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The transition from school to adulthood is a pivotal time in the lives of all students. For an autistic student, change of any kind can be challenging, and a transition as momentous as this can seem especially daunting.

As a parent of an autistic young adult, you have already accomplished a lot, from coping with the diagnosis to addressing all the challenges you may have faced over your child’s school years. And you will continue to play a large role in the transition-related self-discovery and planning process for your autistic young adult. Thoughtful planning, sound information, and open communication will help you support your young adult and their transition team to create a solid transition plan that leads to success.

Start small but think big! Before you begin the actual paperwork and planning with your young adult’s school and IEP team to implement the transition plan, you can start planning on your own to lay a foundation for the entire process. This article outlines a three-step process to:

  1. Facilitate thinking and brainstorming about your young adult’s future (Assessment)
  2. Begin planning future goals (Goal Writing)
  3. Understand realistic challenges to these plans (Anticipating Obstacles)
Step 1 – Assessment

As you begin the transition planning process, think about the “big picture” of your young adult’s future:

  • What do you want your child’s life to look like 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years from now?
  • What do you NOT want your child’s life to look like in 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years from now?
  • What will your child need in order to achieve the desired goals and avoid the undesired outcomes?

As a parent of an autistic child, you may have struggled to adjust your expectations for the future you once dreamed of for your child. Realistic, concrete goals and expectations are the foundation of a successful transition plan. It is important not only to set progressive goals that your child can reach, but also to challenge your child to grow. Leave room to be pleasantly surprised by all that they can achieve through this process! Transition doesn’t only apply to your loved one. It also applies to you – the parent. Parents have to be ready to allow their loved one to grow and learn through experiences, failures, and successes.

Throughout your transition planning, the concept of future quality of life is central. “Quality of life” basically refers to how satisfied your child feels about their education, work, recreation, spiritual life, social connections, community living, health, and emotional well-being. You may not have specific ideas about all of these areas, but you can start imagining what you would like for your young adult and what they would like for themselves as they transition out of high school. At different times in this process, you will begin to find connections among all of these areas and start to identify realistic and attainable goals.

Although quality of life is often as much about the process as it is about the product, neither process nor product should be compromised as part of transition planning. Once you have this broad vision in mind, start brainstorming about some of the specifics, such as personal interests, strengths and challenges, past learning history, and the supports that will be necessary for your child along the way.

Step 2 – Writing Overarching Goals

Later in the transition process, you will be asked to help determine – and write down – specific objectives you want your young adult to achieve. But now is the time to think of the broad, overarching goals that reflect the future you want for your young adult. You can think of this as a mission statement for the transition you envision.

Examples of overarching goals:

  • My child will be able to live independently.
  • My child will be comfortable and safe in a supported living situation.
  • My child will have two or three close relationships.
  • My child will contribute to the community.
  • My child will find satisfaction in several of their daily activities.

Overarching goals should build from the information you gathered in your assessment, regarding quality of life, personal interests, strengths and challenges, and past experience.

Step 3 – Anticipating Obstacles

Most goals are not meant to be easy to accomplish and meet in a short amount of time. But goals can be broken into smaller steps that can gradually be achieved, one at a time.

As you think of the skills, lessons, materials, and information you and your young adult need in order to move through the transition process successfully, obstacles may present themselves. For instance, as you created the list of goals for your young adult, did you think of any skills that they may need to be successful? Or resources that will help them accomplish these skills? Lack of any key “ingredient” may delay, if not stall, the transition process. So, if certain skills need development, such as effective communication, toileting, table manners, cell phone use, or personal hygiene, now is the time to create a strategy to develop them.

Obstacles may appear along the way, but you are building a solid plan that can be revised and modified to accommodate the changing needs, desires, and skills of your young adult.

Want more tips for your autistic child’s transition to adulthood? Download or order a free copy of Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Transition to Adulthood.

This post was adapted from Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Transition to Adulthood. Click here to check out this resource.

Arlington, VA, February 9, 2024 – The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) is publishing the Spanish translation of Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide for Military Families. The guide aims to support Spanish-speaking military families of autistic children. It is currently available online as a downloadable PDF, and will soon be released in paperback.   

When a military family has an autistic child, they face all the emotions and challenges that accompany this diagnosis, compounded by the realities of military service: war, extended family separation, frequent moves, varying access to specialized healthcare, and other stressors that complicate and often work against effective treatment for autistic children. These families need help navigating these uncharted and difficult waters. The purpose of this guide is to give each family the tools and access to information they need in their unique life journey through autism. 

