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African American Physicians Embrace Autism Speaks Early Access to Care

Posted by Autism Speaks Senior Director for Environmental and Clinical Sciences Alycia Halladay and Assistant Director for Public Health Research Amy Daniels

This past week, we attended the National Medical Association’s Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly, in Toronto. The NMA represents the interests of African American physicians and patients, with a special emphasis on the elimination of ethnic healthcare disparities. As you can imagine, we were thrilled when NMA president Rahn Bailey invited us to present information about Autism Speaks Early Access to Care initiative.

Prior to the meeting we sent out more than 1,200 flyers inviting attendees to meet with us at our booth and discuss the Early Access to Care initiative and Autism Speaks’ larger mission. We were greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm. Doctors were literally embracing us in thanks for what Autism Speaks is doing to address the needs of the African American community and other underserved groups. Some were not aware of the stark ethnic disparities in access to autism services. Others were quite familiar and had stories to tell about their experiences helping families access care.

We talked with pediatricians, psychiatrists, obstetricians, even a urologist and an ear-nose-and-throat specialist. Spouses and other family members came to our booth as well. Some came for information, others just to thank us for being there.

One of the first people to approach us was psychiatrist Shirley Marks. She described her experiences in Nigeria where, for the last three years, she and her colleagues have been working with families, providers and health ministries to raise autism awareness. They're also developing a regional conference on autism. With enthusiasm, Dr. Marks offered to work with us to build greater awareness about the importance of early detection and intervention among her African American physicians working in North America as well as abroad.

Another visitor to our booth was a family practitioner and father of quadruplets on the spectrum. He described his dream of opening a multidisciplinary family practice that provided “one stop shopping” for families affected by autism in a part of Georgia that has few specialists.

We’ll definitely be back for the next annual meeting. We’re already in discussions around developing a special symposium on the mental health needs of children in underserved communities. Meanwhile, we’ll be working with the scores of physicians we met this year – spreading information, collecting feedback and ensuring that their patients are screened as early as possible with referrals to quality intervention services.

We want to thank Autism Speaks passionate community of families, volunteers and donors for supporting this important work. Read more about Autism Speaks Early Access to Care initiative here.

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The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.