FACES hopes to connect families of children with autism with resources, one another through community events

Lonnie Manns’ 20MAT, a student at the North Carolina State College of Education. In the field of study for the Educational Equity Program for Teacher Education and Learning Science and a graduate research assistant for the FACES Parent Advocacy Program, he hopes to help build a stronger community for families of children with autism.

Started by Associate Professor Jamie Pearson, FACES aims to inform and empower historically unrepresented families and caregivers of children with autism by addressing inequalities in access and support services, specifically among black families, who often face disparities when it comes to diagnosis.

Traditionally, FACES events have included workshops that historically connect families of underrepresented children with autism with appropriate resources, but as a result of those workshops a community of families has been formed that can support each other as they navigate life with an autistic child, Mann said.

“People are like, ‘Wow, I’ve always felt so isolated,’ but seeing African American families has been really helpful. We want to do something to really provide a forum to help build this autism community,” he said.

On November 6, FACES will host the FACES Autism Community Outreach event at John Chavis Memorial Park in Raleigh, North Carolina. The event, which is open to all families, will feature a food truck, characters and games, and will serve as an opportunity for the FACES team to introduce themselves to the community.

Mannes said he hopes to eventually host regular FACES community events to continue building the autism community and connecting more African American families with resources and each other.

“What I imagine is that we do an event every three months that invites families with children with autism and they just have a place in the community,” he said. “It’s a place to learn from each other, a place to learn about the events and other activities going on, to talk about the different schools in the area and to talk about the different resources in the area.”

Mann knows firsthand, from autism experiences in his personal life, how difficult it can be to navigate necessary services and resources. This difficulty can often be amplified for those from a historically underrepresented group or from a low-income background.

For example, Manns said, many families do not know that the North Carolina Autism Association, which partners with FACES, will send a representative to attend an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting with caregivers who request it.

Through outreach efforts, Manns said he hopes to connect families with keynote workshops and videos, guide them to understand the right questions to ask when navigating the diagnosis and the IEP process and take advantage of the many free resources that already exist.

“We are really trying to create a good community and start the discussion to normalize our experiences,” he said. “We have to print that this diagnosis is not an anomaly. Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability and we have to take this out of the shadows, get people more open and get people talking.”

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