There have been many efforts to provide educational understating of the autism spectrum, yet some still face a socio-cultural obstacle that makes an already difficult diagnosis harder. Maria Merma knows this all too well after her now-4-year-old son Bruno was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Like many parents, Merman’s felt overwhelmed and lost, sharing with Whyy, that“I was devastated. I didn’t know where to start.”

Merma attended a meeting at Autism Delaware where she met Ivanka Carbajal, a family navigator. Carbajal was able to direct Merma and her son to the services they needed. Merma recalls feeling a sense of comfort because Carbajal was Latina and explained to Whyy,

“The fact that she was Latina like I was, oh that was a huge blessing…To talk in your own language, not just Spanish, but the cultural language, is huge…You know that this person will understand exactly what you’re going through.”

The acceptance of people around them was a huge relief to Merma who shared that in Peru, her home country, a diagnosis of autism came with a stigma. Merma explained to Whyy that, “In South America…things are handled very different with special-needs kids…If I ever go home, he would never be treated like [he is] here.”

Autism Delaware, located in southern Delaware, is an organization who offers help to individuals and their families affected by autism. They have witnessed a dramatic increase in families seeking assistance with a shocking 5,045 parents seeking assistance between 2018-2019. The growth is credited to A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children and other local centers making more referrals and increasing outreach efforts.

Autism Delaware’s Spanish language pamphlets.
Photo via Whyy by Mark Eichmannn.

There has also been a tremendous growth of Latinx families seeking assistance. Carbajal believes this is due to establishing trust within the community, telling Whyy, “You have to make sure that trust is there in order for the family to let you in.” This trust appears to open doors for people and their families on the autism spectrum because many feel safer about receiving a diagnosis.

While Carbajal has been making great efforts to help all the families in a timely manner, there have been delays between families receiving approval and getting the services required. The Arsht Cannon Fund has grant-funded $25,000 to Autism Delaware, allowing them to hire Merma to collaborate with Carbajal to improve specifically Latinx outreach and shorten the delay period.

Carbajal and Merma are proof that treating others with respect, patience, compassion, and providing education can be an incredible benefit for those in need. 


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