More specifically, it offers:  

  • An understanding of autism and related intervention and treatment  
  • Strategies for addressing the challenges of autism from the time of diagnosis through adulthood  
  • An overview of the Department of Defense (DoD) and service policies related to having an autistic child  
  • Information on autism treatment options and coverage within the military healthcare system  
  • Practical information and tools to guide your child’s education  
  • Tips and advice relative to transitions such as permanent change of station (PCS) moves, new schools, and more  
  • Links to additional resources related to autism and military families  

Through this Spanish-translated guide, OAR continues to provide quality information on education, healthcare, and transitions in a military context. <<Guía para familias de militares>> was translated by Spectrum Translations. The development and distribution of this guide was made possible thanks to the generous support of Navy Federal Credit Union.   

The Spanish translation of A Guide for Military Families is available for download on OAR’s website. If you are interested in ordering hard copies of the guide, fill out this form to be notified when they are available to order. OAR encourages EFMP coordinators to share this resource with Spanish-speaking autism families in their communities. For discounts on bulk orders, please contact programs@researchautism.org 


About OAR: The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) is a national non-profit organization formed and led by relatives of children and adults with autism. OAR is dedicated to promoting research that can be applied to help families, educators, caregivers, and individuals with autism find much-needed answers to their immediate and urgent questions. Learn more at www.researchautism.org.  

A study published in December in Disability and Health Journal found that people with cognitive disabilities, such as autism as well as other intellectual and developmental disabilities, reported significant difficulties in receiving high-quality health care. Adults with autism showed no differences when compared with adults with other cognitive disabilities. 

In addition to its findings, this study is noteworthy because past research focused on the perspectives of providers or the types of care received rather than on the reported experiences of patients with cognitive disabilities. 

The study found that adults with cognitive disabilities reported lower satisfaction with health care services compared to the general population (7.71 vs. 8.31 on scale from 0 to 10). Researchers used a national sample of more than 22,000 adults with and without cognitive disabilities to analyze patient-reported experiences. Adults with cognitive disabilities were less likely than the general population to report that providers: 

  • Listened carefully to them 
  • Explained things in a way that was easy to understand 
  • Showed respect for what they had to say 
  • Spent enough time with them  
  • Gave advice that was easy to understand  

These challenges can lead to poorer patient outcomes, as found in a 2009 study. 

Health Disparity Designation

In September, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) designated people with disabilities as a group with health disparities. “This designation recognizes the importance and need for research advances to improve our understanding of the complexities leading to disparate health outcomes and multilevel interventions,” said Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). She said that NIH is in the process of launching a research program to better understand the health disparities faced by people with disabilities who are also part of other populations designated as having health disparities. 

NIH is also calling for proposals for research focused on novel and innovative approaches and interventions that address the intersecting impact of disability, race, and ethnicity, and socioeconomic status on healthcare access and health outcomes. 

Physicians Lack Education and Information

Recent research focused on provider perspectives shows that many are uncomfortable providing care to people with cognitive disabilities. STAT News published an article in December pointing to a 2022 study of physicians treating autistic children that noted they receive little training on how to provide care. A 2021 study surveyed 714 physicians, most located in Massachusetts, and reported that only 40.7% of physicians were very confident about their ability to provide equal quality care to patients with disabilities. Just over half strongly agreed they welcome disabled patients into their practices. 

The writer of the STAT opinion piece noted that her autistic brother and their parents have had their own difficulties with the healthcare system. As a medical student, she has found that doctors are not required to take classes on how to care for patients with cognitive disabilities. Schools can find financial resources to offer this training, she wrote, noting that the National Inclusive Curriculum for Health Education offers grants and resources to schools willing to undertake this curricular addition. Only 15% of U.S. medical schools have taken advantage of those grants and resources as of the end of 2023. 

“Addressing this problem might include incorporating disability competencies into medical education and should also include policies – for example, enhanced reimbursement – that reflect the increased time and effort that might be needed to ensure that the needs of disabled patients are being met,” said Elizabeth Stone, a faculty member of the Rutgers Center for Health Services Research at the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research and the lead author of the December study. 

Along with systemic and policy changes, the research team said that patients can also improve their experiences, primarily by preparing for health appointments in advance and asking for accommodations. 


