Meet Jamie Upshaw! As the founder and Executive Director of Autism Urban Connections Inc., she supports families in the urban Pittsburgh area. Autism Urban Connections Inc. provides education, support, advocacy, with an emphasis on self-care to parents/caregivers caring for those with autism.
1.) What lead you to start Autism Urban Connections Inc.?
It began as a support group for parents/caregivers of those diagnosed with autism in January of 2015. It was started because my son was diagnosed at 3-yrs. and 7-months-old, in which he was misdiagnosed prior too. When I began to navigate the process for services it wasn't easy. So, I then attempted to reach out for parent support, however, there wasn't anything in the city, at least not anyone that could culturally relate.
2.) What kind of services does your organization offer?
Our mission is to provide education, support, advocacy, and empowerment with an emphasis on self-care for parents/caregivers of those diagnosed with autism, with priority placed on the African American, minority, and economically disadvantaged members of the community. We offer online and phone supports to those seeking guidance about a suspected or new diagnosis, a variety of groups/workshops 3x a month that focus on parent/caregiver self-care and anything related to autism and their resources, which children are welcome to and a meal is provided. We also host 2 annual events: our Autism Awareness Month Luncheon and our Autism Awareness Fun Day, which is held in the summer.
3.) What is the biggest challenges facing the families you serve?
The lack of cultural competency, which in turn leads to misdiagnosis, late diagnosis, or NO diagnosis at all. That all leads to missed services, the lack of available Licensed Behavioral Specialist Consultants for adequate wraparound services, the knowledge that autism is a people disorder not a race disorder, and you just don't know what you don't know, so we provide that education.
4.) Why is self-care so important for caregivers to practice?
Self-care for parents/caregivers of those with autism is so important in order to keep up with the demands that life throws your way daily. We find it so important that we offer groups/workshops to meet you where you are and help you become your best you and parent for your family.
5.) What advice would you give to a family struggling with the idea of reaching out for help?
Don't delay—we are here to assist you wherever you are at in your journey, we understand, we've been there and we WILL support you and your family the whole way through!