SPAN (Somali Parents Autism Network) works within the Somali community to educate families about the importance of developmental monitoring. The organization conducts outreach program via schools, community centers, and through social service providers’ professional referrals.

SPAN discusses the importance of early childhood special education services, and assists families to access early intervention programs, designed specifically for families of children with Autism, and with a Somali cultural focus. Presently, there is a fear of enrolling a child in Special Education classes among Somali parents, which SPAN addresses through peer support, and education units created by experienced Special Education experts. Parents require support to deal with the adjustment of having their child diagnosed with Autism. This is especially critical for Somali American parents, and, also critically scarce. SPAN fills that need with monthly meetings where mothers and fathers are encouraged to address any needs they have, or wish for more help with. The parents meet every last Saturday of the month. Examples of activities parents participate in include play dates, sporting events for children and informal meetings where parents can share experiences and advice.

SPAN’s primary goal is helping Somali parents, who have children with Autism, navigate the system and resources. It is an organization built by parents, for parents. Helping parents adjust to their child’s diagnosis is vital. Parents often are in shock and start grieving once their child has been diagnosed, sending parents and their child into a vulnerable emotional state. This organization works hard to empower parents by providing social support, and encourage parents to advocate for their children with Autism. Key to the success of SPAN is the creation of a safe place for parents to vent, and make friends, without fear of judgment about their parenting practices.

The support group provides monthly orientation, serving approximately 50-100 families over the course of the year. The monthly orientation helps parents engage with other parents and gives them the chance to meet one another. The support group also collaborates with experts in the field to provide counseling support in a group setting, serving 50 families during the year. Individual counseling will be provided to families as needed, using trained, experienced volunteers, working within well-defined guidelines. The program will encourage more parents to seek early intervention, helping children get the right diagnosis and vital therapies, at an age closer to the typical average for non-Somali children.

Another related goal of the program is to help parents succeed in learning to manage their children’s challenging behaviors. Parents will be advised about mental health risks of families who have children with Autism. Along with social support, SPAN also refers families to other local resources within the community. The organization will provide referrals to proper and useful resources that will empower parents to advocate for their child, and obtain the best community and educational resources.

SPAN will provide case management programs to connect families with community resources, using existing relationships and networking with the Somali Disability Resource Network with community programs. Case managers will help parents receive specific support in overcoming cultural barriers, linguistic barriers and help navigate the system.The SPAN case management team will help parents understand waiver systems, ABA programs, Speech and OT services, and specifically connect these families to the community clinics. SPAN will invite therapists to work with parents to manage stress and conflict, teach child development, and interpersonal relationship. Mentors from SPAN will meet for four to six hours a month to provide guidance and support, case management, family advocacy, and family counseling services.

Somali Parents Autism Network works within the Somali community around the importance of developmental monitoring and is connected to families of young children with special needs. The organization conducts outreach program via schools, community centers. Somali Parents Autism Network works with child care centers and residents based in the following counties: Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota and Scott.

We discuss the importance of early childhood special education services. The Somali Parents Autism Network assists families access early intervention, and to access services for families who have children with autism. We advocate, consult and empower families who have children with special needs.