Sherri Alms is the freelance editor of The OARacle, a role she took on in 2007. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years. 

After working hard to obtain an electrical engineering degree with honors, job seeker Andrea Camacho was surprised to find the job search an even more daunting process than tackling her rigorous education. Following nine months of an on-off job search, Camacho was determined to find employment relevant to her education, which led her to reach out to Hire Autism for job search support and mentorship. 

When introduced to Paolo Encarnacion, a Hire Autism navigator, the pair quickly got to work. They met virtually over the next two months to discuss Camacho’s job search and explore employment opportunities. Encarnacion coached Camacho on how to share her interests with employers and how it could be beneficial during the job search. Camacho found that advice extremely helpful when asked about her hobbies during her interview with her current employer. 

Camacho had previously received outside assistance but found that Encarnacion brought fresh insight from a recruiter’s point of view. “I valued Paolo’s patience. I felt like I was respected when I didn’t understand something right away,” Camacho said. “I asked a lot of questions and took a lot of notes, knowing I was in a non-judgmental environment.” 

Similarly, Encarnacion applauded Camacho’s coachability throughout their sessions, “I remember our first few sessions were filled with curiosity to learn and Andrea’s hard-working nature. She was receptive to feedback and actively sought out my suggestions when necessary. By the end of our coaching sessions, Andrea was organized, confident, and focused.” 

Camacho’s dedication to her job search paid off, and she started receiving e-mails, phone screens, and interviews from employers eager to connect with her. Even though her nerves remained, Camacho gained the confidence to push forward and found success. She was offered and accepted employment as an electrical designer at Kupper Engineering.  

Reflecting on their time together, Encarnacion said, “Andrea’s journey with OAR was one of self-realization. She was clear about her values, particularly in finding a company she believes in.” 

“I couldn’t have done it without my navigator, and without Hire Autism, I could not have met him,” Camacho said. “I really appreciate that the Hire Autism program had the option to meet me where I am at. Without exaggeration, this program changed my life. If somebody is autistic and they are qualified for a job, but they are not getting it, then I think this is the program that can help bridge the gap.” 

Encarnacion noted that he was not only pleased for Camacho, but he also benefited from her success. “Helping a job seeker actualize their goal of landing a job impacted me in the most profound way possible. I’ve personally benefited from professional mentors in the past, and being able to pay it forward is an extremely rewarding feeling. As a Hire Autism navigator, we have the opportunity to positively influence a jobseeker’s career, livelihood, and their being. It is not only transformative for job seekers, it is equally fulfilling as a Hire Autism navigator as well.”  

For all job seekers looking for employment, Encarnacion encouraged them to stick with it. “Job-seeking is a journey, one with highs and lows. While the ultimate prize is securing a job, the journey itself may present a valuable gift of self-discovery and priceless life lessons. Work hard, listen to your Hire Autism navigator, and look for opportunities to learn but don’t forget to enjoy the process along the way.” 

If you are an autistic job seeker searching for meaningful employment, get started on your journey today by contacting us via email at mail@hireautism.org or by creating an account. If you would like to impact the lives of autistic job seekers directly, please consider becoming a Hire Autism navigator. 

Join OAR to celebrate Autism Acceptance Month with the sixth annual Active for Autism 5K & Kids Dash. This fitness and fundraising event spreads autism awareness and acceptance in our communities and raises money for OAR’s Changing Lives Fund, a fund dedicated to OAR’s goal to raise money, fund research and change lives. You can help. Run, walk, and fundraise to support OAR this spring. 

Participate In Person or Virtually

The in-person 5K & Kids Dash will take place in Alexandria, Va., on Saturday, April 13, beginning at 8:00 a.m. This family-friendly event features a fast, flat, and spectator friendly out-and-back course, kids dash, and post-race celebration. 

If you can’t make it in person, participate virtually. Take on a 5k your way any time between April 1 and 12. Run, walk, cycle, or swim at a place and time that suits you; we will supply the finish line tape. Take on a 5K right outside your front door, stay inside on a treadmill, or find somewhere new to explore. Kids 12 and under are also welcome to participate in the Kids Dash by completing a virtual race of any distance suitable for them.  

All Active for Autism 5K participants will receive a race t-shirt and bib and are eligible for fundraising prizes. All Kids Dash participants will receive a race bib and finisher’s ribbon. Register today!  

