Maren Christenson Hofer joined the MNLEND Fellowship cohort this 2018-2019 year. As the parent of an autistic child, she is keenly aware of challenges faced by families trying to navigate educational, medical, therapeutic, and other support and service systems to ensure that their autistic children's needs are met. Maren currently serves as a leader in the Multicultural Autism Action Network (MAAN), a non-profit organization built on the idea that navigating autism support and service systems can be incredibly complex for families, and even more overwhelming when differences in culture, language, and power dynamics are at play. Two additional MNLEND Fellow-Alumni are engaged in supporting MAAN's work: Mariam Egal (Minnesota Dept. of Health Coordinator) and Fatima Molas (respiratory therapist; parent-advocate). Another MAAN member, Dr. Delia Samuel, has served as guest faculty for MNLEND.
Prior to becoming a MAAN leader, Maren worked in international business development in the medical device industry for twenty years. In this work, she practiced first-hand intercultural communication and negotiation strategies. She also experienced the kindness of strangers during her travels. Working with under-served families through MAAN provides her opportunities to continue her intercultural education, to forge new friendships, and to pay forward kindness to families in Minnesota's under-served autism communities.
In MAAN, Maren helps to provide families across cultures safe spaces to learn from and support each other. Together, MAAN families work to address the information imbalance between families and service providers, to develop leadership capacity within under-represented groups, to share information about evidence-based practices and how to access them, to offer assistance with insurance forms and service applications, to attend appointments with families, and to provide in-person support to listen to each other without judgment or fear of stigma.
Maren's interest in the interdisciplinary MNLEND program was sparked by the opportunity to see the world of neurodevelopmental disability through different lenses, and her work with MAAN provides her similar opportunities to share knowledge gained through her personal experiences as well as to learn from others.