An update on Autism Speaks diversity, equity, access and inclusion (DEAI) efforts
February 1, 2021
As an organization, Autism Speaks is working to achieve our vision of a world where all people with autism can reach their full potential, especially those in minority communities who face greater disparities.
With this in mind, we want to share an update on our diversity, equity, access and inclusion (DEAI) efforts. Recognizing that this important work will take time, we are committed to continuing work already underway and identifying new ways to sharpen our focus on the specific needs of people with autism in Black and other communities of color.
- Engaging partners & peers: Autism Speaks is committed to engaging, convening and supporting other organizations and families in the community in order to expand the impact of our mission, coordinate resources and advocate for priorities in the Black autism community. We also engage with the autism research community to shape research priorities, such as through our 2019 Thought Leadership Summit on Health Equity featuring keynote remarks by the co-chair and co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ).This summit addressed barriers such as systemic racism and environmental justice. We are committed to continuing engagements like these to advocate with and for the Black autism community.
- Advocating with and alongside the community: Across the U.S, we advocate at the state level for expanded Medicaid coverage of services for children with autism which has provided access to care for individuals of all ethnicities and has had a meaningful impact on communities of color. We inform and engage Congress on inequities in autism healthcare for minority and other underserved groups and hosted a 2019 Congressional briefing on the topic. We advocated for the expansion of federal autism research investment in projects serving the needs of underserved groups in the Autism CARES Act of 2019. Advocacy efforts at the grassroots, state and federal levels will remain central to the organization now and well into the future.
- Ensuring access to early screening and supports: Since 2007, we have worked with the Ad Council to lower the age of diagnosis, with a focus on underserved populations. We are starting to see the results of this work based upon the latest CDC findings, which show the gap in age of diagnosis between Black and white children has started to close, but we also recognize there is more work to be done to further improve timely access to supports and services once a child has been diagnosed. Through our work with the Ad Council and other partners, we remain focused on continuing to close this gap through public service campaigns, education and outreach.
- Providing quality care through the Autism Treatment Network: In partnership with the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health, we devote at least half of all activities in the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network to improving autism care for underserved groups. We recently released three new videos and five one-page tip sheets from some of the most used tool kits in our resources to help make these resources more widely available.
- Activating local communities through outreach: Being active in local communities is important to Autism Speaks. Our Outreach and community events bring together young adults and adults with autism, families, local groups and businesses and service providers from diverse backgrounds to share resources, examine needs, explore opportunities and connect with available resources and expertise. We also engage the community through online resources including: tool kits and guides to help people with autism and their families with a variety of topics; Blue Blessings, a guidebook for faith-based organizations to create more inclusive environments for people with autism; and webinars that cover a wide range of topics. Further, we provide a platform for autistic people to share their stories through our website, social channels and outreach efforts to highlight the diversity of experiences within the community. Anyone who would like to share their story is invited to reach out to us through social media or to send an email to email@example.com.
- Action to engage and educate law enforcement: Nationally, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are seven times more likely to interact with law enforcement officers than their peers without disabilities. We have partnered with Dr. Lindsay Shea of Drexel University, who is leading the development of a policy brief devoted to the criminal justice system and the treatment of people with autism. Members of the Autism Speaks services and support team have served on this committee leading this effort for the past year, and the resulting policy brief will be shared publicly in the year ahead. We know that the brief will have significant impact for our community.
Finally, as part of our ongoing DEAI efforts, our aim is to find and implement meaningful solutions to help people with autism and their families feel safe and supported in their communities. We are working with minority-owned diversity consultancy Nonprofit HR to help guide next steps. By reviewing internal and external data about our work to date, we are shaping a targeted strategy to inform our work in the future.
We welcome and invite an ongoing dialogue. Please reach out to us on social media or via ConnectWithUs@autismspeaks.org.
For information on how you can advocate for the diverse autism community, visit autismspeaks.org/advocate.