Help Us Meet Our $80,000 Goal

Last year, the 2023 Active for Autism Virtual 5K & Kids Dash attracted nearly 400 runners from 27 states and three countries, combining forces to raise more than $50,000. This year, we aim to raise $80,000, enough to fund a new OAR research study and distribute autism resources around the country. Through your support of the Active for Autism 5K & Kids Dash, you are directly supporting OAR’s ultimate objective: to change lives. 

We’re counting down to race day and look forward to seeing you there. 

Sponsorship

If you are interested in becoming a sponsor for the 2024 Active for Autism 5K & Kids Dash, please email run@researchautism.org and check out our sponsorship information. 

As we celebrate the beginning of a new year, OAR is also looking ahead to the ambitious goals it has set for 2024, including goals for Autism Acceptance Month. Join us to promote autism awareness and acceptance in your community and across the country.  

Goal 1: Support the autism community with information (autistics, families, educators, professionals).

OAR’s collection of guidebooks, manuals, curriculums, and online resources offer comprehensive, high-quality, research-based information for

parents, teachers, and autistic individuals. These resources cover essential topics such as the transition to adulthood, education, and safety.  

By the end of April, OAR hopes to distribute 40,000 information resources to families, individuals, schools, community organizations, police and fire stations, and libraries 

How you can help: OAR is a national organization, but you are an expert on your local community. Please spread the word about these informative resources to people in your community. Reach out to local support groups, families, schools, organizations, community centers, or first responders who might benefit from these resources. Or, if you wish to actively distribute many resources in your local community, sign up as an autism materials distributor and tell us your community impact plan to get started. 

Your efforts will help others learn more about autism and be better community members for autistic adults and children around them. Download or order paperback copies of our resources in our online store 

Goal 2: Teach students in general education about autism using the Kit for Kids program.

Autistic individuals are essential to our communities, so teaching children about their peers on the spectrum is vitally important. Our Kit for Kids peer education program helps educators, parents, friends, and classmates teach K-8 students about autism. Thanks to Nick, the autistic character featured in the Kit, neurotypical children learn that autistic students are just like them, even if they may think differently or need some accommodations. Since 2014, more than 190,000 students have learned about autism through the Kit for Kids. Let’s reach an additional 15,000 students by the end of April. 

How you can help: Use the Kit for Kids materials at your local schools to help start class discussions, enhance school campaign efforts, and help build friendships among classmates through a greater understanding of autism.  

In addition to telling the “What’s Up with Nick?” story, teachers can also use: 

For questions, comments, or bulk orders, please contact the Programs team at programs @ researchautism.org 

Goal 3: Support autistic young adults through OAR’s Hire Autism initiative.

Hire Autism, OAR’s employment initiative, supports autistic adults in finding meaningful employment. To achieve this, Hire Autism welcomes autism-friendly employers to post their active job listings free of charge on the Hire Autism job board. 

In support of our mission this year, Hire Autism aims to provide job search mentorship to 220 job seekers to help them find employment and recruit 90 national employer partners of varying scopes and sizes.  

How you can help: Use our services and partner with us.  

Job seekers  hire autism logo

  • Work with a Hire Autism navigator for free one-on-one virtual assistance with the job search, including resumes, cover letters, and interview prep.  
  • Explore current job opportunities with our autism-friendly employers on the Hire Autism job board, and set job alerts to get notified when new positions are posted. 
  • Apply for the Synchrony Tech Scholarship, which supports autistic adults interested in obtaining technology-related certifications to pursue or advance their careers.  
  • Download free employment-related resources such as A Guide to Job Searching, A Guide to Resume Writing, and more on Hire Autism’s Resource Center. 

Employers 

Community members 

To learn more about how you can get involved or contribute to Hire Autism’s mission, contact the Hire Autism team. 

Goal 4: Raise money for OAR’s programs, resources, and new research.

RUN FOR AUTISM is OAR’s signature fundraising program. This year, RUN aims to raise $1,000,000 through 1,000 athletes dedicating their 2024 miles to autism research.  

RUN’s goal for April is to: 

  • Raise $80,000 by the end of April through the Active for Autism 5k and Kids Dash, enough to fund a new OAR research study and support OAR’s mission to apply research to the challenges of autism.

