LOS ANGELES, April 3, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — As the month of April puts a spotlight on Autism Acceptance Month, studies and research continue to show that children of color are most affected by the disorder, and less likely to get access to screenings, services and support.

An alarming report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that autism is now being recognized more frequently in Black children than white children in the United States, particularly in children around the age of eight years old. These findings and the overall dramatic increase in autism diagnoses underscore the critical need to address shortages in providers who can screen and provide services to our most vulnerable populations – that is, children in BIPOC and underserved communities.

Civil rights attorney and child advocate Areva Martin is one of the leading voices for children with autism and developmental disabilities. In 2005, she founded the nonprofit organization, Special Needs Network (SNN), after she was met with obstacles in accessing necessary services for her autistic son, Marty. Based in California, SNN is one of the nation’s leading disability, children’s health and social justice nonprofits in the country. “I wasn’t looking to become an autism advocate, but autism advocacy found me,” she said in her book, “The Everyday Advocate: Standing Up for Your Child With Autism and Other Special Needs.”

As the region’s leading social justice organization working at the intersection of civil rights issues and disability rights, SNN is doing its part of bridging the gap of early intervention for children in BIPOC communities and addressing the critical shortage of diverse professionals available to serve children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

This year, SNN launched an exciting new workforce development program called C.O.R.E. – that is,  Creating Opportunities and Resources for Equity in Early Intervention. It is a groundbreaking response designed to address this crisis of early identification and intervention. The first-of-its-kind program will increase diversity and representation in professionals serving children ages 0 to 3 years old with developmental disabilities. With support from a federal grant, the C.O.R.E. fellowship program will train and connect racially-diverse professionals with agencies that provide services for children with developmental disabilities in communities of color.

SNN, like the CDC, supports early identification and intervention as the most important tools parents have in helping to make a difference in the lives of children with autism. SNN recommends that children be screened three times before the age of three — namely, 9, 18, and 24 or 30 months– so that they can be referred for services to have the best chance of success to live fully.

“For children of color, obtaining three screenings and in some cases even obtaining one, can prove challenging,” said Martin. founder and president of SNN. “A shortage of qualified clinicians, implicit bias, anti-Blackness sentiments, and lack of adequate insurance coverage are just a few of the barriers that families of color face. The new CDC findings demonstrate the urgent need to act,” she explained.

For its new workforce development program, SNN recruited 200 C.O.R.E. fellows for extensive training in key specialties to work with children in California, specifically Los Angeles and Kern counties. Fellows selected include college graduates and current students in human services fields including sociology, psychology, child development, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, behavior analysis, communication disorders, or related fields.

In addition, C.O.R.E. fellows will receive a range of training, benefits, and support, including Diversity, Equity, Inclusion training and certification, professional subject matter and leadership training as well as a paid training stipend.

“We believe C.O.R.E. will serve as a national model for extending services to children and families who will otherwise face delays in receiving the diagnoses and services critical to improving long-term outcomes,” said Martin.