On April 22, 2023, former Congresswoman Val Demings delivered the keynote address for the 17th annual Tools for Transformation Conference at California State University, Dominguez Hills in Carson. The conference, sponsored by civil rights attorney and child advocate Areva Martin and the Special Needs Network, was the largest and most comprehensive free autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities conference in Los Angeles.

“We dream of a nation where every person has the opportunity to live their best life,” said Demings. “To learn. To succeed. To grow. And to thrive.”

During the keynote, Demings spoke on the conference’s theme of “In Pursuit of Equity.” She recounted her personal journey of becoming a social worker to protect children in broken homes and later becoming a police officer with a social worker’s heart, all while working her way through college.

Left to Right: Elex Michaelson, Areva Martin, Congresswoman Val Demings, and State Senator Steven Bradford

The workshops were presented by renowned experts in intervention strategies, education, healthcare, culturally competent services, advocacy, and social justice. Among those in attendance were Fox TV’s media personality Elex Michaelson, Carson Mayor Lula Davis Holmes, and State Senator Steven Bradford (35th District).

One of the highlights of the conference was the Self Advocates panel, featuring panelists who were all on the autism spectrum and members of the BIPOC community. This panel was the first-of-its-kind, providing an opportunity for self-advocates to share their experiences and discuss the importance of self-advocacy.

Another panel discussed the new CDC statistics on autism, which revealed that the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased steadily among all groups, but the increases were greater for Black and Latinx children than for White children. The panelists, including Dr. Daniel Geschwind Professor and Scientist of Human Genetics, Neurology, and Psychology at UCLA and Vivian Haun from Disability Rights California, discussed the persistent gap in services and the need for eliminating biases and barriers encountered by BIPOC communities living with autism.

“ASD is present throughout an individual’s life and it’s the state’s responsibility to protect them at all ages,” said Dr. Geschwind.

Families had access to a comprehensive resource fair where they could meet with health service providers, disability rights attorneys, and other special needs professionals. Additionally, families were treated to free breakfast and lunch, and lucky attendees won iPad and laptop giveaways.

Attendees left with new insights and knowledge on how to better serve those with autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities in their communities. The conference provided attendees with valuable knowledge and resources to continue advocating for access, equity, and social justice for all.

“Believe in yourself and your abilities,” said Areva Martin. “You have the power to create your own tools for transformation.”