How you can help:  

  • Join us for the sixth annual Active for Autism 5k and Kids Dash on April 13 in Alexandria, Va., for a fun, family-friendly event. 
  • Join us virtually for the Active for Autism 5k and Kids Dash between April 1 and April 12. Run, walk, cycle, or swim at your own pace from wherever you are.  
  • Sign up and be part of the RUN FOR AUTISM team at one of our signature events or join our DIY program to raise money for autism research at any race.  
  • Share these opportunities with someone you know who wants to dedicate their miles to autism research. 

For more information, email the RUN staff at run@researchautism.org 

Goal 5: Fundraise for OAR’s mission in a new and exciting platform: Stream for Autism.

Stream for Autism gives gamers, streamers, and content creators a platform to support the autism community by raising awareness and funds for OAR. Our goals for April are to:

  • Raise $50,000 to support the distribution of informational resources, educational programs, and OAR’s mission to apply research to the challenges of autism through the Stream for Autism program. 
  • Sign up 100 new content creators and streamers to fundraise for OAR and spread autism awareness in April. 

How you can help: 

  • Join this exciting initiative. Sign up to create your own charity stream and start fundraising today. Whether you’re a seasoned gamer or new to streaming, your efforts will contribute to a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals with autism. 
  • Share these opportunities with your online communities or someone you know who is a content creator or streamer. 

For more information on OAR’s Autism Awareness Month initiatives and activities, email outreach@researchautism.org.  

OAR is thrilled to kick off our fourth annual Youth Art Contest. This year’s theme is growth, encouraging young artists to explore and express their perspectives on personal and community growth. 

How to Participate

Participation is open to any autistic child or their siblings, classmates, or friends who are inspired to create. Here’s how to get involved:

  1. Create your masterpiece: Let your imagination soar and create an artwork that reflects growth. Whether it’s a painting, drawing, or a mixed-media creation, we want to see what growth means to you. 
  1. Submit your entry: Head over to the Youth Art Contest webpage for details on how to submit your artwork. The deadline for submissions is 11:59 EST on February 29, 2024. 
  1. Spread the word: Share your participation on social media and encourage your friends, family, and community to join in the celebration of creativity and growth. 
Prizes

In addition to having their artwork featured on OAR’s website, winners will receive exciting prizes, including an Amazon gift card, certificates of recognition, and a spotlight on our social media channels. 

Why Growth?

Autism is a spectrum, and so is growth. This year’s theme invites participants to explore the various dimensions of growth, not only in the context of autism but also in their personal journeys. We believe that art has the power to inspire, educate, and foster a greater understanding of the world around us. 

For more information and to submit your entry, visit the Youth Art Contest webpage 

Happy creating! 

The year 2008 marked a profound shift in my journey. My two-year-old son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and I was determined to ensure he had every resource to flourish. However, I quickly discovered a stark lack of support for families like mine, particularly in the Black community. This realization spurred me into action, leading to the inception of The Color of Autism Foundation. 

Established in 2009, the foundation’s mission is both straightforward and formidable: to offer education and support to African-American families affected by autism. Historically, our community has contended with inequities in healthcare, education, and societal acknowledgment—challenges that autism intensifies. Thus, equipping families with knowledge and tools for advocacy is essential to transforming our children’s futures. 

Affirming Inclusivity as a Fundamental Right

Our foundation’s voyage has been one of discovery and championing rights. We advocate that inclusivity is an inherent right, not a luxury. We’re dedicated to removing obstacles and paving the way for African-American families to secure prompt diagnoses, effective therapeutics, and indispensable community support. 

Our efforts are exemplified by initiatives like Spectrum of Care, which provides comprehensive support through education and training. Our national virtual training has empowered over 600 caregivers to support their loved ones effectively and become potent advocates for their children. Witnessing these parents transition into community leaders and advocates has been profoundly moving. 

Nurturing Potential Through Education and Support

We adopt a neuro-affirming stance, recognizing the vast potential within individuals on the autism spectrum. Their distinct talents and viewpoints, when fostered, can culminate in remarkable accomplishments. Our programs, particularly Spectrum of Care, deliver an array of services targeting not only health and educational needs but also the all-encompassing growth of Black children on the spectrum. 

The foundation’s commitment to culturally competent support has built a resilient network within communities of color, pivotal in establishing connections, securing services, and most importantly, ensuring that no family navigates their path alone. 

Envisioning a Radiant Future 

Looking ahead, The Color of Autism Foundation is resolute in is resolute in revealing the nature of autism within the Black community. We aspire to cultivate a society where everyone is embraced, and their potential is fostered. We envision a future where inclusion and effectiveness are tangible for our families. 

