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Friday, March 24, 2023

Being Black and Autistic

Over the course of hosting my podcast, I’ve spoken to parents of autistic children about their challenges and victories raising neurodiverse children. The number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has steadily increased over the last twenty years. According to a study conducted by the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 1 in every 44 children received a diagnosis of ASD in 2018, up significantly from 1 out of every 150 children between 2000 and 2002. Black children diagnosed with ASD have higher rates of intellectual disabilities than white children, and their diagnosis is typically made at a more advanced age. 

In this week’s episode I’m bringing you insight on this topic from a different and valuable vantage point: I’m talking with author Kala Omeiza about neurodiversity advocacy and her journey to being diagnosed with autism at 24. A Fulbright scholar and Oxford University graduate, Kala talks with me about how race and disability intersect in her life as a Black autistic woman, and how she poured her lived experiences into the lead character of her young adult novel, Afrotistic

In Afrotistic Kala captures the soul and spirit of Noa, a young Black autistic teen who doesn’t feel cool enough. Or Black enough. Or autistic enough. In our conversation Kala opens up about feeling out of place racially and socially as a young Black girl growing up in predominantly white environments and institutions.

‘Engaging and empathetic story for adolescents everywhere’
-The Oxford Business Review

When I was growing up, I just realized my brother and sister were making friends and keeping friends. And I just felt like I wasn’t doing that as well as they were. And they were younger than me, too. So I just felt like I should have been kind of the role model in that situation I was in, and I wasn’t… 

I think especially as a black girl, I had a lot of stereotypes against me that didn’t work in my favor that I had to overcome, basically. And in a lot of just typical high school experiences, I felt like I was kind of left out. I felt like no one was interested in going on a date with me. Or going to a dance with me.

 ––Kala Allen Omeiza

Kala talks with me about how feeling so different for so many reasons impacted her childhood and may even have complicated the discovery of her neurological issues.  We talk about the circumstances that ultimately led her to discover her diagnosis and how her family supported her along the way. Kala believes that parents, caretakers, and teachers in the Black community can be more understanding of and proactive with their neurodiverse children, and in this episode she offers valuable recommendations of how to do so. 

You can now listen to our conversation, Being Black and Autistic with Kala Omeiza here or on your favorite streaming platform. And be sure to read Afrotistic–it is a delightful, relatable and insightful read, which adults will enjoy as well. Our Black community needs to be well informed about neurodiversity, and Kala adds a lot to the conversation. So please tune in!

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