Areva Martin is a parent of a Black son on the autism spectrum who knows firsthand the challenges parents face when trying to obtain the diagnoses and services they need for their children.
April is Autism Acceptance Month, a time to promote the inclusion of people living on the autism spectrum, which is why in a recent interview with ABC News, Martin noted that Black and brown children are more likely to receive delayed diagnoses. This problem is often due to doctors not believing parents’ concerns about their children’s delayed milestones.
In an emotional 2020 essay entitled, “My son is Black and lives with autism. How do I protect him from police brutality?” Martin reflects on the pain she’s experienced while trying to protect her son from police brutality. She describes how having “the talk” all Black parents have with young boys about interactions with police is even more complicated as she has to consider how her son processes things differently.
“I constantly worry about what would happen if he encounters the police and failed to fully understand a verbal command given to him. What if he became fidgety or mistakenly reached for his wallet? A million nightmarish scenarios run through my mind. I have had to rethink whether the talk would even work with my son.”
Sometimes our nightmares do come real. The Root recently reported on a 10-year-old Black girl who took her own life after her school failed to address concerns of bullying for being Black and autistic, concerns her parents raised.
To prevent the unthinkable from happening, Martin shares how she went out of her way to shave her son’s facial hair and dress him in a way that would make him “invisible to police” to protect him, only to realize that the one thing she couldn’t change was the color of his skin.
The founder and CEO of the Special Needs Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting those with autism and other developmental disabilities in underserved communities, Martin says the organization arms parents with the information they need to support their children.
She has also written a book, The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand up for Your Child with Autism and Other Special Needs.
This month especially reminds us that autism affects children of all races, but structural racism often adds a layer of difficulty for Black and brown children living with the condition.
In another quote from her essay, Martin writes:
“I know that I am not alone when it comes to worrying that a loved one with autism, or a developmental disability, or mental health challenges will one day encounter the wrong cop — one who won’t recognize that special needs people often require patience.”