2017 Award Recipient

Areva Martin

Special Needs Network, Inc.

Areva Martin - The James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards Skip to content

Extending Autism Care to Underserved Families

When Areva Martin’s son wasn’t talking by age 2, she knew something was terribly wrong. For a year, she relentlessly knocked on doctors’ doors until she got the heart-rending answer: autism.

But the diagnosis led to life-changing therapies for her son — and to an epiphany. “Getting the right care was difficult for us, and my husband and I are both lawyers,” she recalls.

With that in mind, Martin founded Special Needs Network (SNN) to help impoverished Los Angeles families with autistic children access important resources and therapies. The organization’s Parent Advocacy Mentor program is an eight-week, informational boot camp that has helped more than 500 families understand how to navigate care systems and the resources available to them by law, as well as how to advocate for their children — from the local school board to the state house. Autism is the nation’s fastest-growing childhood developmental disability. Nationally, a child is diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes, and there are nearly 91,000 children in California’s public schools with autism.

The sooner children receive their diagnoses and begin the right behavioral, speech, and occupational therapies, the better they fare. Unfortunately, African American and Latino children are diagnosed on average two years later than their peers, and they face serious barriers to accessing care.

“In an affluent family with an autistic child, one parent often stops working to do the full-time job of coordinating caregivers and managing appointments,” says Martin. “In a low-income or single-parent home, this isn’t possible. Children miss out on care. Parents lose jobs. Families go homeless.”

SNN’s Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities is a one-stop clinic providing autistic children with assessments, behavioral and speech therapies, legal services, and case management. In 2018, SNN will open a landmark Autism Medical & Developmental Clinic in South Los Angeles to provide comprehensive mental, physical, and dental health care to thousands of autistic children in the county.

“It’s gratifying to watch parents become powerful voices for their children and for social justice,” says Martin. “I’ve seen a groundswell of indigenous leadership.” The organization has successfully championed legislation requiring health insurers and Medi-Cal to reimburse families for key behavioral therapies.

Martin is now working to improve access for families of color — and those with language barriers — to free services provided through California’s Regional Health Centers.

Video by Talking Eyes Media

Areva Martin

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Special Needs Network, Inc.


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Primary Regions Served

The written profile and video reflect the work of the leader(s) the year they received a Leadership Award. Please contact the leader(s) for current information.