When my son, Marty, was diagnosed with autism, I was already a busy community organizer, active in my church, with two growing girls and demanding law practice. I wondered how could I possibly handle another obligation, much less a life-long commitment to protect and advocate for a child with special needs.
Before long, I realized how many parents, with fewer resources than I had, were managing this illness and all of its life-altering effects, while being single parents or holding down two minimum-wage jobs, or raising multiple children with special needs.
As a special rights attorney, I became poignantly aware of the problems parents face when trying to obtain services — and even basic human rights — for their special needs child. I wrote my book, The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand up for Your Child with Autism and Other Special Needs, to give parents and caregivers the skills to defend those rights.
Moreover, I learned that children with autism in disenfranchised communities of color are often diagnosed later than their non-minority peers; misdiagnosed at a higher rate than their mainstream counterparts; labeled emotionally disturbed; and are often over-medicated. Many are denied insurance benefits, medical care and treatment, and, ultimately, their fundamental right to an education and a future.
This discrimination compelled me to start Special Needs Network to promote social justice, equality, and dignity for children with disabilities.
Year after year, at Special Needs Network, I have met parents who have refused to either give up or give in. Witnessing their struggles has inspired me to marshal my skills as a civil rights attorney to create a community safety net where none before existed. Special Needs Network is that community, where parents and caregivers of children with autism in South Los Angeles and throughout the State of California can finally have a voice.
Although there is much work to be done, former President Barack Obama reminds us, “What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of obstacles, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way…” This is what the men and women of Special Needs Network do each and every day for the most vulnerable in our society. And for this I am grateful and filled with hope that my son, Marty, and the thousands of kids like him across this nation will continue to grow, thrive, and live their best lives.
Areva Martin, Esq.