Camille Proctor's son has autism and she started The Color of Autism Foundation to provide support to other African-American families with autistic children. In this profile, she shares how her organization helps African-Americans with autism reach their full potential and reflects on her own experience raising Ari.
Tell us about yourself and your son, Ari.
I’m the Executive Director of The Color of Autism Foundation and mother of 2 children — 1 adult child and Ari, age 10, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2.
What was your experience during your son's autism diagnosis?
My experience wasn’t bad, but that’s because I noticed he wasn’t meeting his developmental milestones pretty early. He was seen by a Pediatric Geneticists and Developmental Pediatrician. I was able to get him into therapy early on through my state’s early intervention program. Unfortunately, the home therapy wasn’t consistent and he didn’t make much progress, and it was very frustrating to both of us.
How did The Color of Autism Foundation come to be?
Once my son was diagnosed I was not able to find a support group that could address the unique issues he’d have as he grew into an African-American male. Ari would have meltdowns when we’d go to shopping malls, grocery stores, etc. About 90% of the time, the negative comments would come from African-Americans insisting he needed discipline. I realized there was a disparity of information in underserved communities.
There weren’t any support groups that could address the cultural hurdles that families would/will have to jump. Large non-profits weren’t making an effort to foster meaningful relationships in the African-American Community.
What challenges are faced by African American families affected by autism? And what support does the Color of Autism provide?
Dissemination of information is one of the biggest hurdles. There’s a lack of awareness and support and The Color of Autism is the connecting thread that connects families to services, information, activities, and support.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned during your journey as a mother and as a leader in the autism community?
I’ve learned that autism isn’t a one-size-fits-all disorder and it’s important that “we” who are a part of the community are supportive of one another. I think that we get so wrapped up in our opinions and beliefs that we forget to support one another. For instance, for every proud self-advocate, there’s a mom somewhere changing their adult child’s diaper.
What is your hope for Ari's future, and for the future of autism awareness in the Black community?
I want Ari to be happy on his terms! For so long, I was focused on what I thought he needed, which were really things that would make things better for me (which is important to a certain degree). As Ari has gotten older, I've realized his happiness is what’s really important.