Areva Martin (Courtesy of the Special Needs Network)
About 1 in every 88 children in America is diagnosed with Autism. A complex neurological disorder that causes difficulty in social interaction, affects verbal and non-verbal communication skills, and causes repetitive behavior; diagnoses of Autism have increased ten-fold over the past forty years.In the African American community these diagnoses often come one to two, even up to six years later than they do for white children. In a race where early detection is key, one to two years can mean the difference between spending K-12 in special education classes and matriculating into traditional school. One of the main reasons for delayed detection among African American children is a lack of awareness and a lack of resources within the community. That is what Areva Martin came to find out in 2002 when her then 2 year-old son Marty was diagnosed with Autism, and what she set out to fix. “Even though I was an attorney and I had lots of resources available to me, even though I knew how to get things done, it was very hard for me to access services for Marty. I met some families while taking a class about autism in South LA, and I realized as difficult as it was for me, it was ten times more challenging for them.”
Martin soon found that because she was an attorney, and active in her community, people were looking to her expectantly for the answers, answers that at the time she didn’t have.“I was just like any other mom. I had gotten this diagnosis for my son and I was on this journey to find him the best that I could in terms of education, medical care, etcetera, and I just realized wow, there are a lot of families out here that need help,” she remembers.
Martin’s journey for her son soon became a mission to empower families in her community with knowledge and resources. She found that though there were national organizations addressing the issue of autism, these organizations weren’t addressing the issues many families raising an autistic child faced, issues like: employment, housing, and quality healthcare.
In 2005, Martin’s mission spawned into the Special Needs Network (SNN), a non-profit organization founded to educate the community concerning developmental disorders, provide resources, and impact public policy.
Today, SNN serves over 1000 families in the South Los Angeles area, providing help through a host of free community events, workshops, classes, and a mentoring program for parents.
On October fifth, SNN held its eighth annual Evening Under the Stars event at the Ebell Club of Los Angeles. Each year this event raises funds for the organization’s numerous projects; this year the funds raised are slated for SNN’s biggest endeavor to date, a medical clinic in South Los Angeles that will be the first of it’s kind.
Through a partnership with St. John’s Hopkins and the help of numerous sponsors, SNN’s clinic will have entities set up for testing and diagnosing, doctors and specialists available for treatment, and therapists on site for speech pathology and other therapies. What is making SNN’s clinic the first of its kind though, is that it will also include resources for the families of those with a disorder. Siblings and parents of those diagnosed can come and receive health care at the clinic. Parents who are in need can receive help applying for social services. The clinic is designed to go beyond meeting the needs of a child with a disability; it’s designed to meet the complete needs of the family raising that child. Scheduled to break ground next year, the clinic will be located on the campus of the soon to reopen Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital on Wilmington Avenue. Over the past three years, there has been a coming together of citizens, elected officials, community leaders, non-profit groups, and members of corporate America in the planning of the reopening of MLK Hospital and a state-of-the art health campus to surround it.
Martin describes the forthcoming health care advancements in South Los Angeles as, “a health renaissance.”
“When you think about the greatness of the Harlem Renaissance, all the inventors, writers, artists, who came together to make for this rich community, we see something very similar happening in South Los Angeles around health.”