We dream of a world where the autistic community has access to employment, skill enhancement, and entrepreneurship. Our goal is to lead the charge in advocating for policies that address the needs of those who require more support and to alleviate the stress and isolation that many caregivers face. 

The Essence of Allyship and Community

Parents ought to lead by example in allyship, embracing their children for who they are, promoting open dialogue, and championing their children’s autonomy and preferences. These caregivers set a precedent for the community, catalyzing a culture of allyship within the Black community and beyond. 

This is our invitation to a journey of enlightenment, where every step we take is toward a more just, understanding, and supportive future for African-American autistics and their families. Join us as we illuminate this path, creating a legacy of inclusivity and insight for generations to come. 


Camille Proctor is the executive director of The Color of Autism Foundation, which she founded in 2009. By providing culturally competent support and training, she and her foundation aim to improve outcomes for children in underserved communities on the autism spectrum. She has served as a diversity and inclusion advisor for both television and film, contributing to more inclusive storytelling in the entertainment industry. She also presents on the topic of autism nationally and internationally. In September 2020, she was appointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to the Michigan State Disability Council, supporting people with developmental disabilities in achieving their life dreams. 

As the founder of Autism in Black®, my passion for our mission runs deep. It’s more than just words; it’s a guiding light for our community. Our goal is as clear as day: to empower, educate, and advocate for the Black autism community. Join me as I take you on a journey through our goals, our tireless efforts to realize them, and why this mission holds profound significance. 

At the heart of our mission lies a commitment to break down long-standing barriers that have hindered the Black autism community’s access to crucial resources, support, and understanding. This commitment is deeply personal to me. As a mother of two autistic children and an autistic individual myself, I intimately understand the isolation, shame, and stigma that often accompany an autism diagnosis, particularly within the Black community. 

A main focus for Autism in Black® is to bridge gaps, particularly when it comes to accessing timely diagnosis, quality care, and education. Black families have faced numerous hurdles in securing prompt autism diagnoses for their children. We work tirelessly to establish connections among families, healthcare professionals, and educators to ensure that Black autistic children receive the support they need right from the start. 

Because understanding autism and its unique characteristics is essential for the Black community, we provide valuable resources and guidance. Whether it’s dealing with bullies, navigating interactions, or embarking on the special education journey, we aim to equip individuals with the knowledge they need to foster understanding within our families and communities. 

We recognize the significance of culture and how it shapes approaches to autism. Emphasizing the importance of understanding this cultural context, we strive to create a more inclusive and informed environment for autistic individuals and their families. Cultural sensitivity is at the core of our work. We provide tools and resources to shift practices towards greater cultural responsivity. Our approach centers on diversity and inclusivity, ensuring that autism support is always tailored to the unique needs of the Black community, moving far beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Our endeavors come to life through stories—stories of transformation and empowerment. Many of these stories revolve around parents who found solace and strength through our workshops, knowing they are not alone in their journey. 

Our mission culminates in our annual Autism in Black® Conference. What sets our conference apart is that Black neurodivergent individuals lead it. It’s a space where we don’t just focus on the professional aspects of autism; we also share our own lived experiences. The conference is a celebration of unity, mutual understanding, and empowerment. It’s where we bring together our community, experts, and advocates to exchange insights, share stories, and offer unwavering support. It’s a gathering where we honor the journey of every Black autistic individual and their families. 

Our cause matters because it challenges existing norms and champions a world where every Black autistic individual thrives. It revolves around celebrating our rich diversity and acknowledging that every voice, every experience, and every life deserves recognition and value. 

What we do here at Autism in Black® isn’t merely important; it’s a lifeline. It encapsulates compassion, resilience, and an unshakable belief in the boundless potential of every Black autistic individual. It’s an invitation, an open call to stand alongside us, embrace our mission, and collaborate in forging a brighter, more inclusive future for everyone within our Black-centered, neuroaffirming community.  


Maria Davis-Pierre is a licensed mental health counselor, autism awareness advocate, and founder of Autism in Black. As the autistic parent of two autistic children, she understands the isolation, shame, and stigma that often accompanies an autism diagnosis. She uses her personal experience and professional expertise to connect and empower Black parents of autistic children. A dynamic, in-demand speaker, she also conducts workshops and lectures on topics such as autism in the Black community, the intersection of race and disability, and self-care. Her work has gained national acclaim with features in Forbes, The New York Times, USA Today, Parents magazine and on PBS. 

