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East Lansing Human Rights Commission hosts 'Coffee & Conversation'

November 19, 2023
Karen Hoene of the East Lansing Human Rights Commission welcomes everyone Coffee and Conversation. The discussion topic for the day was 'Living with Autism and Neurodiversity'.
Karen Hoene of the East Lansing Human Rights Commission welcomes everyone Coffee and Conversation. The discussion topic for the day was 'Living with Autism and Neurodiversity'.

Today, the East Lansing Human Rights Commission (HRC) hosted one of their monthly Coffee & Conversations sessions to discuss autism and neurodivergence in the community.

The HRC hosts these events once a month, typically on the third Sunday. HRC Chair Karen Hoene lead the discussion of autism and neurodivergence, but each month is a different topic.

Past topics have included disability rights, racism, ageism and anti-Muslim hate. Hoene said last month the group conducted a Coffee & Conversation about domestic violence, but did not get any attendees.

The discussion was about how autism effects community members and what beneficial resources exist around the area for individuals with autism and for parents of children with autism. Hoene said that the HRC wanted to discuss this topic in April for Autism Awareness Month, but it was pushed back.

“There are a lot of autistic adults and a lot of families with autistic children living with autism in their community and it can impact their value of life, it can impact their standard of life,” Hoene said. “One of the main tasks of the Human Rights Commission is just to uphold the human dignity and human rights of all of our community members.”

Hoene said that awareness about autism is increasing, so this Coffee & Conversation helps make more people feel welcome within their community.

Attendees received an informational handout about autism upon arrival. The handout included information from Cari Ebert, a pediatric speech-language pathologist, about racial inequities in autism, how autism presents in girls and terminology.

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According to Ebert’s studies, boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls because girls do not display behaviors that conform to the “diagnostic stereotype.” They are also more likely to be diagnosed if they have “higher levels of disruptive behaviors.”

Also according to Ebert, there is a three-year delay for Black children between a parent's initial report of developmental concerns and receiving a diagnosis.

Several parents brought up the difficulties within the community for support for their children. One large difficulty within the autism community is insurance issues in diagnosis. Attendees voiced concerns of not being able to get secondary diagnoses due to insurance troubles.

Dr. Bryan Hilton, behavior analyst and attendee of the conversation, said private insurance and Medicaid always gives patients the right to a second assessment and diagnosis

Hilton also said that autism is not solely genetic, but there is a higher probability within genetics to be born with autism. He said it is a “collection of behaviors” and not proven to be brain-related.

Another issue voiced was discrimination with diagnosis. One attendee said they do not complete the voluntary self-identification of disability when applying to jobs out of fear of being discriminated against.  

The group provided outlets for several resources for individuals with autism and parents to use in the community, including the Autism Alliance of Michigan.

The commission also discussed sensory-friendly activities as well. Potter Park Zoo has quiet areas and headphone zones, as well as movie theaters that will lower movie volumes and turn the lights up.

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