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Autism Foundation of Oklahoma to Host Sensory-Friendly Vaccine Clinics

By Healthcare, Press Release


The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma (AFO) has partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) to provide sensory-friendly vaccine clinics to Oklahoma residents with autism or other disabilities and their caregivers.  The COVID-19 vaccine will be available for children as young as five years old, as well as other adult and childhood vaccines upon request.

The following five clinics are scheduled for the summer of 2022:

June 23- Woodward County Health Department

June 28th- Oklahoma City-County Health Department

July 15th- Comanche County Health Department in Lawton  

July 22nd- FUNdamentals Therapy in Ardmore in partnership with the Carter County Health Department

July 28th- Crossover Health Services in partnership with the Tulsa County Health Department

Prior to each event, clinic staff will receive sensory kits and specialized training for autism and other disabilities sponsored by a grant awarded to AFO from OSDH. Patients will also receive gift bags containing resources and helpful items for families to use with their children when visiting other new and possibly stressful places in their communities.

“We look forward to hosting five statewide sensory-friendly vaccine clinics this summer and appreciate the support of the Oklahoma State Health Department. AFO’s clinics are designed to help individuals and family members feel more comfortable in a local health care setting that is both educated and equipped to accommodate special needs,” says AFO’s Health Equity Project Coordinator Chandee Kott.

Children that are a part of the CDC’s Vaccines For Children (VFC) program are also eligible to receive their back-to-school immunizations. To learn more about this initiative, visit

Image courtesy of

Media Contact:
Chandee Kott, Health Equity Project Coordinator
Phone: 1+(210)287-7522


Autism in Indian Country

By Healthcare

AFO Board member and DEI Officer Dr. Crystal Hernandez was recently asked to submit a public comment for the upcoming Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) in regard to Autism in Indian Country. It is imperative to have services and supports that are culturally relevant for our various Tribal Nations throughout the United States, including the many Tribes in Oklahoma. With this public comment, there are hopes of true inclusion in decisions, funding, conversations, and action.

My name is Dr. Crystal Hernandez, I am an autism mother and ally, Cherokee and Latina. I serve as a Tribal mentor parent, serving on support groups and panels, working with local and national organizations on Tribal inclusion projects and research. I see and hear the stories of grandparents and parents, communities, and individuals struggling to find suitable service and varied treatment for their Autistic loved ones. I see continued disparities in access to quality care within communities, underrepresentation, and cultural exclusion. We must do better.
It is a pivotal moment in our world, where Tribal Nations are not just being looked at, but rather are starting to be seen and included. But there is still much work to be done. Autism in Indian Country is overwhelmingly underrepresented in national and state data, due to non-inclusive methods of measurement and often distrust of the measuring systems.
We must focus on improving culturally relevant diagnostic tools and screening instruments and train in meaningful ways, those working within the field on cultural humility and responsiveness. There needs to be a focus on embedding appropriate culturally relevant screening practices in a variety of conventional and unconventional settings, such as health clinics, daycares, community centers, nutrition programs, head starts, and behavioral health care settings. A focus on community and extended family compositions in system build and design is desperately needed. We must change the narrative within communities and learn from those walking the journey. Representation matters in all the places where decisions are made, not just in theory, but in continued practice.
There is a great need to improve access to care in community settings, meeting the person where they are, removing barriers to treatment and support. We must look beyond gap analysis and instead focus on actionable items for a continued system overhaul. We need to allow culturally-rooted care to be viewed with the same fidelity and reimbursements that other mainstream treatments are. Giving honor to language, customs, beliefs, values, and practices is the only way forward.
The vast array of Tribal Nations throughout the United States is not here to be served, but rather is here to be part of building meaningful systems of service.
Thank you,
Crystal Hernandez, Psy.D., MBA

Learn more about the IACC at:

Suicide Prevention in the Autism Community

By Healthcare, Mental Health

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and the urgency for autism inclusion is needed when discussing suicide prevention. Several studies have highlighted the disproportionate rates of suicide attempts and death by suicide in autistic adults and youth worldwide. Autism occurs in 1 in 54 children and 1 in 45 adults in America. This complex disorder is often coupled with various co-morbid medical and psychological conditions. Risk factors outlined in many studies include: camouflaging/masking Autistic traits in an attempt to be accepted and adhere to societal norms; co-morbid diagnoses (depression, anxiety, psychosis); barriers for accessing traditional mental health services, and lack of social support systems.

In honor of National Suicide Prevention Month, and it seems appropriate to take this time to share how suicide impacts the autistic community.

  • The suicide and suicide-attempt rate among autistic individuals is three times that of neurotypical (non-autistic) individuals. Some research demonstrates a rate that may be as high as nine times that of neurotypicals.
  • A 2014 study from the United Kingdom (UK) found that approximately 66% of respondents who held an Asperger’s diagnosis reported having had suicidal thoughts, and 35% reported having attempted suicide or having suicidal plans.
  • In the UK, Autistic people have an average life expectancy of 16 years lower than the national average. Suicide is a primary driver of this number among those on the spectrum without an intellectual disability.

Tom Taylor, an Autistic Self-Advocate and AFO Board member from Norman, Oklahoma, shared some personal insights to help shine a light on the need for inclusion in general suicide prevention efforts.

“As the autistic father of an autistic daughter, I look at my child, and I think about suicide attempts and deaths of Autistics. I also look at the differences between the autistic traits of my daughter and my own. It has been my experience that autistic people without intellectual disabilities tend to come in three primary categories. The first are those autistic people who do quite well in social situations and enjoy the company of others – these are autistic people who have cobbled together enough social skills to fake it in a neurotypical world. The second are those who don’t fit in with society and are either oblivious to this fact or simply don’t care to interact with others; this is the type my daughter is. I worry that she’ll someday care, but at this point, humans don’t interest her. The third type is those who want to interact with others and tend to do so poorly; this is me. I can fake social skills temporarily, but I spend a lot of mental energy worrying that I have inadvertently offended someone.

I have been in social situations with other autistic people where the conversation moved to talk about suicide, and the stories told were beyond troublesome. They spoke of their suicide attempts or their suicidal thoughts – and every one of us had a harrowing tale to tell about it.

The segment of society that encompasses socially inept people wanting to socialize is a group of people that also tend to have diagnoses dealing with depression. Going through life hoping to connect with people, find everlasting love, have children, and land a meaningful job are too often unfulfilled desires; our population often lacks the skills needed to obtain or keep these things in life others take for granted. Unfulfilled desires cause suffering, and suffering leads to suicidal thoughts or attempts.

To combat suicide in the autistic community, two initial steps are needed. The first is a conscious effort to include autistic people in our society. The second is autistic people need to monitor their feelings and reach out for help before their loneliness and depression consume them.”

We must continue to do better in building systems that are inclusive of diversity to reach all individuals needing support. Research continues to demonstrate a substantial need to engage autistic individuals in traditional and nontraditional mental health and social supports to enhance their quality of life and truly meet them where they are. There must be a continued effort beyond Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to address the preventative measures, policies, resources, and treatment in an inclusive way. There is a need to build additional protective factors for Autistics in all suicide prevention efforts.

This is the start of a much-needed conversation, and it is the hope that the Autism community continues to be included in all suicide prevention conversations moving forward. Every life is precious and worthy of love, health, compassion, and longevity.

Written by Dr. Crystal Hernandez, Board member and DEI Officer for AFO and Executive Director of the Oklahoma Forensic Center

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