End Structural Racism in Diagnosis and Treatment

LOS ANGELES, CA – Special Needs Network (SNN), one of the nation’s premier autism advocacy organizations, has promoted five women of color to senior clinical positions as a part of its strategy to expand its footprint across Southern California and in preparation of the summer 2021 opening of its state-of-the-art medical and developmental center on the campus of Martin Luther King Hospital in South Los Angeles. Brandi Lopez, Nathaly Buruca and Oliesha Young will serve as Regional Directors and Carolina Gonzalez and Jessica Carter have been elevated to Assistant Clinical Directors’ positions. SNN CEO and founder, Areva Martin, announced the promotions as a part of the organization’s Women’s History Month celebrations.

The new leadership team also reflects SNN’s broader commitment to combatting well established racial inequities that persist in autism care and the organization’s goal of building a diverse workforce that reflects the demographics of California, which is 61 percent minority. People of color remain deeply underrepresented in autism care. According to recent studies, two percent of autism providers are African American and nine percent identify as Hispanic. Scientists and policy leaders have called out the lack of diversity in autism providers as a significant impediment to providing culturally competent care and as one of the drivers in the gross inequities that families of color face in getting diagnosis and treatment.

Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reports in its December 2020 issue that Black children with autism spectrum disorder were diagnosed an average of more than three years after their parents expressed concerns about their development. According to the According to the study’s author, John Constantino, M.D., “These delays are believed to play a significant role in an even more serious health disparity which involves the proportion of children with autism who additionally are affected by intellectual disability.”

Given the pervasive history of racism in medical care in the US, Martin applauds the researchers who for the first time have had the courage to call out structural racism as a driver of inequity for children with autism. “As a civil rights attorney and mother of a Black son on the spectrum, I have long been aware of the profound racial biases and discrimination that African American and Latino families face in accessing a range of autism services and the difficulty in finding autism providers of color,” said Martin.

With over 140 clinicians trained in delivering culturally and racially sensitive, evidence-based therapies for individuals on the autism spectrum and with a range of developmental and behavior disorders, SNN has been working in some of the most vulnerable communities in Southern California for over 15 years. “Work force diversity should be top of mind for all autism providers and the promotion of these five professionals during Women’s History Month is an added benefit. They all have impeccable credentials and have distinguished themselves as passionate and hardworking clinicians who exemplify SNN’s commitment to dismantling racial and economic barriers that prevent Black and brown children with disabilities from thriving,” said Martin.

About 1 in 54 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, which can cause difficulty with communication and social interactions, obsessive interests and repetitive behaviors, according to the Center of Disease Control. This life-long condition can impact a person’s ability to work and live independently and the cost of care is estimated in the millions over an individual’s lifetime. Autism rates among Black and Hispanic children have increased by more than 40 percent since 2014 according to an analysis by JAMA Network.

“The best people to work in any marginalized community are those who have lived in it,” said Regional Director, Nathaly Buruca. “I believe that individuals living in South LA should receive the same high-quality services that a child in Beverly Hills receives.”

Growing up, Assistant Clinical Director Jessica Carter said she and her family didn’t know much about autism. But she always wanted to connect and understand them. “I am grateful to serve a community with the same background as me and help support families across Los Angeles,” said Carter.

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