When my son, Marty, was diagnosed with autism, I was already a busy community organizer with two growing girls, a demanding law practice and a full range of activities in my church. 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 other parents, with fewer resources than I had, were managing this illness and all of its life-altering chaos, while being single parents or holding down two minimum wage jobs or raising multiple children with special needs.
As a result of my work as a special rights attorney, I also became poignantly aware of the problems parents face when trying to secure services—and even basic human rights for their special needs children. My book, The Everyday Advocate: How to Stand up for Your Child with Autism and Other Special Needs, was written to give parents and caregivers the skills they need to defend those rights.
Moreover, I learned that thousands of children with autism in disenfranchised communities of color fall into the cracks. Studies show that these children are often diagnosed later than their non-minority peers; misdiagnosed at a higher rate than their mainstream counterparts; labelled emotionally disturbed; and often over-medicated. Many are denied insurance benefits, medical care and treatment, and because of all these challenges, they are denied an education and a future.
This discrimination against basic human rights 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 brave parents of children with autism who have refused to give up or give in. Meeting them and witnessing their struggles has inspired me to marshal my skills as an attorney to create a safety net of community where none before existed. Special Needs Network is that community, that village, where thousands of parents and caregivers of children with autism in South Los Angeles and throughout the State of California can finally speak out.
Although there is much work to be done, 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 that I am privileged to work with at Special Needs Network and those who I served with on the Board of Directors of this organization do each and every day for the most vulnerable children in our society. And for this I am grateful and filled with hope that not only my son, but the thousands of kids like him across this nation, will continue to grow, to thrive and to live their best lives.
Areva Martin, Esq.