10 Years Strong


Pictured: Special Needs Network's founder Areva Martin with her son Marty who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old.

As Special Needs Network celebrates our 10-year anniversary and the decade that we have spent serving South LA's special needs families, I'm reminded of the power of patience.

While we have accomplished a great deal in 10 years, I'm reminded that advocacy work and systemic change happens slowly, but it does happen. In order to make a change in just about any social justice system, we have to keep our focus on the end game and resist the constant temptation to settle for that which comes quick and is dressed up like success. Special Needs Network is committed to go the distance and to lead the charge.

As parents of and advocates for special needs kids, we are asked everyday to tap into a painfully deep patience. As the mother of an autistic teen, I struggle daily alongside other special needs parents to exercise the patience that great leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela demonstrated even in the most dehumanizing circumstances. The trust that leaders like those two men placed in slow change inspires me to keep at it, to shoulder the sacrifices so that we, too, can leave behind a brighter future for our children with developmental disabilities.

If Mandela and King could bring about long-lasting change in the most recalcitrant, most obstinate systems -- including governments designed to discriminate against an entire race of people -- then imagine what we can do for our special needs children if we maintain the same brand of unwavering persistence.

Yes, there will be sacrifices. Yes, there will be pain. Yes, there will be setbacks and frustration. But all will be dwarfed when our quiet determination results in fewer barriers and more resources for all children, including those with disabilities.

For those of us working for a more inclusive society, whenever I become discouraged or question whether our approach to chip away at what seems like a mammoth obstacle has purpose or sustainability, I draw encouragement from both men's lives. I turn to their writings and their words and am encouraged to move forward.

"It always seems impossible until it's done" is a favorite from Mandela, one that holds special meaning for me. Our beautifully evolving Special Needs Network is a grassroots movement fueled by everyday families -- primarily moms, primarily in underserved communities not usually associated with the resources and power that start and sustain such movements.

Yet these everyday moms and parents in these everyday communities have and do exercise the power to control their lives. They come together to join forces and stand together to make their voices heard.

And heard they are -- by policy makers and other leaders who recognize that these children matter, these families matter, their issues matter and they matter all day long.

And suddenly these everyday parents realize -- we all realize -- that the impossible is indeed being done.

King said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." Watching parents of autistic kids become transformed by the realization that they DO have a say in their child's education and healthcare, in their communities and government is one of the most striking and wonderful things about my advocacy for children with autism. Seeing them empowered with the knowledge that they -- everyday people -- can influence legislation and policy is overwhelming and moving.

They take time away from work, from play, from their families because of their faith in greater autism awareness and fewer struggles for their kids. Though we can't see the entire staircase, we catch glimpses of it in the construction of Los Angeles' first-ever specialized autism medical clinic, the 5,000 toys donated to special needs children during the holidays, the 40,000 families whose lives we have touched, and the expansion of Network programs to serve more families in California.

This blog is a reprint of an op-ed printed on Sept. 24, 2015 in The Los Angeles Sentinel, the West Coast's largest paid African-American newspaper.

Founded and led by Areva Martin, Esq., Special Needs Network is based in Los Angeles and is California's leading grassroots autism advocacy organization. As a nonprofit organization, SNN was established to help families faced with autism and other developmental disabilities. The organization focuses on raising public awareness, impacting public policy, increasing education and access to resources for families, children and adults.