Our Mission

Special Needs Network’s mission is to raise public awareness of developmental disabilities and to impact public policy, while providing education and resources to families, children and adults. SNN serves as a link between underserved communities and mainstream developmental disability organizations and governmental institutions, which often fail to address issues specific to these communities.

About Special Needs Network, Inc.

Autism is the fastest-growing childhood disease in America. A recent study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal confirms that one in every 91 American children, including one in every 58 boys born today will be diagnosed with autism. In California alone, two children are diagnosed every hour. This complex neurological disorder is taking its toll on school districts, communities and families across the nation. And nowhere is the impact felt more than in communities of color, where both diagnosis and services are delayed two years on average--two years lost for a child who needs early intervention for his developing brain. Two years without valuable therapies that can make the difference between her ability to someday live on her own – or lead a life of institutionalized care. This is the reality for thousands of special needs families who live in disenfranchised communities. And this is the reality that Special Needs Network, Inc. is committed to change.

Special Needs Network, Inc. is responding to the crisis of autism and other developmental disabilities in underserved communities by providing educational forums, resources, and specialized learning opportunities for parents and care givers of special needs children, intervention programs and advocacy training. Founded in 2005, SNN grew out of the struggles of two mothers whose sons were diagnosed with autism. Co-founder and President Areva Martin son’s diagnosis and her personal struggles to access services convinced her that an organization like SNN was overdue in South Los Angeles.

Using her entrepreneurial and legal skills, as well as calling upon her own experiences navigating the complex system of care needed for her own child, Areva and a diverse group of professionals vowed to help their community: by reducing the waiting period for families to have their children diagnosed, by bringing education and resources and services directly to the community, by providing unique learning opportunities for special needs children and young adults, and by forging an action-based coalition of families able to advocate for each other and for themselves at all levels of government.

These urgent resolutions became the seeds that blossomed into SNN and its many outreach programs that today serve thousands of people throughout the state of California. In May of 2005, SNN hosted an event that sent shock waves all the way from South Los Angeles to Sacramento - a town hall style meeting held in the heart of the community at the Challenger Boys and Girls Club on South Vermont.

More than a thousand family members and caregivers showed up to participate in that initial event entitled Impact of Autism on Communities of Color. Local politicians were joined by state representatives who heard - many for the first time- the frustration of families who were dealing with an inequitable system. 

SNN followed up this successful venture with a comprehensive and unique series of training programs for parents and special needs children. SNN signature programs include its annual Tools for Transformation Parent and Professional Conference and Legislative Breakfast, The Joe Patton Advanced Learning Academy and Camp JPAC, Annual Back to School Inclusion Event and Resource Fair, Advocacy in Action and, Parent Mentoring and Training. These programs provide needed advocacy skills training to parents, grassroots leaders and children with special needs.

SNN is recognized by state and local elected officials as the premier organization working on issues of autism in under-served communities by national and local leaders. Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Congresswomen Maxine Waters, Diane Watson and Laura Richardson, California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, Los Angeles City Councilmember, Herb Wesson, Jr., and California State Senate Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg are among many legislators who have singled out SNN with praise for its innovation, leadership and effectiveness.

SNN continues to reach out and collaborate with key local organizations such as Crystal Stairs, Autism Speaks, Autism Society of America, Junior Blind of America, California Regional Centers and others.

SNN firmly believes that dignity, hope and opportunity are the birthright of all children.  

Message from Co-Founder and President 

A distinguished senator once said, “sometimes you choose the time, but more often the time chooses you. And you’d best be ready for that opportunity when it comes knocking.”

My time came in 2004, when my son, Marty, was diagnosed with autism. He was two- years old. I was already a mother of two girls, a community organizer, an attorney with a growing practice and active in my church. Like many of you, my plate was full. How could I possibly handle another obligation? Not only that, but assume an obligation in the midst of grieving. As any parent who has anticipated the birth of a child knows, we dream big dreams for our children – especially before they are born. We prepare the nest; we buy furniture and clothes; we plan celebrations; research preschools; dream about Little League; family vacations; and plan for them to attend our alma mater Harvard or Columbia.

And then comes Marty’s diagnosis of autism, a disease for which there is no cure. Yes, I grieved. Through my grief and as I navigated the new world of my son’s disability, I became conscious of the many others with fewer resources than I have—others who must manage this illness and all of its life-altering chaos while being a single parent or holding down two minimum wage jobs or while raising multiple children with special needs.

I also became aware of the disparity in diagnosis and treatment. Thousands of children with autism in disenfranchised communities of color fall into the cracks. Studies show that these children whose families live near or below the poverty line are diagnosed three- to four-years later than their mainstream counterparts. Children of color and poor children are also misdiagnosed at a higher rate than their mainstream counterparts. They are labeled emotionally disturbed and often over-medicated or they are denied medication altogether. They are denied insurance benefits, medical care and treatment, and because of all these challenges, they are denied an education and a future.

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. It affects one out of every 110 children in our country and is considered a national public health crisis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. But despite all of this, despite the inequality, there is hope. First, early intervention helps. The younger a child is when diagnosed, the earlier he or she receives treatment, the more the chance that the child will lead a fulfilled and productive life.

Next, families who care can work miracles. I have met brave parents of children with autism who refused to give up or give in. Meeting them and witnessing their struggles inspired me to marshal my skills as an attorney to create a safety net where none before existed and to give these families struggling alone and in isolation a voice – and a village. Today, Special Needs Network is that community, that village, and that voice for thousands in South Los Angeles and the state of California.

Our newly elected president, Barack Obama, has already pledged to increase federal funding for autism research, treatment, screenings and public awareness and support services to ONE BILLION dollars – annually! And in his home state of Illinois, he recently passed legislation mandating that insurance companies cover autism therapies.

I know that in the months ahead –– all of America, and perhaps the world, will hear words that inspire all of us to action, to leadership. We, whose plates are already full, will all be called upon to search for even more ways to contribute, to heal and to unite as equal citizens of a global village.

I am honored to be a member of the village that is helping our special needs families realize our nation’s promise – that every person is of equal value, created equally and given an equal chance to live a life of liberty and happiness.


Board Members and Advisory Council

Areva D. Martin, Esq.
Chairperson & President

Sonjia D. White, Esq.

Jan Davis
Annette Hollomon
Bonnie Berry Lamon, Esq.
Kevin McCarthy
Ruth Creary, Ph.D.
Charles Shepherd
Precious Young

Advisory Board

Lee Bailey
Prudence Baird-Metcalf
Yvette Chappell-Ingram
Dave Clark
Rev. Vanessa Dantzler Ussery
Pat Grayson De-Jong
Elizabeth Koo Edwards, Ph.D.
B.J. Freeman, Ph.D.
Theodore Freidman, M.D., Ph.D
Cheryl Gully, LCSW
Guillermo Hernandez
Rev. Cecil L. Murray
Shamya Ullah
Seth Weisbord, Esq.