Supporting Autism Awareness: A Conversation on Autism Support with Latifah Abdalla

This Mental Health Month, Good Neighbours Canada and its Youth Advisory Committee are focused on raising awareness to the issue of accessibility to services for neurodivergent children, and exploring ways to support them. Sarah Malin– the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) coordinator for the Youth Advisory Committee, interviewed Latifah Abdalla, a professional with experience working closely with individuals with autism. She currently serves as a Direct Support Professional and Behavioral Support Specialist in the nonprofit sector, responsible for assisting adults and children with autism to achieve a fulfilling quality of life and become active community members. Their discussion explored the challenges and tools needed by families with children with ASD.

Latifah Headshot (1)

What are some of the biggest challenges faced by families with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), especially those from marginalized communities?

In my experience, families with children diagnosed with ASD, particularly those from marginalized communities, often face many significant challenges. These can include limited access to specialized services and therapies due to financial constraints or lack of availability in their area. Additionally, there may be cultural stigmas surrounding autism within their community, leading to feelings of isolation and lack of understanding and/ or support from extended family members or community members.


How does the lack of access to support services, such as financial assistance, impact these families?

Lack of access to support services, including financial assistance, can place a significant strain on families with children with ASD. Without financial assistance, families may struggle to afford crucial therapies and interventions, leading to delays in treatment and increased stress. This can impact their well-being and prolong inequalities, especially for marginalized communities.


What are some effective ways to address the isolation and lack of social support experienced by parents in these families?

From my perspective, you can address, isolation and lack of social support experienced by parents in these families in various different ways. Some examples include: community programs and parenting classes/ workshops, this can allow parents to connect with each other, share experiences and build support networks. 


In addition, raising a child with ASD can be emotionally challenging due to the unique needs, and behaviours associated with autism. This is why accessible mental health services for these parents are important.  Parents sometimes experience heightened levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. Accessible mental health services can provide a safe space for parents to express their emotions, receive validation, and learn coping strategies to manage their stress effectively.


What role does mental health and social support services play in improving the overall well-being of both the children with ASD and their caregivers?

Mental health and social support services are vital for both children with ASD and their caregivers. This is because it can offer emotional support, skill development, education about ASD, crisis intervention, social connection, and improved mental health outcomes. These services contribute to enhanced quality of life for both children and caregivers by addressing their unique needs and challenges.


Which specific resources or support systems are essential for addressing the needs of families with children with ASD in marginalized communities?

Essential resources for families with children with ASD in marginalized communities include culturally competent services, community outreach programs, accessible diagnostic services, family support groups, and culturally relevant parent training programs.


As Sarah and Latifah concluded their conversation, they noted hopefulness for the various initiatives available to support children with ASD and their families, including GNCA’s partner organization, PATH (Parents Association Living Toward Hope), a family-based organization dedicated to uplifting children with developmental disabilities. 


Through PATH, Good Neighbours Canada is presently supporting a community of over 50 families with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), who are marginalized due to their newcomer status, limited English language skills, belonging to visible minorities, and needing round-the-clock care for their children with additional needs.

Sarah headshot

This group lacks access to funding, and most families have minimal support services such as personal social workers for caregiving respite or financial assistance to meet their children’s additional needs. Consequently, parents serve as permanent caregivers and endure severe isolation, lacking time for interpersonal connections with adult peers or essential downtime from caregiving. This situation has led to reports of poor psycho-emotional well-being and a pressing need for mental health and social support within this community. 

Latifah Abdalla recognized the significance of financial and social assistance in supporting families, particularly those from marginalized communities such as those GNCA supports. She also emphasized the importance of mental health resources, and GNCA is dedicated to addressing the needs of families in this regard.


I believe it is urgent and imperative to highlight this project, as it has the potential to significantly impact the lives of many individuals. The YAC aims to support this project and continue to play a role in amplifying GNCA’s mission. I hope this interview has brought attention to the vital support families need and illustrated the outstanding work being done by professionals such as Latifah Abdalla.


To learn more about this initiative and to support families with children with ASD, look here at this link

Blog post supported by Sarah Malin, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Coordinator, Youth Advisory Committee