April’s serving of Autism Awareness Month makes room to celebrate the gallant endeavors of families and organizations dedicated to spreading advocacy on the developmental condition. Two stand-outs are highlighted here.
Yetta Myrick is the Executive Director and President of DC Autism Parents (DCAP) and CDC Ambassador. The goal of DCAP focuses on presenting resources and sharing guidance with people with loved ones who have Autism. “Knowledge is power, and I believe this knowledge gives families the tools to advocate for their loved ones,” Myrick said.
The CDC defines Autism as a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges, with some of them including a challenge with social communication and interaction skills. With most characteristics of the organization regulated by parent volunteers, a few components include participation in a monthly support group, an e-newsletter, and a video series.
DCAP Primary Focus
DCAP emphasizes creating an environment of education and connection and even has a prosperous affiliation with the DC Autism Collaborative (DC-AC). “While there are many organizations individually serving children diagnosed with autism in DC, there was no comprehensive convening group focused on addressing barriers and improving autism care throughout the city,” said the collaborative. “Launched in the summer of 2020, DC-AC, a multidisciplinary, public-private coalition of professionals, community leaders, and parents aim to strategically address barriers to autism care.”
Though the primary focus is on infancy and preschool years, the collaborative has also conducted substantial research on areas including policy, education, outreach and engagement, and developmental monitoring, screening, and evaluation.
From “Treatment” to Thriving
Myrick disapproves of speech that suggests there should be a “focus on ‘treating’ autism.” “Instead, I think it is important to ensure that autistic individuals and their families have equal access to support and services that will help the autistic individual to grow and thrive to be functional parts of society, and more importantly, live a life of their own choosing,” she said.
She also believes in the erasure of society’s inferior treatment of those with special needs. “As the saying goes, when you have met one autistic individual, you have met one autistic individual, meaning that no two autistic individuals are the same,” she said. “While society has embraced individuality, I think it is important to include neurodivergent individuals in this paradigm.”
Dr. LaQuista Erinna
Dr. LaQuista Erinna, a Doctor of Behavioral Health, licensed psychotherapist, and Digital Creator, shares a common outlook. “The beauty of neurodiversity is that it’s atypical,” she said. “While there may be some similarities that bind neurodivergent individuals together, it’s the differences that make each unique.”
Making strides to develop both informational and entertaining content with her son, she’s been able to make use of her social media accounts on TikTok and Instagram to share both insight and some of their favorite life experiences, particularly art, which her son enjoys most. One of her most viral videos has even amounted to nearly 30 million views. “Most impressive is the number of parents who reached out to me to share their child’s autism diagnosis, thanking me for posting and asking questions about autism,” she said.
Dr. Erinna’s son has autism, and while they’ve celebrated successes stemming from positive interactions with other social media users, she’s also faced many difficulties when trying to ensure her son has a fruitful experience within the education system. With the motivation of having poor encounters with those responsible for helping her son, she decided to dedicate her time to continuing to enlighten herself and others on the best ways to teach, care, and fight for people with special needs. “I have begun talks with other autism moms about proposing new legislation to ensure our children are supported and their rights protected,” she said. “We need and appreciate awareness, but we need help in all areas.”
Already having a tremendous amount of experience within the health and therapeutic sectors, Dr. Erinna recognizes the need for people with developmental conditions to be cared about in the same way as those who do not. With the assistance of Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA Therapy, she witnessed “a gradual improvement” within her son’s overall behavior, social skills, and independence. Dr. Erinna encourages all families to do their research and do what feels right, stating “We celebrate Jackson’s strengths and never use autism as a crutch.”
Also highly beneficial is the strong emphasis placed on having a homogenous routine to ensure he feels safe and supported. “During the week, it’s pretty basic. I do gym in the mornings, school for Jackson, and work from home,” she said about their day-to-day activities. “Once he’s out of school, I finish work, and we begin our nighttime routine. There’s a minimal deviation from this schedule, so it helps him know what to expect daily.”
Advice for Families and Friends
Regarding advice she’d give to anyone who’s recently found that their child or relative has a developmental condition, she encourages them to embrace their true feelings. “There’s this unhealthy assumption that we should always be happy, think positively, and know what to say or do in certain situations,” she said. “The news that your child or loved one has a developmental condition may stir emotions.” This is something Dr. Erinna experienced herself.
“First, I felt guilty as a mom. I questioned all the times I may have gotten frustrated with my son,” she said. “Second, I felt helpless, thinking, ‘How do I protect my son from society?’ Next, there was grief, wondering if we would ever be able to have a ‘normal’ mother-son relationship.” Through consolation from a peer, she eventually alleviated her anxiety and pushed to do whatever it took to care for her son.
“She told me that the most important thing I could do was to continue to be a great mom and ensure my son had everything he needed to succeed,” she said. “I offer this same advice to other parents.”