm scared. I had no idea what was going on."

Finally, during a ride on a golf cart around the RV Park, Brandon told his mom to suddenly stop.

"He pointed and said, 'Mom, do you spot my sign?" she said. "And I looked up and saw that 'Let's go Brandon' flag."

'I don't see a sign, I see a book'

The phrase "Let's go Brandon" became popular in October, 2021, after a NASCAR race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. While NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast was interviewing driver Brandon Brown, a crowd started chanting, "F--- Joe Biden." On air, Stavast suggested the crowd was saying, "Let's go Brandon," and the two phrases became synonymous.

Brundidge knew what the phrase meant, and says she could have easily pulled her son quietly aside and explained to him that the flags were not for him and the phrase was "really a rallying cry to insult the president."

"But my son just came alive," she added. "I looked at him, and he was so happy and he was smiling. And my other kids didn't know what it meant either, so they started chanting, 'Let's go Brandon!'

Finally aware of the source of her son's newfound courage and confidence, Brundidge said: "Son, I don't see a sign. I see a book."

Brandon Brudidge, 9, now has his very own book about the time he found "his sign."
Brandon Brudidge, 9, now has his very own book about the time he found "his sign."Courtesy Sheletta Brundidge

For three years, Brundidge has been writing children's book about her own kids with autism. In 2020, she published "Cameron Goes to School," about her daughter going to Kindergarten for the first time. In 2021, she published "Daniel Finds His Voice" — a book about Brudidge's son Daniel, who learned how to speak through music.

"This year, though, I told Brandon I wasn't going to do his book," Brundidge added. "I had been reading the room, and the 'Critical Race Theory' crowed was out there snatching Black authors' books off the shelf for no good reason other than there were Black people on the cover of the book. So I told him I just couldn't do it. Maybe next year."

Related: Books on race and sexuality disappear from Texas schools in record numbers

But in that moment, Brundidge said she knew she found Brandon's book. So she called her publicist and told her they had four weeks to write and publish a book in time for Autism Awareness Day.

The book was titled, "Brandon Spots His Sign."

"She said that's not possible — it takes six to nine months to do a book. We'll put it out next year," Brundidge explained. "I said, 'No, we're not. We're going to book this out in four weeks.'"

Sheletta Brundidge holding her third book, pictured with her son, Brandon, holding his letter from President Joe Biden.
Sheletta Brundidge holding her third book, pictured with her son, Brandon, holding his letter from President Joe Biden.Courtesy Sheletta Brundidge

The illustrator, Darcy Bell-Meyers, who also has a daughter with autism, dropped everything to create the pictures for the children's books. Brundidge then called her son's special education teacher, Ms. Carlson, to develop the resource page in the back of the book "to help kids learn how to engage with their friends who have autism."

"We put that book together and put it out there and it went up on World Autism Day," Brundidge added. "How about that?"

The book is now the #1 parenting book on children with disabilities, and the #2 book on anxiety disorders, on Amazon.

"He single-handedly changed the meaning of 'Let's go Brandon,'" Brundidge said. "I have dozens of emails from parents who say that's what they tell their kids; emails from teachers and therapists who say 'Let's go Brandon' to their kids who are on the spectrum and who do something great, or use that phrase to encourage them."

A letter from a very special fan

In the middle of May, Brandon and his family received a letter from a special, but not entirely unlikely, fan: The President of the United States.

"[Brandon] was so excited and he was so encouraged and he was so inspired," Brundidge said. "He's in virtual school and the letter came during the day. He immediately took the letter and interrupted his math class, saying, 'I just got a letter from the president." The teacher said, 'Excuse me, Brandon. We don't tell tales.' And he said, 'No, I really did! Look!'"

Related: Why the focus of autism research is shifting away from the search for a ‘cure’

Brandon read the letter out loud — a true moment of joy for his mom, who said when he was diagnosed with autism she was afraid he would never talk, look her in the eyes or respond to his own name.

"Just to hear him read it, as a parent of a child with special needs, was just incredible," she explained. "I remember at 3 years old, during his diagnosis, they asked him to touch his tummy, and he couldn't. So to see him read a letter from the president without any help? That just knocked me all the way out."

Brandon holding his very special letter from a very special fan.
Brandon holding his very special letter from a very special fan.Courtesy Sheletta Brundidge
The letter President Joe Biden wrote to Brandon.
The letter President Joe Biden wrote to Brandon.Courtesy Sheletta Brundidge

Since receiving his letter from the president, Brundidge says her son is a different child.

"He is walking up to people and engaging them in conversation. He is not afraid to talk about the ideas that he has," she explained. "He's out there laughing and talking and playing and doing all the fun stuff that I never thought I'd see my child do."

There is one thing Brandon wants, however, that even his supportive and bursting-with-pride mom cannot bring herself to allow.

"Brandon asked me, 'Mom, can we get some of those flags to put on our RV?'" Brundidge explained. "I was like, 'Umm. No, son. I don't think I'll be able to do it."