Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) Community Mental Health
2. Who did your project inform, help, influence or impact? (UCEDD, individual, community, state) How?
The aim of the project was to educate Arab American families about the latest science behind the cause, prevalence, and diagnostic presentation of autism as well as to provide tangible local, state, and national resources that can be instrumental in early detection and intervention of autism and developmental disabilities. Arab American families are a heterogeneous group but they reside in an area with scarce resources and complicated systems to navigate and one of the goals for the project is to demystify some of the barriers faced with a keen understanding of common cultural and language barriers they may have to overcome. In addition, over 30 clinicians underwent a similar symposium to help them learn about these resources to better serve patients and their families. These clinicians all work with ACCESS Behavioral Health Services and serve adults and children. In addition, the project provided survey-based information to MI-DDI, and ACCESS clinical leadership organizations about the current state of knowledge and needs of this underserved population. The family and staff presentations were well received, and the resources were viewed as very valuable. As a result, the ACCESS Program Director invited me to make a similar presentation to a much wider audience at a Fall conference (Arab American Health Summit in Washington DC). This conference invites academics, clinicians as well as policy and community leaders from around the country with the aim of improving the mental and physical health needs of Arab Americans.
3. Why did you choose to work on that project(s)?
The completed project allowed me to combine my clinical expertise as an autism diagnostic expert as well as a pediatric neuropsychologist with my past experiences working with Arab American families as a mental health case manager as well my own personal experience as a first-generation Arab American immigrant. Further, my connections with local institutions such as MI-LEND, MI-DDI, and ACCESS presented an opportunity to initiate future collaboration to better serve an underrepresented population in greater Metro-Detroit. As a result, the combination of personal and clinical experiences and connections with these institutions provided an opportunity to further my passion for increasing early detection and intervention awareness for children and their families.
4. What did you gain from being a Diversity Fellow?
There were tremendous opportunities to initiate and foster important relationships that could be fruitful in generating greater attention to underserved populations within the Metro-Detroit area. I’m a strong advocate of early detection and intervention services and have seen the long-term impact it plays in improving the quality of life of young children and their families. I gain tremendous satisfaction when I learn that families are able to navigate and benefit from services that could be instrumental in developmental gains and improvements. It is also humbling to learn about the barriers these families face, and it gave me a different perspective than the usual impression I receive when conducting a formal clinical assessment. I’m better able to appreciate the complex socio-cultural and economic barriers that families must overcome to obtain the services that all clinicians highly recommend. Simply, the Diversity Fellowship allowed me to continue improving my leadership and clinical skills, and to consider the needs of culturally diverse underserved families.
5. How will this experience impact your education or career decisions?
My hope is this experience will allow me to collaborate with other stakeholders to change policy to support culturally and linguistically challenged families who have children with I/DD. I also want to continue to foster efforts to improve communication at the professional-client level, to mitigate barriers families face trying to receive services for their child. I’m strongly motivated to pursue ways I can influence proliferation of information to parents, especially help develop information and resources written/communicated in Arabic. I will continue to work on projects that will improve the lives of children with disabilities by providing families continued support to advocate for their children. This will ensure they are given the most optimal interventions and services leading to greater autonomy and wellbeing for the child and the family system.
6. What are your future goals? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
My future goals are to continue fostering and improving my clinical expertise. I also hope to begin collaborating with efforts outside of the clinic that could lead to meaningful policy changes leading to more efficient service delivery to patients and their families. Overall, my aim is to grow my expertise and be able to use such experience to improves the lives of those I interact with. I will forever be a scientist-practitioner and I look forward to possibilities that will allow me to have a greater positive impact. This Fellowship exposed me to a different level of interdisciplinary interactions as well as cross-institutional collaboration that will serve as an important foundation for continued professional development leading to greater community-wide positive impact. It allowed me to explore the possibility of translating the latest science behind causal and treatment factors to families and clinicians who may have limited access to this information. Over the next 5 years or so, my motivation is to continue using my expertise and leadership skills to improve access to those that are disadvantaged and isolated.
7. What recommendations do you have for other Fellows?
My first recommendation is to have a continuous and reliable communication habit between the Fellow and other stakeholders. I was fortunate to have a very responsive and supportive team. Reaching out to previous Fellows also proved to be helpful in helping to shape the expectations of the fellowship and developing strategies for common hurdles. Lastly, I recommend starting very early with shaping your project which will allow more tape to adapt and change as you see fit. The Fellowship year moves very quickly especially if you are already committed to full-time professional employment or enrolled in graduate schooling. If you are working, it will be wise to plan ahead when you can miss certain days for work and how those days may be utilized. In my case, I did not have professional development days that I was able to use and instead, I had to use my own personal vacation time, which can be quite a commitment. Lastly, if you are reading this as a Fellow, or just want to learn more, please don’t hesitate to reach out.