In November, OAR’s Board of Directors authorized funding for eight applied autism research studies in 2024. These new grants, totaling $297,569, bring OAR’s total research funding to more than $5 million since 2002. This article is the first of eight previews to be featured in The OARacle this year.

Autistic people are more likely to identify as sexual and gender minorities, such as lesbian, gay, or transgender, than their non-autistic counterparts. People who identify as both autistic and LGBTQIA+ have reported experiencing stigma across multiple domains, including healthcare, education, and social settings. 

Autistic adults have been found to experience significantly more stressful life events and higher perceived stress compared to a neurotypical comparison group. Compared to non-autistic transgender people, autistic transgender, nonbinary, and gender-diverse people have worse mental health outcomes, including higher stress, depression, and anxiety

Although these stressors are pervasive, there are both individual and community-level coping mechanisms that can reduce their effects. An OAR-funded two-year study, Evaluating the effects of virtual support groups for intersectional autistic individuals, led by Meredith Maroney, Ph.D., will evaluate the effects of peer-led intersectional support groups for autistic individuals. In the first year, she and her research team will conduct qualitative interviews with past participants and facilitators of autistic/LGBTQIA+ focused virtual support groups run by the Asperger/Autism Network (AANE). Based on the results of those interviews, in the second year, the research team will conduct a survey to examine changes before and after participating in virtual peer-led support groups.  

Conducted in collaboration with and through support from AANE, this study aims to inform how support groups are delivered and develop recommendations for creating community-led support groups for autistic LGBTQIA+ people. The goals of the study are to: 

  • Describe the experiences of autistic LGBTQIA+ participants in virtual support groups through qualitative interviews. 
  • Collaboratively develop a survey in collaboration with a community agency. 
  • Examine how much the experiences of autistic LGBTQIA+ individuals change after participating in support groups. 

Dr. Maroney is a licensed psychologist and an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She conducts social justice-oriented research on sexual and gender minority individuals, with a particular emphasis on the intersection of autistic and LGBTQIA+ identities. Specifically, her research focuses on understanding minority stress and intersectional stigma, promoting well-being, and developing interventions. 

Methodology

Phase one: Dr. Maroney and her team will recruit participants through AANE to participate in interviews. She plans to recruit between 20 and 30 individuals who attend AANE support groups and up to 10 facilitators of support groups to participate in semi-structured qualitative interviews. They will recruit participants who are racially and ethnically diverse as well as diverse in terms of age, sexual orientation, support needs, and communication abilities. 

The one-hour interviews will explore what the participants have learned about themselves, what it was like to share space with others with shared autistic LGBTQIA+ identities, insights they learned from others, and any suggestions for improving support groups. 

The group facilitator interviews will focus on the successes and challenges of leading identity-focused support groups, changes they experienced, and changes they observed in group participants.  

Phase two: In the second year of the study, Dr. Maroney and her team will create and disseminate a 20- to 30-minute survey to explore changes participants experienced as a result of their participation in a support group. Survey questions will include demographic information and questions to measure change in factors such as community connectedness, self-esteem, and internalized stigma. The exact factors will be determined based on the results of the qualitative interviews. The goal is to collect data from 60 to 100 participants across the one-year period. 

Evaluation

Phase one: Dr. Maroney will analyze the interview transcripts using a method to recognize patterns within a dataset in order to find and define themes. She and her team will also ensure the trustworthiness and integrity of the data by using multiple strategies, such as asking credibility questions at the end of each interview focused on the experience of the participant. The research team will also share a list of themes developed in the data analysis and ask participants for feedback on how well these resonate with their experiences. 

Phase two: Data analysis in phase two will focus on changes in community connectedness, self-esteem, internalized stigma, and any other factors included based on qualitative findings from phase one. 

Practical Relevance

Findings from the study will inform community-led support groups and clinical services about the unique needs and experiences of autistic LGBTQIA+ people engaged in peer-led support groups. It will also provide information on how to improve access to community-led supports. In addition, AANE and other community organizations will have data that can help them refine and strengthen support groups for autistic people.


Sherri Alms is the freelance editor of The OARacle, a role she took on in 2007. She has been a freelance writer and editor for more than 20 years.