How did you get involved in the autism community?
When my son, Marty, was diagnosed with autism at age two, I was a busy mom of two with a demanding law practice and a full range of activities in my community and church. I had no idea how I was going to handle a life-long commitment to protect and advocate for a child with special needs. It didn’t take long to see parents with fewer resources than I had were managing this disorder and its life-altering effects—and many were single parents, some holding down two minimum wage jobs or raising multiple children with special needs. I became poignantly aware of the problems parents face when trying to obtain services and even basic human rights for their special needs child.
Is that why you started your nonprofit, Special Needs Network?
Yes, meeting these brave parents inspired me to marshal my skills as an attorney to create a community safety net. Thousands of children with autism in underserved communities of color fall between the cracks. These children are often diagnosed later than their non-minority peers; misdiagnosed at a higher rate than their mainstream counterparts; labeled emotionally disturbed; and are often over-medicated. Many are denied insurance benefits and medical care and treatment. They are denied their fundamental right to an education and a future. This discrimination compelled me to start Special Needs Network to promote social justice, equality and dignity for children with disabilities. Special Needs Network gives thousands of parents and caregivers of children with autism in South Los Angeles and the state of California a voice.
Elevating the notion that there was and is an underserved community for children who experience autism is one of my greatest accomplishments. I help give a voice to those families who don’t have resources, and I’m so proud to be able to do that.